The language student

“Boa tarde,” said the man on the train.

“I’m sorry?” said Jeanette. The man took an earpiece from his ear.

“I’m sorry?” he said.

“I thought you were talking to me,” said Jeanette. “I thought you said something.”

“Oh, no, sorry, I was just, um.” He lifted an MP3 player into view. “I was listening to this. Sorry, I didn’t realise I was talking out loud. I’m trying to learn Portuguese.”

“Oh, right. Portuguese, eh? Is it hard?”

“It’s okay, I suppose. It’s a latin-based language, so I guess it’s no more difficult than Spanish or French. Not like Finnish. They say that’s one of the most difficult languages to learn. Lots of verb tenses, apparently.”


“So they say.”

“Do you speak Finnish?”

A look of panic crossed the man’s face. “Dear me, no. Gosh, I hope I never have to learn that. Portuguese is bad enough.”

“So are you going there on holiday?”

“Does anybody go to Finland for a holiday?”

Jeanette laughed. “No, I mean Portugal. Are you going to Portugal on holiday?”

“Oh, I see. No. We thought the South of France this year, maybe. We tend to leave it till the last moment to plan our holidays.”

“So, business then?”

“No. Oh, I travel with work, sure enough, but I rarely go further than Birmingham.”

“So, what? Is learning Portuguese just an academic exercise? A hobby?”

“Well, no.” The man looked embarrassed. “It was my birthday last month. I travel quite a bit. Usually it’s by car. So anyway, I’m not very good with maps, so my wife bought me a GPS navigator for in the car. It’s very good. You just type in the post code and it tells you how to get there. You can program it with your preferences like whether you like back roads or not, and it plots a route. It will even warn you of road works or traffic snarl-ups.”

“O – kay,” said Jeanette carefully. “And the Portuguese?”

“Well, I’m not very good with technology either. If it has batteries and buttons, I’m going to have trouble with it. I’m convinced machines have it in for me. But this one, it’s very simple to use. The salesman assured her that anyone could use it, and for the first couple of weeks it was. Birthday gifts are always a difficult thing, even if you know the person well, and she was so pleased she thought of this one. A couple of times a week she’ll ask me how I’m getting on with it, so I have to tell her it’s great.”

“But you broke it?”

“Well, no, not exactly. It still works. I put the post code in, and it knows exactly where I am and where to go.”


“So, last weekend I must have pressed a button. Probably more than one. Anyway I must have gone into a menu somewhere or something. The thing is, the damn thing will only work in Portuguese now. I can’t work out how to switch it back, because the settings menu is all in Portuguese. I’m not even sure it is the settings menu. So I’ve told her I’m learning Portuguese, and this weekend, when she gets in the car, I’ll tell her I’ve switched over to Portuguese mode to help me learn.”

“Can’t you just try pressing every combination of buttons?”

The man looked aghast. “What? And risk putting it into Danish? Or even Finnish? No, this is the easiest solution.” He looked out of the window. “Excuse me, this is my stop.”

He screwed the earpiece into his ear and nodded at Jeanette.

“Muito prazer a conece-la. Adius.”

Author Notes
Loosely based on an encounter I had. The names have been changed to protect the innocent, and now I don’t know how to change them back again


About snodlander
Snodlander is the nom de plume of Bob Simms. He is an IT trainer, but it's not as glamourous as it sounds. When he's not enthralling classes with adventures through SQL Server, he writes, draws and drinks his own home-brew. Buy his novel on Amazon Kindle at The Young Demon Keeper, It's 74p, for crying out loud!

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