Our first beach on Ilha de Santa Catarina was Praia do Campeche. As usual, it looked like it may rain but it turned out to be a sunny day—the weather is always unpredictable on the island.
Mark went straight for the water, Feng took his MP3 player out of his pocket, and I headed north even though I knew I probably wouldn’t make it to the edge of the beach, kilometres further. I collected memories and seashells for a couple of hours, then I turned around and walked back to the crowded spot where Mark was still in the water and Feng was still listening to Pink Floyd.
“I’ll go swim with you, Mark, but let’s get drinks and snacks first.”
We slipped into our Havaianas and walked to the nearest padaria in town. There was only one customer in front of us at the bakery—an Argentinian lady who was apparently trying to buy enough food to feed a party of 50.
Now, there are three things you should know about this corner of Brazil to understand the story.
First, there are tons of Argentinian tourists on Ilha de Santa Catarina. I’m guesstimating that 90% of foreigners are from Argentina, 8% from Uruguay, 1% from Paraguay and 1% from the rest of the world. Argentinians are easy to spot—they carry their mate gourd everywhere they go, drive cars with Argentinian licence plates, speak Spanish…
… which brings me to the second point. Most Argentinians don’t speak a word of Portuguese and most Brazilians don’t speak Spanish. Portuguese is not a Spanish “dialect.” Both languages share grammatical and lexical similarities, yet not as much as Argentinians apparently expect. I see plenty of tourists speaking Spanish as they would at home and getting very frustrated when Brazilians just shrug and say “não entende.”
And this is the third point. Many words are completely different in Spanish and in Portuguese. One of them is “chicken”—“pollo” in Spanish, “frango” in Portuguese.
So, back to the Argentinian customer. Mark had already decided he wanted a coxinha—one of Brazil’s most popular snack, it’s shredded chicken meat covered in dough and fried—but the lady was eyeing the display counter with a dubious look on her face. She seemed to find pastéis, savoury croissants, fried empanadas and other baked snacks very exotic.
“Hay pollo?” (“Anything with chicken?”) she asked in Spanish.
“Só frango,” (“Only chicken”) the employee replied in Portuguese.
He pointed to the empanadas and rattled off the mysterious baked bread fillings, most of them with chicken and some kind of cream cheese. “Frango com requeijão, frango catupiry, frango, presunto queijo…”
“Nada con pollo?” (“Nothing with chicken?”)
“Não, só frango.” (“No, just chicken.”)
She sighed. “Quiero pollo, no frango.” (“I want chicken, no chicken.”)
I started laughing and I stepped in.
“Frango is pollo,” I told her in Spanish.
“Then why does he call it frango?” she replied.
Can’t argue with that one…