Who’d have thought she…
Shouldn’t you tell your sister?
I think I have to. She is my niece, after all. Who could have imagined…such a lovely girl…
That’s what happens when you make friends with foreigners, you know. I don’t care how many exchange programs the college wants to throw down my daughter’s throat, I am with my husband on this. We told her, “You’re not going anywhere outside this country. You can travel with us, or with your husband when you have one.”
The two women sat at a small table next to mine. In cafés in Portugal, people are often blissfully unconcerned with who may be listening to their conversation, and there is a great feeling of belonging. If you have a love of stories like I do, you could do much worse than stopping by for a cup of coffee and pastry. Kernels of literary vignettes are sometimes served on a plate, so to speak, along with croissants.
Tell me exactly what happened, what you read.
The whole café perked up to listen, including the waiters and the manager behind the counter.
Well, you know my niece Lucia, right? She’s been studying in England in one of these fancy programs and two of her English girl friends came here this summer to visit.
They stayed at my house; it’s large enough, and I love my niece. I still love her, mind you. Anyway, the other day a postcard arrived from one of these young women.
In English, I suppose?
Of course. I can’t read English, but I could see it was addressed to Lucia and signed by one of her friends. And just above the signed name there was, you know, that word. Lucia says the postcard is a Thank You note, but does THAT word belong in a Thank You note? I don’t think so.
Are you sure it was that word?
Oh, no! Did you bring this up with Lucia? Maybe she can explain.
What is there to explain, I ask you? Would you sign a note to your girl friends, say to me, using that word? Would you?
Goodness, no. I guess you must do something. You’ve got to tell her mother.
At that point, I decided to speak to the aunt.
I think I may be able to help, Ma’am.
And she’s so young, too, she said, as if I had been part of the conversation all along. It’s like a disease spreading; we see it in movies, on TV, and the young, they want to do the same.
But there may be a reasonable explanation. That word at the end of a letter in English doesn’t mean the same as it would in Portuguese.
The people at the other tables looked at me with undisguised curiosity.
What else can it mean, “love”?
It is not the same as “I love you.” It…
A fortyish-year-old man at the other side of the room, wearing a striped shirt unbuttoned half way down to his belly and showing a lot of hairy chest, asked me,
Do you speak English?
Yes, I do.
I kind of guessed.
I let that go. I didn’t want to hear the “You don’t look Portuguese” comment. I was far more interested in saving this niece a lot of trouble. I turned to the aunt again.
Believe me, if it reads, “Love,” comma, and the signature follows – that is quite normal between friends. It is the same as “Um abraço” (a hug, an embrace), followed by a comma and the signed name below, in Portuguese.
Her handbag slid off her arm; she loosened up, almost smiled.
Is that so? Do they say “love” like that? Like “a hug”?
Fancy that, said her friend. No wonder my husband won’t let my daughter go abroad.
The aunt was relieved.
Thank you so much, Ma’am. How lucky I was to sit next to you!
Don’t mention it. Glad I could be of help.
Everyone in the café now had an opinion on the relative merits of postcard endings. “Love” was surely not appropriate, but what about “embrace,” or even “hug”?
Mind you, the story was much more interesting before, said the hairy-chested man with a grin.
You mind your tongue, cried the aunt, getting up.
Soon the café was empty. The day had come to an end and families waited at home. I got up too. I’d had a lovely cup of coffee, delicious pastry, and a plain awful dose of prejudice. Indigestible.