Lost in Translation


Following the meal, my mother, a Brazilian, asked her in-laws, two Cuban émigrés who had made a home in the United States, “How was the food?”

Exquisito,” my Cuban grandfather replied, while making the A-okay sign, index finger touching thumb.

My mother blushed and asked her father-in-law to lower his hand.

You see, my grandfather thought he said, “The food was exquisite.”

But in Brazil, the A-okay sign is a very rude gesture, more appropriate for road rage or signaling to a rival at a soccer stadium than dinner conversation with the in-laws.

And while “exquisito” does translate to “exquisite” in English, in Portuguese it means “strange.”

So in reality, my Cuban grandfather had flipped off my mother and her parents while also showing shade on their national cuisine.


My Brazilian grandfather, or Vovô Paulo, as I referred to him, was a former rancher and bon vivant.

He was very proper, owned a gun, and had survived a kidnapping. I loved the man but things were sometimes awkward between us.

I once spilled rice all over myself at his country club and he dismissed me like you would a dog that shat the carpet.


Once, at the mall in Curitiba, I asked my father if I could go have a look in a toy store around the corner. Instead, I snuck upstairs to the food court and got in line for McDonald’s.

The line for a Quarter Pounder with Cheese and a large fry was hella-long.

I was still five people away from the counter when I heard somebody screaming.

It sounded like a madman.

It turned out to be my father.

He had checked the toy store and assumed someone had abducted me.

In reality, I was just making poor dietary choices.


“Did I run over your mother’s foot?” my father asked.

“Yes,” I said.

“How does this keep happening?” my father asked.

“Because you don’t pay attention,” I said.

So my father bravely exited the car and attempted to comfort his shrieking wife of 31 years, who at this point was threatening to return to Brazil for an undetermined period of time.

By itself this event would seem improbable.

A few weeks previous he had run over the foot of his own mother, who is 89 years old and walks with a cane.

Only recently has she stopped wearing the hideously unfashionable closed-toe medical walking show they sold her at the hospital.

It just wasn’t her style.