The Arrogance of the English Language

When the world has always been your oyster

LaDonna Witmer


The image of a page from the A section of a thesaurus, focused on “arrogance.” Synonyms include: haughtiness, loftiness, self-importance, presumption, overconfidence, pride, vanity, vainglory, conceit, snobbishness, etc.
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If it’s happened once, it’s happened mil vezes (1,000 times) since I relocated to Portugal three years ago — in the grocery store, the post office, the car repair shop, the dentist, out for dinner. I’ll begin with my oft-practiced Portuguese opener: Peço desculpa, mas não falo muito bem português. (I’m sorry, I don’t speak Portuguese very well.) I’m trying to be polite by giving the person I’m speaking to a heads up that I’m going to mess up their language, probably quite spectacularly, but I’m giving it my best shot.

Then I carry on with some version of: Estou à procura de / Precisa de marcar uma consulta / Gostaria de encomendar… (I’m looking for / I need to make an appointment / I would like to order…)

And that’s where I often stop, not because I haven’t practiced whatever words I need to say next, but because I’m interrupted by the kindly cashier/secretary/waiter who says, Is English better for you?

Try as I might to carry on, my shoulders will sag with relief. Even if I protest that I’m learning (Estou a aprender!) and I want to blunder on, they will wave me away and roll out the English carpet. No matter how much they might protest that their own English is terrible, their language skills are always far better than my own…