“Tudo Bem?”

Tudo bem? or Tudo bom? is a simple yet intriguing greeting that has been one of the most culturally interesting aspects of living in Brazil. You might be thinking what is so interesting about these two words but the greeting itself when you translate it has much more of a significance than what you would think. I find it fascinating for a number of reasons, which I will divulge during this article and it is important to keep in mind that languages including English have different ways in which people can address each other from the very neutral to the very positive.

To give some background first, I have studied a few foreign languages thus far and one of the first things you learn in any language are the greetings / salutations. The way you greet someone in another language can teach you a lot about the culture and also about the country. No one greeting is the same although the meaning is usually quite similar. What has thrown me off about ‘Tudo bem?’ is not just the brevity of it but the significance regarding its inherent positivity. I did not expect this greeting to be so prevalent, but I am fundamentally glad that it is used so regularly.

Let us start by breaking ‘Tudo bem?’ or ‘Tudo bom?’ down in terms of trying to translate it into English, which is not so easy on the surface. You would think it means ‘How are you?’, ‘How is everything going?’ but that is not the right translation. If we are to translate it into English, it would be more like, ‘All is well?’ or ‘Everything good?’. Instead of saying ‘Como vai voce?’ (How are you doing?) or ‘Como voce esta?’ (How are you?), I have been surprised to learn that these greetings are not as popular while ‘Tudo bom?’ or ‘Tudo bem?’ are used frequently in polite greetings whether it is with a shop keeper, bank teller, a cashier, or your neighbor from next door.

What I really like about ‘Tudo bem?’ or ‘Tudo bom?’ is that you are being positive and outgoing right from the start. Even if everything is just okay or you might be having a bad day, it is almost expected to say in response ‘Tudo bem!’ or ‘Tudo bom!’ to indicate that everything is going well and you’re doing fine even if that might be the case. To me, this represents something very unique about Brazilian culture in terms of airing on the side of being positive and upbeat. Even if you are going through some tough times or don’t think everything is alright, you are unconsciously drawn to saying that it is and to stay positive.

You do not have to always respond with ‘Tudo bem’ or ‘Tudo bom’ but during my time here, I have not really heard any answers in Portuguese with the equivalent of ‘I’m doing alright’, or ‘I’m doing okay’, or ‘I’m fine.’ Even rarer would be to say that you are not doing well, or you are sick, or you are tired. ‘Tudo bem?’ is a very casual greeting and it is usually only common to respond with the same reply or with a ‘bem’ (good), ‘bom’ (good), or even ‘tudo certo’ (all right). You don’t really say that you are doing amazing, fantastic, wonderful, or any other exuberant English equivalent when asked about ‘Tudo bem?’ but this kind of greeting in Portuguese is much more positive, and warm than I have encountered with another languages.

Greetings tend to be neutral at the outside when the person asking expects a positive answer, but the response can also be neutral or negative depending on the language used. However, I have found that Portuguese among the languages I know or have studied is the only one which leaves very little room for a neutral or negative response. I do believe that is a good thing although it can be a bit difficult to express those emotions right away. It is kind of expected to start out any interaction on a positive note by saying ‘all is well?’ and ‘all is good?’. Unless you are with a family member or a close friend, it can be tough to really express how you truly feel because they are likely not asking how you really are but just trying to be polite at the outset.

Regardless, when you compare Brazilian Portuguese to English or to Spanish, the initial greeting is much more positive in terms of the translation. While you can say ‘All is well?’ or ‘Everything good?’ in English, these are not really the initial greetings that you would use when you are talking to someone for the first time. It is much more common to say, ‘How are you?’ or ‘How are you doing?’ instead. Saying ‘Hello, all is well?’ or ‘Hello, everything fine?’ at the outside to an English speaker would be a bit strange at first whereas ‘How are you?’ is much more of a common occurrence.

In my opinion, the same could be said with Spanish where you would address someone you have never met before with ‘Como estas?’ or ‘Como vas?’, which is a very similar translation from the English of ‘How are you?’ or ‘How are you doing?’ Now, you could do something similar in Spanish with a greeting of ‘Todo bien?’ which is similar to the meaning of ‘Tudo bem?’ in Portuguese. However, from my own experience, while ‘Todo bien?’ is more acceptable and can be heard from time to time, a more proper greeting in a first interaction with a native Spanish speaker is ‘Como estas?’ rather than ‘Todo bien?’ An exception would be if you had met that person before or a few times previously and consider them to be more than a stranger. That is when ‘Todo bien?’ would be used but not really when you meet someone for the first time.

Lastly, even with Turkish, the last language I have learned, you would say to somebody new: ‘Merhaba, Nasilsin?’ (Hello, how are you?) similarly to English or Spanish but there is no formal greeting used in the Turkish language where you would ask if everything is well right off the bat. In English, Spanish, or Turkish, it seems that the greeting to ask how someone is starts off as being very neutral in its meaning whereas with Brazilian Portuguese, it is fundamentally a different story. Out of all the languages that I have learned and studied, the greeting of ‘Tudo Bem?’ is fundamentally the most optimistic and positive out of all of them.

I have to say that it took me back at first when I arrived in Brazil how common it is and how it is customary to reply with a ‘Tudo bem!’ or ‘Tudo bom!’ in reply, usually with a smile. It is a testament to the positive and upbeat culture where even if you are having a bad day and things aren’t going well, people here try to have a happy outlook on life and to boost their spirits with a ‘Tudo bem?’ and a thumbs up. I am not a psychologist, but I can imagine seeing someone smiling and wishing you a ‘Tudo bem?’ will do wonders for your day and for your overall mood.

