Portuguese Signs: A Surefire Cure for Xenoglossophobia?

My biggest trepidation about moving to Portugal was my acute case of xenoglossophobia. I’m not making that word up. Xenoglossophobia is the apprehension one experiences in learning or using a second or foreign language.

I wonder if there’s a word for the fear of finding out whether there’s a word for the fear of learning a second language. If so, I don’t have that at least.

The bad news is that my xenoglossophobia is justified. I’m puttering along with learning Portuguese, but I don’t feel as if I’m any closer to carrying on a real conversation in Portuguese with anyone over the age of one (except my ever-patient tutor) than I was three years ago. The good news is that living in a foreign country provides ample opportunity to make fun of some of the signs they have, which helps alleviate a bit of the tension caused by having too much xenoglossophobia.

For instance, I got a kick out of this sign for a sushi restaurant. You can’t tell me you read the “sushitall” and not see shit. Well, I mean, if your eyes are closed they can’t see shit, but when you open them, you certainly can. The graphic artist even kindly highlighted the word with the bigger T in the logo to make it easier to understand that their fish might be “O melhor Sushi de Portugal” (the best sushi in Portugal), but it’s shit-all as well. But hey, shit has about a thousand meanings, so maybe they mean it as a good thing. Sheeeeeit.

In keeping with the bodily function theme, I cracked up when I approached this billboard the other day. I can say with some confidence that there would never be a billboard like it anywhere in the entire United States: America is a little too Victorian for such blunt visuals. The headline translates to: “Do not pour the dressings (i.e. ‘sanitary napkins’) down the drain.” I guess you’re not a superamigo if you do that. On the other hand, that may actually be a sanitary napkin for an elephant, that thing is huuuge! I’m just glad –especially if it is for an elephant– that they didn’t show a used one. Hey, don’t blame me for that comment, they started it!

Also, shouldn’t it be “Superamiga?”

So how much fish do the Portuguese eat when they can offer up an entire coliseum full of fish (“peixe” means “fish”)? It’s notable that they offer “free deliveries to your home,” which makes sense since I imagine that a coliseum full of fish smells pretty, um, pungent. However, it must be a great place to find cats.

Rei dos frangos translates to: “king of chickens.” Somehow being a chicken king strikes me as humorous. If you’re the king of the chickens, does that mean you’re the most afraid of everything? It’s kind of like being the head scaredy-cat, or the Lord Dodo Bird.

I have to give the Portuguese a lot of credit. They’re so polite and considerate that they created a whole little house (that’s what “casinha” means) you can go into just to fart! Unfortunately, it was closed when I walked by and so I had to pass gas in the American way: go stand by a couple, let ‘er rip, and then take off so each of them thinks it was the other one who did it.

Well, since we’ve pretty much reached rock bottom already, we might as continue the theme with this sign at a Taco Bell in a mall food court. I had two issues with it. The first is, no matter how shapely and attractive that woman’s behind is, I really don’t want any butt at eye level when I’m filling up a soda. It’s kinda hard to tell in that picture, but it’s right there: there’s only one thing you see when you’re filling your cup with soda: her butt. The second is their combined Portuguese/English headline: “Free Refill Gratis.” “Gratis” means “free,” so when you combine that with the English “free refill,” you have “Free Refill Free.” Yup. As opposed to charging for the free refill?

I just had to add this because during these Covid-affected months we deserve a little Covid humor. Of course, I do have to wonder what she’s charging. If he’s cute and speaks English, we might buy him just to be our live-in translator. One other thing: this was in Portugal… why is the sign in English? Maybe he’s in premium condition and just a little too expensive for the average Portuguese? On the other hand, it could be the desperate cry of a lonely American wife who moved to Portugal with her husband, and now finds herself stuck in a small apartment with a guy who farturas too often. Carolyn… don’t get any ideas!

If you look at the picture and read the dictate that women should “use mascara,” I couldn’t help but picture it as a Soviet admonishment to its women: “You’re not attractive enough to populate our glorious motherland without mascara! Wine just won’t be enough!”

Actually, “máscara” translates to “mask,” but that makes me even more confused. Why do they have a billboard imploring people to wear masks and then show two people in a restaurant who clearly aren’t? And why does the guy have a phone earpiece in his ear? Is he an undercover máscara cop who is going to call in the swat team as soon as she accepts the wine? I also wonder why they seated two single strangers in such a way that they’ll have to look at each other as they drink their wine and eat their meals, especially when the guy is already staring her a little creepily. My Soviet version is a little more understandable than all that!

