Should I Stay or Should I Go?

This post is also known as “why I love the verb ficar.” 

When I first learned ficar in Portuguese class, my teacher followed it with “we use this verb for everything.”

In the beginning, it’s not readily apparent. If you look it up in a Portuguese dictionary, it literally means “to stay.”

Não sair de um lugar ou de uma situação; permanecer.

Easy enough, right? For example, “Fiquei na casa.” I stayed home. Okay, beautiful, got it!

The more you learn, though, the more it gets a little more complicated. “Onde fica o hotel?” means you’re asking where the hotel is, not where it’s staying. (Though it does stay on one specific street in one specific address, I suppose.) And, of course, there’s ficando which means you’re dating someone, but not seriously, so you’re just kind of staying together (perhaps with an added “for now” tacked on until it’s official).

My favorite, though, is how ficar is used with states of being. I didn’t realize until I asked my boyfriend for help with expressing that I was worried for a friend. Fiquei preocupada. Sure, it translates as “I was worried,” and yet not quite.

Translating back into my English brain, reading fiquei preocupada becomes “I stayed worried.” As in, I stayed/resided/spent time in this particular emotional state that may or may not change in the future. It’s temporary. Like, I may be in a state of worry now, but I may move to a different state of being later. Who knows? We’ll see.

In English, states of being sound so permanent. I am worried. He is angry. They are lonely. “To be” could mean anything from being angry for five seconds to a lifetime of worry and fear. There’s no time attached to it. Instead, it’s a descriptor of the self.

It’s such a small difference, but I believe these are little nooks and crannies within which you find cultural differences. I get nervous about paperwork and preparation because, if something goes wrong, the process has to begin again. Slowly I realize how American that is. It’s not THE END, it’s a temporary set back, an obstacle to work around until moving on to the next one. Circular vs. linear and all that jazz.

For now, I stay enamored with ficar.

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