New Zealand local and national news reports tend to have a very different character from those in Brazil. Some New Zealand headlines I found in a quick survey of recent news included “One-Armed Man Pleads Not Guilty To Bar Incident”, “Sewage Leak Turns Creek Black” and “Information Sought On Skate-Park Tagger”. I think I can guarantee that these stories would never make the news in Brazil. Here the news is more like this: “70 Confirmed Deaths in Three States Due to Yellow Fever”, “120 Murdered In One Weekend Due To Police Strike”, and “São Paulo Military Police Use Bombs To Disperse Carnival Revellers.” Brazilian news tends to be of a serious and urgent character – people are murdered, kidnapped, dismembered and infected with lethal viruses in a truly gripping 24-hour news cycle – by contrast, New Zealand news tends to be, well, boring and, for the most part, trivial.
In the last year, the main serious news story in New Zealand concerned the November earthquake, which caused extensive damage, followed perhaps by the resignation for no scandalous reason of the prime minister. Ongoing news stories concern property prices, especially in Auckland, the economy (‘doing well’) and inward migration. These stories are of a piece with all New Zealand news throughout my lifetime: natural disasters are major events and duly treated as such; prime ministerial resignations are rare and therefore newsworthy (the last significant one was that of David Lange in 1989) but (given the totally dominant socio-economic consensus agreed between the factions governing New Zealand since 1984) represent exactly nothing in terms of the broader direction of national politics; property prices are of constant news interest in a society in which ownership of residential property is the decisive factor determining wealth or poverty; the endlessly improving economy is a mainstay of government propaganda; and migration, inward (Polynesian in the 80s, Chinese and of assorted famous oligarchs now) and outward (New Zealanders to Australia – a big deal until recently) is a constant source of angst which can be boiled down to the grave questions “why are they all leaving?” and “why are they all coming?” alternating in prevalence in ten-year cycles.
If therefore, you want to hold a conversation in New Zealand, you would do well to learn the vocabulary of plate tectonics and the property market, learn the names (or nicknames) and foibles of one or two key politicians (personality being the key to politics in a situation where no policy alternatives exist), learn to talk about how amazing the economy is and come up with a neutral but interesting position on migration. And if you are really desperate you can always talk about rugby.
Now let’s consider Brazil over the last year: an ongoing corruption scandal has engulfed the entire élite political class, ensnaring several high-profile politicians (including the speaker of Congress and several state governors); a nominally left-wing president was impeached after a series of massive, highly orchestrated right-wing protests (in which demonstrators called for domestic and international military intervention, the establishment of a dictatorship, an end to affirmative-action programmes and the introduction of the death penalty, among other things (and, for some reason, set up giant inflatable ducks in public places)); a new, all-male, all-white, right-wing government was formed from elements of the former military dictatorship and the main opposition targets of the ongoing large-scale judicial investigation into corruption, which then set about imposing a radical, Blitzkrieg-style policy agenda totally opposed in direction and emphasis to that of the previous government; there was the Zika outbreak and microcephaly epidemic; the Olympics were held, leading to the bankruptcy of the state of Rio de Janeiro and the collapse of its public services; the new government imposed a twenty-year cap on public expenditure; there was a yellow fever outbreak; the police went on strike in Espírito Santo state, leading to a massive violent crime wave; the terrifying story of the ‘prosthetics mafia’ broke; the three wealthy southern states voted on secession from the union; and a gang war between the São Paulo-based PCC and the Rio-based CV spread over into the north of the country, leading to an outbreak of horrific prison violence between the PCC and the another group known as the FDN (acting as proxies for the CV) in which prisoners from one group (about a hundred of them) were beheaded and dismembered by prisoners from the other, a genuinely shocking incident, made all the more shocking when the links between the FDN and the state governor of Amazonas became known, and which was hailed by some elements of the new government as a cost-effective way of reducing the prison population.
As you can see, dear reader, there is plenty to talk about. Some good new additions to my Portuguese vocabulary in the period Carnival 2016 – Carnival 2017 include: chacina (massacre); caixa dois (a secret account held by a politician for the receipt of bribes); foliões (revellers – in the news today for being attacked by the military police); doleiro (bag-man – to be fair, probably a 2015-2016 acquisition); desquartejado (quartered, as in ‘drawn and quartered’ – the sad fate of many prisoners in Amazonas); delação premiada (plea bargain, a common occurrence as imprisoned politicians and their associates fight to save their skins); and posse (inauguration, of President Michel Temer once he had seen off the hapless Dilma Rousseff).
Of course, if you are desperate, you can always talk about the football.