house of happy

Life adventures in prose and verse. Explorations of places, people and words. Stories and fun.

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Herds of Hazelnuts (1)

I teach English in a Portuguese Primary School. The words: ‘class’ and ‘pupil’ are of course mentioned with great frequency and regularity. This is to be expected in an educational institution, just as ‘orca’ would be in an aquarium, ‘kidney’ in a hospital, ‘ink’ in a tattoo parlour and ‘health care’ in the US Senate.

Here’s what makes things interesting: I am Romanian. You know the Portuguese words for ‘class’ and ‘pupil’? Well, the Romanian language has also got them. Same spelling, same pronunciation, completely different meanings. I believe the name for this linguistic occurrence is ‘homonym’. As follows:

Turma –

English translation of the Portuguese word: Classroom

English translation of the Romanian word : Herd

Aluna –

English translation of the Portuguese word: Pupil

English translation of the Romanian word: Hazelnut

In a usual, daily conversation, this is what I hear:

“What herds have you got today?”

“Oh, H2 and H4.” (H for Herd?…)

“Poor you. Those are big herds, and difficult.”

“Yes. Very noisy hazelnuts.”


“Can I have this worksheet photocopied for Herd H3?”

“How many hazelnuts?”


“Not 18? Who’s absent?”

“X. She’s got the flu.”

“Oh. Poor hazelnut.”

“Yes I know.”

“She’s a good hazelnut. I’m sure she’ll catch up.”


“What have we got here?”

“A hazelnut with a sore knee.”

“How come?”

“She was pushed by another hazelnut.”

“From her herd?”

“No. Another herd”.


“He said this hazelnut took his chocolate bar.”

“Hazelnuts eat a lot of chocolate don’t they?”

“Yep. The parents of some hazelnuts send them to school with three bars of chocolate every day.”


Every time a conversation such as this comes to an end, a peculiar philosophic question presents itself. What am I? A part-time shepherd? An occasional gatherer? A Nut Cultivator? Tree hugger or toreador?

My job as one – or more, or all – of the above comes to an end in June. Before that, I shall try to write a little more about it. A ‘Herds of Hazelnuts’ series (two code-words to remember). Why? Because I noticed how fascinating this society of hazelnuts is, how it actually makes my job quite interesting (taking the herds to the watering hole? transferring some taste into those hazelnuts?), despite all the grief and headaches I carry home with me.

Allergy and addiction in one – exactly as expected from bullfights and nut products.


At 5 April 2010 at 14:24 , Anonymous Rupert Wolfe Murray said...

Brilliant. I heard that Portuguese is the closest Romance language to Romanian. E adevarat?

At 5 April 2010 at 22:11 , Blogger domnul said...

Could be, as the two languages are roughly equidistant from Rome and Vulgar Latin. But most Romanians will tell you Italian is the closest. And most of THEM don't know Portuguese at all.

A Romanian from Cluj who has worked in Lisbon for many years told me that Romanian wasn't much help when he was learning Portuguese. He had to start with his school Latin.

A Portuguese teacher in Coimbra said that Romanians learning Portuguese had perfect pronunciation, especially of the vowels, and despite the nasals.

Ask Andreea Teletin on Facebook. She's a Romanian with a Portuguese doctorate, and an excellent teacher.

At 6 May 2010 at 15:30 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Eu zic adevarat. I had the same impression when starting to learn Portuguese. And I am Romanian. Just discovered your blog and I will become a regular reader. Succes !


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