If you can learn any two words in Brazilian Portuguese, I would recommend that you first use ‘Tudo bem(?)’ because it is probably the most important words in the language and can both be a great question and a great answer to have under your belt as you navigate this fascinating and unique culture.

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The Downsides to Sarcasm

Sarcasm is one of those things in life that should be used fleetingly or in moderation so as to not step on anybody’s toes or to get yourself into trouble. Sarcasm has its place and time but when it is used commonly, so much that you are not even sure of whether you yourself are being serious or sarcastic, then you may start to have problems in your interpersonal relationships. Sarcasm may be considered funny or humorous at times but there are much better ways on how to put a smile on somebody’s face.

How do we define ‘sarcasm’? What exactly does it mean? Well, sarcasm is essentially the using of contempt or irony to mock someone or make fun of someone. Sarcasm is often negative in terms of its usage and while it can be funny to some people you’re not referring to as the focus of the joke; others may be offended by it or not find it tasteful. The thing with sarcasm is that once you start using it on people, you may be liable to consequences where people make fun of you in return using sarcasm. Sarcasm is an unclear form of communication and while it can be considered witty or clever, you’re risking it that the joke may not go over well or that the sarcasm will be turned against you.

You also should be careful about who you are using sarcasm around because some cultures and some peoples are not familiar with this form of humor and will think that you are being serious instead of being aware that you’re joking around. While not limited to only the English language, Sarcasm is considered to be most commonly used in English and is rather foreign to other languages who do not use it as a form of humor.

Sarcasm can often be misconstrued even when it is meant to be funny leading to angst and resentment that can hurt friendships and relationships. The biggest downside to sarcasm is that at the heart of it is dishonesty or a lack of forwardness that can cause mixed emotions or bad feelings over time. When it is used over and over again with the same person, they will not be able to tell if you’re ever being serious or if you’re always being sarcastic instead. When you are hoping to clearly communicate with another person in an honest and frank way, you want to stay far away from using sarcasm at all.

While using sarcasm with friends and family isn’t the worst thing if they are familiar with what it is in terms of humor, you should avoid using it with strangers, employers, or people in official roles. You would not be sarcastic with a firefighter if your house is burning down nor would you do it with a police officer if your car got pulled over for speeding on the highway. These kinds of situations are where you do not want to use sarcasm at all because it could backfire on you in terms of hurting your future.                  Using sarcasm at the office or the workplace is also highly inadvisable especially because of the likelihood that it can be taken the wrong way.

This is especially true if you do not know the person well or know about their sense of humor. Using sarcasm with the wrong people or in the wrong situation could backfire on you severely causing you to lose your job or even lose your friendship when you are not careful about it. Sarcasm with strangers is also not a good idea because they don’t know who you are, or they might not even know what sarcasm which is could put you in potential physical danger if you are not careful. Because of these examples that I have cited, we can conclude that sarcasm should only be used with close friends or family members especially sparingly so as to not cause miscommunication or hurt feelings.

Also, compared to other figures of speech in the English language, sarcasm neither translates well to other languages nor can be written in any real form. You can only use spoken sarcasm usually with humorous or hurtful intent, which means it may be one of the least useful figures of speech to learn and use. Sarcasm is mainly used to mask a true form of communication and is a shortcut or cheap way to undermine being honest and open with other people. People who use sarcasm often and without previous thought run the risk of being seen as emotionally distant or uncaring. They will be perceived by others as putting up walls and not being able to hold a serious conversation. As a result, a lot of sarcasm can cause a lot of harm to one’s personal life and prevent somebody from forming deep, real, and lasting relationships.

Sarcasm, when used in the right way can be very funny, but it is one of those things in life that has a diminishing marginal utility the more it is used. People don’t want to be around someone who is sarcastic all of the time and can’t be trusted to have a serious conversation. Open and honest communication is the antithesis to sarcasm, and I think most people would rather deal with someone who is honest rather than sarcastic. There are also much better and more sincere forms of humor out there that can generate a lot more laughs without hurting someone’s feelings. To poke fun of someone in a real way is alright but to constantly do it will lead to serious problems and broken friendships if the sarcasm does not stop.

Unsurprisingly, sarcasm is most popular with middle school and high school children, but it should be a stage that you grow out of in college and beyond. If you’re a grown man or woman using sarcasm all of the time and never being honest with your co-workers, friends, or family, it is almost certainly going to backfire on you and cause issues in your life. The next time you think of being sarcastic as a grown adult, think deeply before you do it and think about the person or people, you’re making the butt of the joke. If you do not think before you speak, it is likely to end up with negative consequences for you.

Sarcasm is a figure of speech in the English language but to me, it is a mostly unpopular and overrated one that doesn’t translate well or write well either. The next time you hear a sarcastic conversation go on for too long, politely step away and ask to be excused. It’s not worth your time and it’s best you spend your time with other people who are more open, honest, and serious. Being able to handle mature conversations without using sarcasm will set you apart from others and show people that you are a serious adult who is not to be made fun of or messed around with.

Lastly, sarcasm is the lowest form of humor in the English language and as a figure of speech, it leaves a lot to be desired when compared to others such as irony or metaphors. While sarcasm isn’t going away anytime soon, let’s try to limit it down to only being used when a really funny situation arises.