Okay, I’m sure a native Portuguese can explain this to me, but “Costas de” means “the back of,” and “cão” means “dog.” So this literally translates to: “dog back.” Now, this isn’t China so I don’t think there’s a big warehouse filled with the backs of dogs down that road, but I also worried that it might be a way they say “beware of dog” here. I gotta say, if your dog’s viciousness qualifies it for a warning from a permanent road sign, it’s a place I’d just as soon steer clear of thank you very much. I also wonder if they tried to dog-proof the hydrant as a result of its proximity to a bunch of dog backs, but I’m pretty sure any self-respecting dog will figure out how to get to it.

I created a lot of angst and confusion among the employees when I went to this restaurant and asked them which species of monkey they used in their hot dogs. I just wanted to make sure they didn’t make the common mistake of confusing monkeys with apes, such as chimps and gorillas. I mean, I could probably eat monkey meat, they’re just another animal, but chimps share about 99% of our DNA, and I ain’t no cannibal, y’know? In the end, we decided this was just false advertising. The hot dogs were clearly made from cat meat.

I am still confused, however, as to why a restaurant in Portugal would use “monkey” instead of “macaco,” and “Hot Dogs and Friends” instead of “Cachorros-quentes e amigos,” but I guess monkey see, monkey do. There was, by the way, no other monkey theme we could detect in the restaurant. And I thought maybe we’d get to throw feces at each other or something.

While the “retard” portion of this condom packaging is amusing enough, I can’t help but wonder if the same individual who might have been the reason for the use of that word also happened to be the one that came up with the slogan: “Feel make Feel.” Ah, well. We’ll also leave it up to our imaginations to consider how interesting it would be to hear a woman asking her prospective sexual partner if he brought along a retard.

This particular sign wasn’t in Portugal, but it just goes to show how pervasive the English language is, from superamigos to monkeys to free free drinks to boobs, if it’s in English, it apparently carries a little extra gravitas… depending on the cup size I suppose.

I meant about the drinks. Oh behave!

As long as we’re swimming around in a pool of potty humor, we might as well show you some of the cute ways they direct people to public toilets in Europe. From displaying the actual biological differences between the sexes, to the use of humor, to very understandable graphics that say it all in one glance, they certainly aren’t bashful about the reality of bodily functions here.

But then again, I’ve always been a bit of a rebel myself.

Of course, even in America they don’t always understand how to make a sign in English.

By the way, if you look at the word “sign” long enough, and start pronouncing it “sigg’n,” you’ll go mad.


And the sign said
“Long-haired freaky people
Need not apply”
So I tucked my hair up under my hat
And I went in to ask him why
He said, “You look like a fine upstandin’ young man
I think you’ll do”
So I took off my hat and said, “Imagine that
Huh, me workin’ for you”
Whoa! Sign, sign
Everywhere a sign
Blockin’ out the scenery
Breakin’ my mind
Do this, don’t do that
Can’t you read the sign?

And the sign said
“Anybody caught trespassin’
Will be shot on sight”
So I jumped on the fence and I yelled at the house
“Hey! What gives you the right
To put up a fence to keep me out
But to keep Mother Nature in?
If God was here, he’d tell you to your face
‘Man, you’re some kind of sinner!'”

Sign, sign
Everywhere a sign
Blockin’ out the scenery
Breakin’ my mind
Do this, don’t do that
Can’t you read the sign?

Now, hey you, mister, can’t you read?
You got to have a shirt and tie to get a seat
You can’t even watch, no, you can’t eat
You ain’t supposed to be here

The sign said, “You’ve got to have a membership card
To get inside”

And the sign said,
“Everybody welcome
Come in, kneel down and pray”
But when they passed around the plate at the end of it all
I didn’t have a penny to pay
So I got me a pen and a paper
And I made up my own little sign
I said, “Thank you, Lord, for thinkin’ ’bout me
I’m alive and doin’ fine”

Sign, sign
Everywhere a sign
Blockin’ out the scenery
Breakin’ my mind
Do this, don’t do that
Can’t you read the sign?

Sign, sign
Everywhere a sign

— Five Man Electrical Band