Brazilian soap operas have invaded Portugal's four television channels and now reign supreme over prime-time scheduling. Of last year's top-50 programmes, 48 were soaps from Brazil. Their influence has become so strong that the Portuguese are adopting Brazilian expressions and customs in an astonishing process of cultural colonialism in reverse.
Up to eight Brazilian soap operas or telenovelas are shown every day, back to back, with a respite only for the lunchtime and evening news. By channel-hopping you can spend your entire waking hours watching them, and to judge from the ratings, many Portuguese do.
One hugely popular saga, O rei do gado (Cattle King) that has just finished - sending regretful sighs sweeping the nation - was seen by a record- breaking 74 per cent of television-watching Portuguese - outscoring even football, with which it frequently competed for the peak slots. Based on Brazil's centuries-long conflict between landowners and peasants, its daily hour-long episodes tackled the issue of land reform. The climax coincided with a cross-country trek by real-life landless Brazilians who marched upon the capital Brasilia in pursuit of justice. In Portugal, the language is becoming peppered with Brazilian soap slang, like cafune (caress), fofoca (intrigue, particularly a political one), curtir (to have fun), or agua con azucar (to take things easy or describe something as honey-sweet). The expressions themselves give some idea of the soaps' content. Todo bem (everything OK) is ousting the more usual como esta? as Portugal's way of saying hello, and the Brazilian Esta a dar and Ta! are now commonly used by Portuguese for "OK, good". Even more remarkable are the copied gestures: one landowner character had his wrists laden with gold bracelets, which he would shake when angry. …