Brazil has got everything: the World Cup, the Olympics, sunshine, Rio de Janeiro, dental-floss bikinis, crack-cocaine, car-jacking and corruption. What more could you want? But before you dash off to buy your plane tickets, there are a few useful phrases you need to learn in Brazilian Portuguese so you can better understand the people you will meet here. Only when you have mastered the following quips and concepts will you be prepared for the spectacular culture clash that will hit you like a pan of black beans dropped from the Cristo statue.
Sacanagem: If there is one word that sums up what goes on everyday on the streets of Brazil it is this. Roughly translated as “foul play” it symbolizes everything from steamy sex in a run-down motel to a dodgy deal struck at the back of a parking lot. To understand the concept, start watching the Brazilian soaps – they are full of it. I love them, but worry they are bad for my health.
A lei de Gérson: (Gérson’s Law) Gérson was a gifted footballer who helped Brazil lift the World Cup in 1970. He later appeared in a cigarette ad where he said: I like to take advantage of everything. Now he is blamed for initiating the idea that, if you want to get on in Brazil, you’d better learn to get one-up on the next bloke before he pushes you under. Charming, I’m sure.
Jeitinho Brasileiro: (the Brazilian way) Fundamentally linked to the two previous items, this is the way things are done with a nod and a wink and no questions asked. Although it can mean that a “bung” is in the offing, it isn’t necessarily negative; it just means there is always a way in Brazil. Always.
Só para inglês ver: (only for the English to see) Way back when, the English tried to strong-arm Brazil into outlawing the slave trade. A law was passed, but nothing changed. So now this phrase has come to mean “not real, but just for show”. Now the English are back in Brazil trying to teach the natives to speak their language. Millions of lessons are given every day, but nothing changes.
Passa a grana, tio: (Give me the money, uncle) If someone approaches you uttering these words, you’d better say your prayers. Then empty your pockets. I’ve lived in Brazil for 5 years, and I’ve never been mugged. Maybe it’s because I’m just a poor English teacher. Or maybe it’s because I’m not actually anybody’s uncle?
Lá vem o rapa: (the cops are coming) If you are lucky, this may happen just as someone is trying to divest you of your last 5 Reais. But don’t hold your breath. The police always seem to be on a ‘go-slow’ here for some reason. Perhaps it’s because they are paid peanuts?
Fica na tua: (mind your own business) This is not recommended as a response to someone bothering you, unless you are tanked up on ‘caipirinhas’ and feel like eating a knuckle sandwich.
Cara de bunda: (bum face) A wonderful expression for those people who always have a monk on, or just can’t seem to smile. As an aside, it makes the notion of 69 anatomically interesting.
Mas que barbaridade, tchê! (but that’s diabolical, mate!) This is said only by Gauchos down here in the south of Brazil. It’s an exclamation a bit like “Jesus wept!” You could try using it just at the moment when a Gaucho person puts half a cow on the barbecue and licks his lips.
Bagunça: (a mess) It is sometimes tempting to refer to the whole of Brazil as a giant “bagunça”, especially when romanticising about England as a place of order, cleanliness and gentility (apart from the back streets of Bradford, of course).
Homem é bobo, mulher é chata: (men are silly, women are a pain) This is a quote from the former rock ‘n’ roll queen of Brazil, Rita Lee. She’s right, of course. Men never grow up and, as a consequence, women turn into nags.
Jararaca: (mother-in-law) Or, more accurately, my mother-in-law. Or anyone to which the epithet ‘old bag’ seems to fit. If I come clean and admit that the real meaning is a big, ugly snake, you’ll probably get my drift.
So there. Now you know these vital words and expressions, you are ready for the big, tropical adventure that is Brazil. Except that you don’t exist. Yes, you read that right…
Você não existe!: (you don’t exist) Roughly translated what this actually means is, “You’re out of this world!” Or, you’re amazing.
And, call me sentimental, but I can honestly say that many Brazilians I have met are just that: amazing. And Brazil itself can be amazing. The trick, as a traveller, is to allow yourself to be amazed. It worked for me.