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Let’s start chatting in Portuguese

by Bernard O'Shea

You’re in a country where the locals speak Portuguese …. it could be Brazil, which accounts for most of the 220 million-odd native speakers of the language, it could be Angola or Mozambique, or Portugal itself. Because of Portugal’s maritime history, there is a good chance you are on a beach and eating peixe e camarões (fish and prawns). The one photographed above I took at a popular praia (beach), Pipa, in Rio Grande do Norte in Brazil. Or maybe you;re in a beachside bar somewhere in the Cape Verde islands, drinking uma cerveja (a beer) and listening to a song by the local superstar Cesária Évora (such as the one at the end of this post.)

Now, you want to get talking. To greet someone in Portuguese you would say bom dia (literally good day, but also a way of saying good morning), and if you were a stickler for timing after midday you could say boa tarde (good afternoon). Bom is the masculine form and boa is the feminine. Good evening or goodnight is boa noite, while uma noite em festa is a night out. The people in these parts of the world like to have festas feasts, parties, celebrations.

Less formally, if you wanted to say hi it would be oi or olá or alô (the accents indicate where the stress falls). A casual how are you? is tudo bem? or como vai? (more literally, all well? and how is it going?). To be more formal, you might say como está, o senhor? to a man or como está, a senhora? to a woman.

The answer to this should be bem, obrigado if you are a man, and bem, obrigada, if you are a woman, meaning well, thanks. On related notes, bem, bem! means well, well! while meu bem! means my darling, honey or sweetheart (it’s probably a bit old-fashioned).

After you have told someone how well you are, you should ask them back, so say e você? meaning and you? Or more politely, e o senhor? or e a senhora? (e means and, not to be confused with é, is).

Splendid! Now you are getting on like a house on fire (dar-se bem com means to get along with).

Incidentally, a morning in Portuguese is uma manhã, while o amanhã means the future as a noun, or tomorrow as an adverb, so tomorrow morning becomes the very poetic amanhã de manhã. However, don’t confuse that with a manha (without an accent) which means cunning or an act (fake). Fazer manha is to put on an act.

This leads us to a woman who was a class act, the aforementioned Cesária Évora. Alas, she died in 2011 at the age of 70. She did come out to Australia on tour a few years before that: I wish I had gone to the concert. I particularly like her album from 2006, Rogamar. which was my introduction to her music. Here’s the opening track Sombras di distino (Shadows of destiny). The lyrics are pasted underneath.

Sombras di Destino                  Shadows of Destiny

Parti pa terra longe                  To leave for a distant land
Foi sempre nha ilusão             was always my illusion
E ali ja’m esta                          And here I am finally
Di sorriso falso                        With a forced smile,
Margurado e triste                    Bitter and sad
Ta vaga di mar em mar           I will wander from sea to sea
Ta corrê di vento em vento      I will travel from wind to wind
Em busca di um futuro            Searching for a future
Entre sombras di distino          Amidst the shadows of the destiny

Nha vida ê zig-zagant’               My life is an endless toing and froing
Sina di um fidjo caboverdiano    It’s the fate of a Cape-verdian son
Num paz inconstante                 To live an unconstant peace
Cma distino di um cigano           Like the fate of a gypsy
M’ta vivê tormentado                   I will live with torments
Num mundo cheio di maldade   In a world filled with evil
Nha sorte ê dori e magoado     My destiny is so hurt and sorrowful
Na um silencio di sodade        Into a silence of longing

* Note: some of the Portuguese above is in the local creole version.

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Zora Regulic 05/03/2013 - 10:19 am

I like your new profile pic 🙂


Bernard O'Shea 06/03/2013 - 3:12 pm

Hi, thanks for that, flattery will get you to exotic places haha… really I need to flip the photo round so my nose is pointing to the right, but technically that was beyond me or my software…. most probably me

Emeline 05/03/2013 - 8:31 pm

Reblogged this on and commented:
A bit more about the few portuguese speaking countries…

Bernard O'Shea 06/03/2013 - 3:10 pm

Hi there, Emeline, ola! Thanks very much (muito obrigado) for following and for reblogging. I shall do likewise with your Cape Verde post. Good luck with your ventures, cheers Bernard

Emeline 08/03/2013 - 7:42 pm

You are welcome Bernard and thanks for reblogging my post, too!

trishwhytock 06/03/2013 - 8:53 am

love those Portuguese custard tarts – my best pastry in the whole world!

Bernard O'Shea 06/03/2013 - 2:58 pm

Concordo com voce… I agree with you (there should be an accent over the e in voce). The pastries in Portugal are delicious and very from region to region, and almost from village to village… In one patisserie in Lisbon I found the custard tarts with a bit of apple in them – it was a tasty variation. If anyone is ever in Sydney, there are a couple of Portuguese cake shops in Petersham and Dulwich Hill that serve great pasteis de nata made on the premises.

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Emeline 16/06/2014 - 3:59 am

I think, Bernard, that this film documentary links up quite well with your article and is very interesting: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/black-in-latin-america/featured/black-in-latin-america-full-episode-brazil-a-racial-paradise/224/

Bernard O'Shea 16/06/2014 - 12:31 pm

Hi, thanks for that link, it looks very interesting, once I have watched the documentary in full I shall do a post about it. I have been to Salvador and Bahia and one thing I do like about Brazil is its “Africaness”, if you know what I mean. But of course, like all countries, its past and its present have a lot of flaws and injustices.

Emeline 16/06/2014 - 9:38 pm

Yes, true!


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