I remember when I used to overhear my parents’ work conversations as they spoke on the phone. They’d say things like “give me a ballpark figure,” or “all our budget is going down the drain,” and though I had no idea what those phrases meant, they sure sounded important.
When you’re a speaker of English working in Portugal or Brazil, learning the jargon of business in a new language is a bit like being a child who tries to make sense of the way adults speak to each other.
So, why should you learn to use Portuguese business idioms?
Mastering the informal expressions that Portuguese speakers use at the workplace improves communication, helps you gain your coworkers’ trust, and boosts your confidence while discussing strategies and presenting arguments. What is more, it gives people the sense that you are an experienced professional who has been around long enough to master the specific vocabulary used in business meetings.
So, if you want to avoid great job offers slipping through your fingers, take note of the Portuguese business idioms below
Translation: “To tweak one’s nose”
Use: The first idiom in this list teaches a valuable lesson. If you want to learn Portuguese, you’ll also have to learn the gestures that accompany certain expressions!
This idiom is generally accompanied by the very gesture it refers to. It means that someone disagrees with an idea or an argument, or that they are not too open to persuasion.
Por que você está torcendo seu nariz? Com que parte do que eu disse você não concorda? (Why are you tweaking your nose? What part of what I said don’t you agree with?)
Translation: “It’s never Saturday again”
Use: There’s a beautiful meme from The Adventures of Tintin in which Captain Haddock says “What a week, huh?”, and Tintin replies: “It’s only Wednesday, captain.”
If, like Captain Haddock, you feel like the weekend can’t come soon enough, use this expression so that people know how tired you really are (just make sure you don’t say it in front of your boss).
Estou tão exausto e há muito para fazer! Nunca mais é sábado. (I’m so exhausted and there’s so much to do! Saturday can’t come soon enough.)
Translation: “It’s a needle in the haystack”
Use: Just like in English, agulha num palheiro is a figure of speech used to say that something is difficult to find. Though it’s not specifically a Portuguese business idiom, it is very often used at the workplace to refer to a task that needs a lot of luck in order to be successful or a problem whose resolution seems unlikely.
Há um erro em algum lugar em nosso registo de vendas e é uma agulha em um palheiro. Não o podemos encontrar. (There’s a mistake somewhere in our sales log and it’s a needle in a haystack. We can’t find it.)
Translation: “In the shade of a banana tree”
Use: There are many situations in which we’d rather be in the shade of a tree instead of working in a small office. À sombra da bananeira is an expression used to talk about lazy people who always act like there’s nothing to do even when everybody else is running around to get things done.
“Onde está o Pablo?” (“Where’s Pablo?”)
“Onde você acha? Onde ele sempre está. À sombra de uma bananeira.” (“Where do you think? Where he always is. In the shade of a banana tree.”)
Translation: “Clinical eye”
Use: Portuguese business idioms can get very metaphorical. The word clínico refers to doctors, who are trained to pay attention to detail in order to catch almost imperceptible signs of sickness. For this reason, we say that a person has a “clinical eye” if they are good at perceiving things that the rest of us wouldn’t.
“Você tem certeza que esta é a figura que discutimos esta manhã? Lembro que havia um 8 nele.” (“Are you sure this is the figure we discussed this morning? I remember there was an 8 in it.”)
“Puxa, você tem um olho clínico. Você acha que alguém pode ter ajustado isso?“ (“Gosh, you have such a clinical eye. You think someone might have tweaked it?”)
Translation: “To allow your arm to be twisted”
Use: If you say that you allow your arm to be twisted, you metaphorically aim to express that you will accept an opinion that you were originally not too open to. It usually means that someone who has been very stubborn about a posture is finally willing to compromise. (For some reason, this reminded me of my sister and I finally agreeing that Brian, my favorite Backstreet Boy, was the best singer, and AJ, my sister’s favorite, was the best dancer).
Já expliquei três vezes por que sua campanha de marketing não funciona para este produto. É hora de você dar seu braço a torcer. (I’ve already explained three times why your marketing campaign won’t work for this product. It’s time you “allow your arm to be twisted” / It’s time you admit you might be wrong.)
Translation: “Those who wander in the rain, get wet”
Use: One of our favorite Portuguese business idioms, this biblical-sounding phrase that means every human action brings about consequences that we have to deal with. People who act without weighing the outcomes of their actions are very likely to “get wet”, i.e., to face unwanted results.
“Quando ofereci o cargo a ela, não fazia ideia de que ela era tão irresponsável” (“When I offered her the position, I had no idea she was so irresponsible”)
“Você pediu referências?” (“Did you ask for references?”)
“Bem, não….” (“Well, no, I didn’t.”)
“Bem, aí está. Quem anda à chuva, molha-se.” (“Well, there you go. Those who wander in the rain, get wet.”)
Translation: “Do a Chinese business deal”
Use: This phrase became popular in the early 2000s when Chinese businesses started to boom in Portugal at break-neck speed. One of the youngest Portuguese business idioms in our list, this curious expression is used to say that a deal sounds too good to be true.
Então você está dizendo que poderíamos ganhar milhões de dólares sem investir nada? Não sei, Mark, parece um negócio da China. (So, you’re saying we could make millions of dollars by investing nothing? I’m not sure, Mark. It sounds like a Chinese deal to me.)
Translation: “This is too much sand for my truck”
Use: When we first start working at a new job, it’s easy to take on too much. We are so desperate to make a good impression that we end up biting more than we can chew.
If you’ve volunteered to help a colleague with their workload, get coffee for the whole office, and on top of that finish your own tasks on time, it’s very likely you will end up using this Portuguese business idiom before noon.
Não vou conseguir terminar o relatório a tempo E pegar seu filho na escola, Karen. Acho que tudo isso é muita areia para o meu caminhão. (I won’t be able to finish the report on time AND pick up your son from school, Karen. I think all of this is “too much sand for my truck” / more than I can handle.)
Translation: “To go to the eye of the street”
Use: The literal translation of a few idioms in this list is so obscure that it’s almost impossible to guess what the real meaning of the expression is. Saying that someone is sent pro olho da rua is just like saying that they “got the sack.”
Esta é a terceira vez consecutiva que você está atrasado. Se continuar assim, você vai para o olho da rua. (This is the third time in a row you are late. If you continue like this, you will “go to the eye of the street” / get the sack.)
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