When I first arrived in Rio, I naively thought that once I had a good grasp of Portuguese my communication woes would be over. What I went on to discover is that the actual language is just part of the challenge. The rules of conversation here are quite different.
While a certain amount of interruption is common in English, I found that Cariocas take the art of interruption to new heights. These interruptions were pretty annoying at first – I would be trying to describe some event or experience but the person I was talking to wouldn’t let me finish a sentence! And even when the person I was talking to was listening attentively, someone else would come along and barge in with their own topic with little regard for the fact that we were already speaking about something else!
I later found that Cariocas (this may or may not apply to Brazilians in general) have a suite of verbal tricks to counteract the constant interruptions:
Let’s start with the most common one. Listen to two Cariocas trying to explain something to each other (simultaneously, claro) and you will hear this phrase a lot! Meaning literally “Only look”, some people seem to start nearly every sentence with these two little words. The real meaning is something more like “Look here” and it seems to be a fairly mild way of indicating that you are about to say something that deserves to be heard. This one reminds me of the Australian habit of starting every other sentence (especially when answering a question) with “Ah, look…”
Deixa eu falar…
The literal meaning is “Let me speak”, though as with Olha só, this translates to something quite a lot milder than the English meaning. Probably a better translation would be something like “Here’s what I think…”. The full phrase sounds like ‘daysha ay-o falar’, though it is often contracted to the max until it sounds more like ‘show-falar’.
OK, now we’re moving into passive-aggressive territory! I remember one of the top bosses in my last office job used to have extremely noisy phone calls (usually arranging a family holiday or some such non-work related matter) in which he would utter this little gem every couple of minutes to some long-suffering travel agent or whoever. The literal translation, “look well”, doesn’t really convey quite how annoying it is to be on the receiving end of this one. Imagine someone imperiously putting their hand up to stop you talking and then going on to explain why everything you’ve just said is wrong…dumbass! Something like that.
OK, so far we’ve dealt with phrases that are mostly used as pre-emptive efforts to avoid interruption. But what can you do in the (highly likely) event that you are interrupted? I learnt this last phrase from a certain marathon running colleague who shared the office with me and the Veja Bem guy:
She would accompany these two words, meaning “Can I speak?”, with a not-very-friendly smile and a raised eyebrow. The overall effect conveyed a message along the lines of “I dare you to interrupt me again” and usually stopped the interrupter in their tracks.
So there are a few stock phrases surrounding the interruption/interjection game. Personally I’m still British enough that I mostly just sigh inwardly rather than get into the ‘Posso falar?’ zone. If the interruptions really get to me, I break out my secret weapon: