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Nurit Gil

Could you please pass the feijón?

Personal archive
Personal archive

When I was a kid, I used to find my grandfather funny at Sunday lunches:

” Could you please pass the feijón*?

He had already left Yugoslavia some forty years ago and spent most of his life in Brazil, but he still got the pronunciation wrong. He had already created a business, four children and a universe in the tropical country, but he could not say “ão”.

Thirty-seven years later.

I have been for six years in this country that considers the need for vowels superfluous and I still cannot understand that “house” is not feminine, as in Portuguese, and that a pronoun ending with “a” is masculine. Actually, I do understand, I am great with theories, but when it comes to practice, everything goes wrong. On top of that, the ideal accent has a guttural “rrrr” — coming from somewhere so deep it must be near the small intestine — that I am sure I will never be able to keep up with.

And the truth is: if it was only the accent, it would be easy.

These days I was asked what I miss most about Brazil, and after giving the obvious answer, a longing that I never thought I would feel came up. I really miss communicating in my mother tongue.

You see, I can solve problems with the telephone company in Hebrew and hold a meeting with my children’s teachers, but I cannot be myself in Hebrew. My sentences have no double meaning, they are not ironic, and they’re definitely not clever. I am as basic as a child writing an essay about “my vacation”.

To be complete, comical, cynical, to make an intelligent conversation flow, one desperately needs a mother tongue. I speak three languages fluently, but I can only be a mother in Portuguese, have a best friend in Portuguese, do therapy in Portuguese, communicate after two glasses of wine in Portuguese.

When I’m with my kids, in the comfort of the Latin language, I educate, explain theories, tell stories, but in social situations I contribute a sentence here and, at most, another one there. I tend to listen, understand the language, but not the jokes, the references, the culture. I smile shyly.

I am the nice, polite Brazilian woman who always tries. Like a child. But how can I be one of them if I, in this language, am not me? They don’t know Caetano Veloso, Brazilian middle class, never tried to win a Caloi on Bozo’s show or spent their vacations in Guarujá. On the other hand, they have lived everything I learned in school or watched on TV. How to cross this barrier with my preschool writing Hebrew? How to tell all my infinity without fluency? How can I say that I know the history of Israel, that Brazil is more than Carnival, that chronicles are a kind of short and free narrative characterized by a critical analysis of everyday situations? A few more or less well-conceived sentences come out, but they don’t explain half of what I would like, and at a speed that makes even myself sleepy. The feeling is one of frustration, tiredness, and loneliness. With the wrong pronoun and a tropical accent.

If I could go back in time, I would change a dozen details.

One of them would be to pass the feijón and proudly ask:

How did you make it this far, Grandpa?

*Beans in Portuguese. The correct pronunciation is “feijão”.

About the Author
Nurit Masijah Gil is a Brazilian-Israeli writer with nearly 100 chronicles published in Portuguese in both countries. In 2014, she launched her book titled "Little Ms. Perfect," in which she tells about her tragicomic wife-and-mom life. In 2017, she moved to Israel with her family. In 2019, she changed her busy suburban life as a content writer at a startup company, in Israel's central region, for a peaceful life at her own oasis at the Arava desert -- a 1,000-member ishuv -- where she has crowned her aliyah.
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