Downtown São Paulo

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Camera: Samsung Galaxy J2 Core

Location: Downtown São Paulo, São Paulo, Brazil

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“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.

Saudade

There is a fact that you eventually have to come to terms with as a language learner such as myself: there are going to be certain words in foreign languages that have no direct translation to the English language. The art of translation is an imperfect one, which means that you need to be comfortable doing your best to come up with an adequate description of a foreign word even if there is no direct translation available.

The beauty of studying a foreign language is being able to use one word that is able to sum up a number of different emotions and feelings that are tied together. While there are singular phrases and/or words in the English language that have no equivalent in other languages, the same could be said for the Portuguese word of ‘Saudade.’

According to Dictionary.com, Saudade means “a feeling of longing, melancholy, or nostalgia that is supposedly characteristic of the Portuguese or Brazilian temperament.” As you can see from the English definition that I have written about above, there are a great number of different words in English that you could use to describe saudade in Portuguese. While there are multiple words in the English language that could be translated to have the same meaning as saudade, however, in its’ culture and in the overall context, there is only one saudade in its’ original language of Portuguese.

While I have never been to Brazil or to Portugal, I have recently begun to study the Portuguese language in earnest. I now believe that is a really powerful language in terms of communicating both emotions and feelings. Portuguese is a romance language like Spanish, and I have found that the way I communicate in either of these two romance languages is much different than how I communicate in my mother tongue of English. I think that there is a huge variety of ways for which you can express your emotions and feelings in romance languages such as Spanish or Portuguese, and you can be more expressive in those ways when compared to the English language.

I first learned about saudade not from my Portuguese language studies but rather from when I was watching a recent episode of Anthony Bourdain’s show, “Parts Unknown”, when he is visiting Porto, Portugal. There’s a beautiful scene in that episode where Mr. Bourdain is listening to an older woman singing a melodic song in Portuguese about how she has experienced saudade in her past, and how she mourns for a lost lover.

It goes to show you how any human being can relate to that exact feeling even if each individual language has a different way of stating what that feeling is. If you think about saudade in English when it comes to musical expression, the first thing that comes to my mind is the ‘blues.’ You can say that someone has the ‘blues’ and is feeling upset or bummed out about life. However, the ‘blues’ is also a form of expressive music in English similar to how singers and musicians can express saudade in Portuguese musical styles.

I have come to love the word, saudade, because regardless of the fact that it comes from a different language, everyone around the world can relate to it in terms of what it means. Everyone experiences saudade whether they realize it or not. Saudade is longing for someone or something that you’re nostalgic for from your past but which you’re unable to have with you in the present. It’s a deep yearning to go back in time to experience those positive, happy moments that put a smile on our face. It’s a very human thing to want to dive back into your memories and make them real again because one day, that’s all that we’re truly left with.

Whether it’s a long lost lover, a memorable trip, or a fun night out with your close friends, saudade can represent any one of those unique, happy memories. The older a person gets, the more they’re likely to experience saudade because it’s only natural to want the people or things back in your life that were once present and real. While our memories can be happy and joyous, they can also be painful and sad. If you’re yearning for a family member who passed away or a lover who you parted ways with, you’re going to be having saudade. In order to go through saudade, you need to experience life in all of its’ ups and downs. You need to feel things, have experiences, go off to new places, be part of events, etc. in order to make those memories happen whether they end up being beautiful or ugly. That is saudade at its’ core.

Millions of love poems and songs have been written about saudade, whether these feelings and emotions were described in the original Portuguese or other languages such as English, Spanish, etc. While we are happy to have had those experiences, met those people, and done those things, we are also sad because we know those occurrences are in the past and may never come to us again in our lives. Saudade is a very strong emotion and one that we all experience at least once.

When it comes to saudade, it’s important to remember that it’s still necessary to move on emotionally to focus on the present and the future. While it’s nice to reminisce about past memories and experiences, you don’t want to do it so often that you’re handicapping yourself from thinking about what’s next to come in your life, and what your future holds. Like many things in life, there’s a balance to be struck between the past, the present, and the future. Saudade is a powerful and potent feeling but you should not let it consume you.

If you decide to learn more about what saudade is, you should invest in studying the Portuguese language. When it comes to using ‘saudade’ in European Portuguese, it would look something like, “Tenho saudades tuas.” A sentence with ‘saudade’ in Brazilian Portuguese would look a little bit different but very similar to the European structure and form. “Tenho saudades de você”, which translates in English literally as “I have saudade of you” or if you are using the better, more figurative translation of this sentence; Either “I miss you” or “I have feelings for you” would work best in this context.

When it comes to other countries’ languages, there are words that come close to describing what saudade is. Whether its’ the ‘blues’ in America, ‘Sehnsucht’ in Germany, or ‘Tizita’ in Ethiopia, many cultures around the world have their own form of saudade in their respective languages. Saudade seems to be a cultural centerpiece in both Brazil and Portugal with there even being a specific day devoted to the word in Brazil that takes places every year on January 30th.

The fact that this word ‘saudade’ can have figurative translations to other similar words in different languages, and cultures in other parts of the world should show us how interconnected the world really is. There is universality in the human experience that transcends language, culture, and national boundaries. We all feel joy, pain, sorrow, anger, and happiness.

Considering that many languages across the world have a word such as the Portuguese ‘saudade’ to represent the ups and downs of life is a testament to how there is more that should unite us than divide us as human beings. Whether it’s a young Portuguese sailor missing his homeland on the initial journey to the new world, or an elderly man thinking about a lifetime of memories in the local park while feeding the birds as time passes by, saudade is saudade.