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Idiomatic Portuguese Expressions – Pt. 2

Idiomatic Portuguese Expressions – Pt. 2

Culture, Learning Portuguese

As we know Portugal is a multicultural country, where is possible to identify the influences of different nations, partly because of the colonies and partly because of the conquests of the other European countries. For these reasons, there are some idiomatic expressions that are all linked to nationalities and have some very interesting explanations, so let’s go!

See the first part here.


This idiomatic expression is used in a context where something is made only for appearance, but tacitly it doesn’t correspond to reality.

The origin of the expression is related to the laws to stop the slave trade, emanated by Portugal, England, and Brazil at the beginning of XIX. Although there was an agreement between the three countries and despite the pressure of the British Empire, the slave trade continued and the laws remained just to impress English people.

  • Viver à grande e à Francesa: “Live in the luxury and following the French style”.

Portuguese people started to use this expression after the first French invasion of Portugal. General Junot and his companions introduced the country to a completely new style of life, that was characterized by ostentation comfort and splendor.  They frequented theaters and restaurants and they demanded luxury apartments and sumptuous uniforms.

In order to afford such a standard of life, they asked Lisbon Senate for a super-high salary, becoming the richest people amongst the local inhabitants. After this, French people were linked to this lifestyle which is why the expression was born.

  • Negócio da China: “Chinese deal”.

The origin of this expression is dated back to the XIII century, during the discovery travels of Marco Polo, when China started to be known as a place of amazing and exotic things, and for this reason, started to attract the attention of merchants. Since then, a lot of merchants started to sell products found in Asia, so it was possible to conclude that very good bargains were found in this part of the world.

  • Ver-se grego: “See Greek”.

The meaning of this is expression is related to the difficulty of the Greek language. Learning and understanding it was also a challenge in the past when the official language was Latin.

During the Middle Age, translators usually added a note on the paper on which they were working: “Graecum est, non legitur” – “É grego, não se entende” – “It’s Greek, I can’t read” when they couldn’t translate the text. So when we use this expression, it’s because we find ourselves in a difficult situation, when we have a problem that we can’t easily solve and which requires a huge effort.

We hope that after these brief explanations, your life in Portugal will be easier!

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