The best part of learning a new language is when the metaphors and similes begin to make sense. I was reminded of this today, when my wife and I were making plans for running errands. I said, “Oh, and we can do X, and also Y, and maybe we’ll have time for Z.”
She said, “Meter o Rossio na Betesga?” — and I had to laugh.
Praça do Rossio is one of the biggest plazas in Lisboa, and a central part of the old city. Leading out of it is a short, narrow street which travels the width of a single building before dumping traffic into the smaller Praça da Figueira. This little street is called Rua Betesga.
Meter o Rossio na Betesga means “putting Rossio Plaza in Betesga Street.” It’s a much more colorful version of the American “putting too much on your plate,” which is one of the reasons I like it. The other reason is that it’s so regional. Understanding this metaphor requires a knowledge of Lisboa, or at least of its most famous plaza and the tiny street next door. What’s more, this is a knowledge that most Portuguese would have, even if they hadn’t ever been to Lisboa. Portugal is a small nation with one major city; Lisboa permeates the culture. (Residents of Porto might disagree with me on this!)
I was trying to think of any American metaphors that are similarly based on knowledge of place, and coming up blank. There are probably metaphors that are understood within a particular local area, but nationally? We’re too huge, and there’s no single city or architectural feature that practically everyone has either been to or knows of via cultural references.
Although, now that I’m musing on it, we do have our famous natural spots — and one single architectural feature that every American knows about. So perhaps we could say “putting the Grand Canyon in the White House.”
Nah. Doesn’t have the same ring.