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Making fun of the Portuguese

By Brazil Correspondent Stephen Cviic, BBC News, 19 April 2000

With their country celebrating 500 years since the arrival of Portuguese explorers, Brazilians are getting a large dose of history on television.

The big hit at the moment is a costume drama about the struggle of Italian immigrants in the nineteenth century.

The Italians are portrayed as romantic and hard-working. But, elsewhere on Brazilian television, the Portuguese are getting a very different treatment.

Comedians from Brazil's main satirical programme travelled to Lisbon to record material for their show. The intention was clear - to make fun of the Portuguese.

In one sequence the Brazilian comedians even persuade an elderly couple from Lisbon to climb into a bed together so they can act out a well-known joke. The Portuguese couple take the teasing in a remarkably good spirit.

Blaming the past

Brazilians are not hostile to their former colonial masters but they are often patronising. Anthropologist Antonio Juaranchez had an explanation.

There is a very, very, very big interest in anything that's new here, he said. Brazilians are not very much into tradition.

The Portuguese and Portugal tend to represent all that's old, all that's heavy, all that doesn't move.

Most Brazilians have some Portuguese blood, dating back to the colonial period. But even those with more recent links share the prejudice.

Two people with Portuguese grandparents, Sidney and Gabriella, blame Brazil's problems on the former colonists.

Sidney said: We usually say that Brazil is what it is because we were colonised by the Portuguese, whereas if we were colonised by the Dutch or the Germans, you know, Brazil would have been a first world country nowadays.

We blame the kind of colonisation we had on the Portuguese, said Gabriella.

New investment

Nowadays the economic boot is on the other foot. The Portuguese economy is growing fast and Portuguese companies are bringing their money to Brazil.

Portugal Telecom, for example, has bought Sao Paulo's main mobile phone network. Their chief representative in Brazil Jose Roque de Pinho said it was bringing a new era of immigration.

We send people representing companies that really have cash to invest and this changes the way the Brazilians start looking at the Portuguese culture, the Portuguese people, he said. The other day journalists were telling me, 'If you continue doing things like this all the jokes about the Portuguese are going to end because there is no more reason for having these jokes'.

The anniversary celebrations will be marked with music and song. One Brazilian song written in a Portuguese style looks back to the period 500 years ago when Portuguese sailors first crossed the Atlantic.

Independence when it came was remarkably painless, which may be one reason for the friendliness of the banter on both sides.

Brazilians will probably go on teasing their Iberian cousins but when it comes to business the relationship is now one of respect.