On Winning

Brazilian Portuguese has an odd linguistic confusion: the words to win, to earn, to receive are all the same. Ganhar.

Waiting in line at the Lottery. By the way, Brazilians love the lottery. Winning the national lottery Is a common theme in the telenovelas (serial soap operas), jornais (news coverage), and national mythology. The lottery is Brazil's rags-to-riches story. I find fascinating (and more than a little disturbing) that the national lottery office is the same place that you go to pay electricity, health insurance, and all sorts of other bills. You can pay them other places, but if the bill is overdue the Lottery is the only place you're allowed to go. If you're low-income, there's a child welfare check you can receive to help make sure that your kids get the school books and food that they need. If you don't have a bank account, where can you go to collect your bolsa familia? The Lottery, of course. I wonder which came first. Were the collections placed in the lotteries because everyone went there anyway? Or did the lotteries start offering it as a way to draw people in? Now they seem to be permanently linked. This is a nation that depends on its Lottery for a variety of reasons.
Waiting in line at the Lottery. By the way, Brazilians love the lottery. Winning the national lottery is a common theme in the telenovelas (serial soap operas), jornais (news coverage), and national mythology. The lottery is Brazil’s rags-to-riches story. I find fascinating (and more than a little disturbing) that the national lottery office is the same place that you go to pay electricity, health insurance, and all sorts of other bills. You can pay them other places, but if the bill is overdue the Lottery is the only place you’re allowed to go. If you’re low-income, there’s a child welfare check you can receive to help make sure that your kids get the school books and food that they need. If you don’t have a bank account, where can you go to collect your bolsa familia? The Lottery, of course. I wonder which came first. Were the collections placed in the lotteries because everyone went there anyway? Or did the lotteries start offering it as a way to draw people in? Now they seem to be permanently linked. This is a nation that depends on its Lottery for a variety of reasons.

“Ganhei a loteria.” I won the lottery.“Ganhei um vidrio de geleia.” Someone gave me a jar of jelly.

And my favorite: “Ganhei meu filho no ano pasado.” I had my son last year.

This language charms and enchants me. This is a magical world where lottery winnings are everywhere and winning is everyday.  A gift is a win.  A world where children are prizes to be received. I love this people that finds wins in the mundane, where all that enters your household all is to be celebrated.

On the other hand, it seems to me that this linguistic collision has a dark side: where is the difference between what is earned and what is won? The fact that this language makes no distinction makes my New-England Protestant-Work-Ethic driven brain nigh explode. As an extended family we struggle with encouraging one family of underachievers to stand on their own feet. But how to have the conversation when the language they use for what is given to them is the same as what is earned? How to draw the distinction between the profits of the sweat of your brow, a gift formed from the sweat from another’s brow, and God’s good fortune? They aren’t the same, but the words in Portuguese are. It’s a tangled ball of yarn to unravel.

One last thought on winning. That family that we’re working so hard to encourage? Well, I gotta say that they seem to be pretty happy the way they are. While there’s all sorts of reasons (see: long-term stability, collateral burdens on other family, kids’ future aspirations) that I wouldn’t recommend trying this at home, this is indeed a family that knows how to LAUGH. Life doesn’t have a finish line, and we can’t take it with us when we go. Naked in we come, naked out we go. So while we’re certainly doing ourselves all a favor in teaching them to be more self-sufficient, I sometimes wonder if we’re doing them one? Teach them to fret more about the day-to-day, about what the future might hold? Sometimes as my husband and suffer the false-starts and frustrations of starting a new life, it seems to us that the true blessing might to be simply content with what you have.

The “wins” are how you define them.

Advertisements

5 comments

  1. You could use “conseguir” instead of “ganhar” when conveying to someone that they should attain something instead of receiving it: “consiga as coisas por conta própria, não espere para ganhá-las”.
    My favorite Portuguese shortcoming is that how the language uses “tempo” to designate both time and weather. I also find it wierd that there really isn’t a stand alone term for weather in Portuguese. Ok, you can say “condições climaticas” but it is so unappealing and doesn’t sound natural at all.
    Are you Protestant btw?

    • A good linguistic work-around. Thanks! The “tempo” thing doesn’t bother me as much because it’s the same in Spanish. Portuguese does have “clima” like Spanish does if you want to describe a more permanent state of weather. I’ve used it and people seem to nod their heads as if they understand 😉

  2. I love your blog Mal! I was thinking about your rug the other day and what crafty creative things you might be up to in Brazil. I learned how to knit after years of stopping and starting (I think my original inspiration was watching you make dish cloths!). I I am imagining interesting local yarns – although I am sure the farm work is taking the majority of your energy. Keep it up and lots of love. Jess and fam.

    • Thanks for reading! Glad you’re enjoying. Sadly no knitting here–it’s too hot! I’ve taken up crochet as a result. Ladies here go ALL OUT with the crochet and will make coverings for just about anything. Me, I mostly have made some small area rugs and a few towel trimmings for relatives. Since we’re dead broke for now the craftiness is finding its outlet in repurposing items for household use & decoration (lampshades, refinishing furniture, curtains, etc.) Since this blog is more travel/philosophy than crafty maybe I’ll start a Pinterest feed with all my finished projects!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s