Saturday, May 25, 2013

Portuguese for the perplexed

Reported from Eyes on Brazil, from the Economist

What Brazilians say: Yes (Sim)
What foreigners hear: Yes
What Brazilians mean: Anything from yes through perhaps to no

What Brazilians say: Perhaps (Talvez)
What foreigners hear: Perhaps
What Brazilians mean: No

What Brazilians say: No (Não)
What foreigners hear (on the very rare occasion a Brazilian says it): No
What Brazilians mean: Absolutely never, not in a million years, this is the craziest thing I’ve ever been asked

What Brazilians say: I’m nearly there (Tô chegando)
What foreigners hear: He’s nearly here
What Brazilians mean: I’ve set out

What Brazilians say: I’ll be there in ten minutes (Vou chegar em dez minutinhos)
What foreigners hear: He’ll be here soon
What Brazilians mean: Some time in the next half-hour I’ll get up off the sofa and start looking for my car keys

What Brazilians say: I’ll show up later (Vou aparecer mais tarde)
What foreigners hear: He’ll be here later
What Brazilians mean: I won’t be coming

What Brazilians say: Let’s stay in touch, ok? (A gente se vê, vamos combinar, ta?)
What foreigners hear: He’d like to stay in touch (though, puzzlingly, we don’t seem to have swapped contact details)
What Brazilians mean: No more than a Briton means by: “Nice weather, isn’t it?”

What Brazilians say: I’m going to tell you something/ Let me tell you something/ It’s the following/ Just look and you’ll see (Vou te falar uma coisa/ Deixa te falar uma coisa/ É o seguinte/ Olha só pra você ver)
What foreigners hear (especially after many repetitions): He thinks I’m totally inattentive or perhaps mentally deficient
What Brazilians mean: Ahem (it’s just a verbal throat-clear)

What Brazilians say:  A hug! A kiss!  (Um abraço! Um bei
What foreigners hear: I’ve clearly made quite an impression—we’ve just met but he/she really likes me!
What Brazilians mean: Take care, cheers, bye

What Brazilians say: You speak Portuguese really, really well! (Você fala português super-bem!)
What foreigners hear: How great! My grammar and accent must be coming on a lot better than I thought
What Brazilians mean: How great! A foreigner is trying to learn Portuguese! Admittedly, the grammar and accent are so awful I can barely understand a word… but anyway! A foreigner is trying to learn Portuguese!

The "deixa me falar" thing has been making me crazy recently!  And I get the "your Portuguese is great!"  comment all the time.


  1. hahahaha This is funny! :)
    Living in another country, for the second time, I'm really trying to work on the "stay in touch" thing, you know, in a way that I really mean it, but I'm so very Brazilian about it it's painful. I hardly ever get anyone's phone number, even when they offer, and when I do I never call/text, never, even though I always say I will. I guess I'm just shy 'cause it can't be that hard.

    1. After 3 years I've learned not to take it seriously when people say, "we should have a BBQ" and never call. I met an expat within the first month of moving here who shared in depth about how hard this was for her, and thankfully I was able to learn from her wisdom.

  2. HAHAHAHA! This is great. Especially the last one. People tell me all the time I have great portuguese. But then a Brazilian friend and I recorded us speaking (for her blog) and watched it back -- WHAT A FREAKING GRINGA I AM! Oh well, it is 'cute' as everyone says. Cute like a kindergardener when I want to be a serious 30 year old ;)

    1. Yes and yes. I want to sound like a grown up some day too!

  3. OMG, thanks for the laugh today! Your translations are right on! lol

    No wonder I get so many compliments on my Portuguese. ;)

    1. I wish I could say it was my own translation, but it's from The Economist. But isn't it amazing how often people like to praise our attempts at Portuguese?!

  4. Just saw this! I love it! (This is Jen of A Note from Brazil--for some reason I can't seem to get my profile to show up properly!)