Thursday, June 25, 2009

Nevermind the Bomb in my Bag

Operating on a daily basis in a language that isn't your native tongue comes with plenty of difficulties. Most days I think we do alright, especially Eric who is pretty much completely fluent now. But we still run into new vocabulary just about every single day. For example, after spending two hours in our prenatal class back before Gabriela was born, Eric leaned over to me and whispered, "What the heck is "parto"? She's said it like a million times now!" (Parto = Birth, hence the reason it was used a bit that day.) I leaned back over and whispered to Eric, "You didn't read the material I gave you to introduce you to all the pregnancy/birth vocabulary did you?" Totally busted!

And that is sort of how it has gone with the baby-relevant Portuguese words. I have a lot more free time during the day to read and explore baby-related stuff, and so that is the single area in which I know more than Eric. (His Portuguese totally blows mine away, so I am not at all claiming to be more fluent than him - I just have more "baby" vocabulary.) And so a few weeks ago a Brasilian mommy asked a question about breast pumps and I was excited to pick up some new vocabulary and later that night pass along my new knowledge to Eric. "They use the term bomba elétrica (which literally is electric pump) when referring to the breast pump that I have", I informed Eric.

Now, fast forward to the airport in Natal when we are going through security. I was carrying Gabriela in her car sear along with the diaper bag, and so Eric got stuck hauling the breast pump among other carry-on items. Eric went ahead of me and then I got held up as they wanted the car seat to go through the x-ray machine, so I had to remove the sleeping kiddo from it. Meanwhile, they wanted to go through Eric's things.

I walk up and joined him just as they are looking at/talking about the breast pump (in Portuguese, of course). As he opened up a couple of compartments to show what he could, Eric was explaining that it was a bomba elétrica and that really there wasn't much to show. He told the security agent that the working parts of it were sealed inside the carrying case and there just wasn't much to see from the outside. The agent seemed a bit confused/concerned and finally asked what exactly the contraption was used for. Pointing to my chest (thanks Dear, I think I forgot to thank you for that part), he told her it extracts milk. She seemed okay with the explanation and allowed us to continue on to our gate.

Just as we were settling in to our seat on the plane, I had a revelation. My eyes got big as the light bulb flicked on and then I started giggling. It just occurred to me at that moment that the word bomba has more than one meaning. Yes it can mean pump. But bomba can also mean bomb. And that would probably explain the security folks' concerned looks.

The crazy American was nonchalantly explaining that he had an electric bomb, but that it was all self-contained and he couldn't show them the working parts of it.

And that, my dear friends, is how my husband almost got arrested. Had the situation been reversed and we were Portuguese-speakers going through security in the US when we made the translation error, TSA would probably have detained him rather quickly before he got to the part where he was pointing at my boobs.

And for future reference, I think we'll use the term extrator de leite. Especially in airports.


Amanda said...

HAHA!! Glad we wasn't in the US when he tried out his "new vocabulary"!!!! Great story girlie!!

Ray Adkins said...


No kidding, in 2004, we lived in Miami and a Brazilian surfer was arrested without the chance for an attorney and sent to jail where he remained for 8 months until his family managed to get him out with the help of the Brazilian government's intervention.
He had some sort of scuba gear pump in his luggage and he declared that out loud to TSA officials at the Miami Airport, he mistranslated the wrong way, by declaring he had a "B O M B" in his luggage, thinking he was saying " B O M B A"( PUMP )!!!!
It was all over the news for almost a year until his family finally cleared up his name and got him out of prison and back to Brazil.


Emily said...

8 MONTHS! Wow, that's ridiculous!

Eric told me that the people he works with, mostly mechanical engineers, almost always translate "bomba" to "bomb" when they mean "pump". Ex: "There is currently a problem with the hydraulic bomb." We said it could be quite the issue with Brasilians traveling to English-speaking countries!!! Your story is a perfect example, Ray!