With Paris tossing its hat in the ring, the fight for the location of the 2024 Olympic Games continues to heat up. Of course, the clock is now counting down to the next Games, which will be held in Brazil’s marvelous city, Rio de Janeiro, in 2016.
The International Olympic Committee estimates 480,000 visitors to the Games, the vast majority of whom won’t be speakers of the country’s melodic language, Portuguese. While Brazilian Portuguese is renowned for its fluid tones and languorous vowels, it’s not an easy language to learn. That said, Brazilians are typically very welcoming to visitors and appreciate any effort made to speak even a few words of their mother tongue.
Here are a few essentials for you to memorize before heading south for the Games.
Obviously, one of the first things you might want to do upon landing in Brazil is show appreciation and express gratitude. Obrigado (pronounced oh-bree-GAH-doo) is the official word men use to say “thank you;” women say obrigada. However, given the casual way Brazilians speak Portuguese, you rarely hear all syllables in the word enunciated. Most often, people drop the initial “o,” simply saying ‘brigado/a when offering thanks.
But the word allows for easy modification, adding prefixes such as muito for very and não for no, as well as suffixes such as hein (pronounced ain as in pain) for emphasis. This gives you compound words that are spoken, but never written — muitobrigado, nãobrigado, and brigadein — none of which appear in a language dictionary.
2. Pão de queijo
Much like the warm, soft, chewy, cheesy, and filling snack that it describes, pão de queijo is indeed a mouthful. Your day simply cannot start until you have at least one of these cheap and delicious goodies every morning. Pronounced pow-jee-KAY-zhoo, this cheese bread — the literal translation of this compound word — is made from cassava flour and packs a breakfast-time punch when prepared correctly.
Pão de queijo is sold at snack shops, roadside stands, lunch counters, and even upscale restaurants, often coupled with coffee. It is not friendly to the waistline, but will fill you up before a day of watching the decathlon or rhythmic gymnastics.
3. E aí, beleza?
If someone asks you, e aí, beleza? (ee-ah-EE-beh-LEH-za), they’re asking you how you’re doing, but with incredible local Rio flavor. Literally, the phrase translates to and there, beauty?, a pleasant combination of words in itself, but it is understood to mean What’s up?, with a tinge of hope that all’s well in your life.
Try not to use this greeting after an event in which the Brazilian national team loses; the answer will be an unequivocal não.
4. Onde fica…?
Quite simply, Onde fica…? (pronounced OWN-djee-FEE-ka) means Where is…? and can be used in the following ways: Onde fica o banheiro? (Where is the bathroom?); Onde fica o metrô? (Where is the subway?); Onde fica o estádio? (Where is the stadium?); Onde fica o hotel? (Where’s the hotel?); Onde fica o aeroporto? (Where’s the airport?); Onde fica um lugar bom pra ver a natação sincronizada? (Where’s a good place to watch synchronized swimming?).
Of course, try and bracket these phrases with please (por favor) and thank you.
Made popular outside of Brazil by the 2011 smash club hit “Nossa! Nossa!” by Michel Teló, nossa is the contracted form of the exclamation Nossa Senhora!, literally — Our Lady, the Virgin Mary — which is used very frequently for wow or Oh, my!
Whenever you see an athlete set a new world record, jump the starting gun, or — heaven forbid — get injured, shout Nossa! It is virtually impossible to overuse the word.
Probably the best word in Portuguese, saudade (pronounced sow-DAH-jee) is famously untranslatable. The closest approximation is nostalgia, with a tinge of melancholy and a bittersweet aftertaste. It relates to the feeling you get when remembering a great lost love or some poignant time period in your life, such as experiencing the Olympic Games in one of the most spectacular locales in the world.
It will probably hit you most powerfully when you get back home and start remembering the phenomenal time you had in Brazil.
Have your own favorite phrases to share? Add them in the comments section below!