Teaching Portuguese idioms is one of my favorite parts of being a teacher. This is because while doing it, I'm sharing a bit more of the Portuguese culture. Also, when you aren't familiar with an idiom and try to translate it in a literal way, this may cause you to completely lose the point of the conversation.
In Portuguese, like all languages, there are plenty of idioms. Some of them, especially when literally translated, may sound funny.
These are just ten of my favorite idioms related to food… that have nothing to do with it!
1. Não vai ser pêra doce
Literal translation: It won't be a sweet pear.
Figurative translation: It won't be easy.
Pêra doce means “sweet pear”. Since eating sweet food is usually something that people consider easy and joyful to do, not being a sweet pear means that it will be complicated to overcome the next challenge.
“Tenho estudado imenso para passar o próximo exame porque sei que não vai ser pêra doce.” (I've been studying a lot to pass the next exam because I know it won't be easy.)
2. Estamos feitos ao bife
Literal translation: We made the steak.
Figurative translation: We are in danger OR We are screwed.
This is a very informal but still polite expression to say that you are in danger, that your actions have brought you into a bad situation with few or no discernible solutions.
The origin of this expression is unknown. In my personal opinion, it means that you are being compared with a steak, a piece of meat, something already dead which is obviously not good.
More about the origin of this expression can be found here.
“Partimos a jarra preferida da mãe enquanto jogavamos à bola dentro de casa, agora estamos feitos ao bife.” (We broke our mother's favorite jar while playing football inside the house, now we are screwed.)
3. Fazer uma tempestade num copo de água
Literal translation: Make a storm in a glass of water.
Figurative translation: Make a storm in a teacup.
This idiom, both in Portuguese and English, means that someone exaggerates a problem or makes a small problem seem far greater than it really is. This one I've heard many times after couples have had a fight.
The English expression often uses the word “tempest” instead of “storm”--you'll most likely hear “tempest in a teacup”.
“Estás à horas a pensar no que aconteceu, acho que estás a fazer uma tempestade num copo de água.” (You are thinking about what happened for hours, I think you are making a storm in a teacup.)
4. Pão, pão, queijo, queijo
Literal translation: Bread, bread, cheese, cheese.
Figurative translation: Call a spade a spade.
This is the expression used whenever you need to tell someone how simple something is, in a very honest way. It implies that bread is bread and cheese is cheese, simple as that. And so if, for example, someone looks bad you should say: “You look bad.”
“Estás gordo e se queres perder peso, tens de fazer mais exercício. É pão, pão, queijo, queijo.” (You are fat and if you want to lose weight, you must exercise more. Call a spade a spade.)
5. Não ter papas na língua
Literal translation: Not to have popes on the tongue.
Figurative translation: To not mince words.
This one is also similar to the English version; it means that people say what they really mean clearly. You can say Ter or Não ter, which means “to have” or “not to have”, papas na língua. From my personal experience, Não ter papas na língua is more commonly used than Ter papas na língua. I think that's because people from the south of Portugal, where I'm originally from, generally say what they think less than the ones from the north, and so they complain about it. (If you think that this idiom is very similar to the previous one, then you are right, they mean essentially the same thing).
“Ele chegou aqui e disse tudo o que pensava sobre o nosso projeto, não teve papas na língua.” (He came here and said everything that was in his mind about our project, didn't mince words.)
6. Muitos anos a virar frangos
Literal translation: Many years to turn chickens.
Figurative translation: Know the ropes.
This expression means that someone is experienced and knows how the system works.
A: Como é que você sabe tanto sobre educar crianças?
B: Meu amigo, muitos anos a virar frangos.
A: How do you know so much about educating kids?
B: My friend, I know the ropes.
7. Não há cá pão para malucos
Literal translation: No bread here for crazy ones.
Figurative translation: No laughing matter.
Maluco means “crazy”. This idiom means that something is very serious, not to play around. Read more about the origin of this expression here.
“Estamos aqui a trabalhar no duro e tu vens com brincadeiras? Podes por-te a andar porque não há cá pão para malucos.” (We are here working hard and you come to play around? You can go home because this is no laughing matter.)
8. Não misturar alhos com bugalhos
Literal translation: Do not mix garlic with oak-apples.
Figurative translation: Do not mix apples and oranges.
This idiom, in both English and Portuguese, is used when people compare or describe two totally different things.
“Estás a misturar alhos com bogalhos, o aumento do número de assaltos não tem nada a ver com a vitória do FC Porto.” (You are mixing apples and oranges, the increase in the of number of robberies has nothing to do with FC Porto's win.)
9. Já me está a chegar a mostarda ao nariz!
Literal translation: Already, the mustard is getting to my nose.
Figurative translation: Don't upset the applecart.
If you are told this idiom, you are being told “I'm upset with what you are doing, stop it, and if you don't there will be problems!” So, do not disturb that person more with whatever is being done to him or her.
“Vê se paras de falar sobre esse assunto porque já me está a chegar a mustarda ao nariz!” (Stop talking about that topic because I'm already upset with it!)
10. (Ser) Cabeça de alho chocho
Literal translation: (To be a) Head of doddering garlic.
Figurative translation: You are distracted/forgetful OR You don't make sense anymore.
Chocho means “doddering” or “gaga”. This idiom is used when people are not thinking properly. I've heard it mostly used when talking about kids or elderly people. It can also mean that you don't pay attention, that you are not making any sense or that you have a bad memory.
“Os meus alunos cometeram erros muito básicos no primeiro teste, são umas cabecinhas-de-alho-chocho”. (My students made so many basic mistakes on the first test, their heads are in the clouds).
I hope that you have enjoyed some insights about Portuguese cuisine! Feel free to taste some Pasteis de Nata with Vinho do Porto.
Hero image by Caroline (CC BY 2.0)