An interview with Zé do Rock “Smile, you are being filmed!”

The writer and comedian Zé do Rock
The writer and comedian Zé do Rock | © Zé do Rock

The Brazilian writer and film-maker Zé do Rock likes to have fun with the Germans language and has tinkered together his own version of German. Also in his new book “per anhalter durch die brasilianische galaxis” (i.e., Hitchhiking through the Brazilian Galaxy). A not entirely serious interview.

Kaudadeutsh (hodgepodge German), ultradoitsh (ultra-German), wunschdeutsch forte (preferred German, high-strength) … In your books you’ve reformed – zéformed – the German language, enriching it with a mix of Portuguese and a felt sort of fake Esperanto. What don’t you like about the lever arch file grey official language?

In German you can combine words without making clear their relation to each other. For example, someone is a “Hühnerdieb”, that is, he steals chickens. But the “Ladendieb” (shoplifter) isn’t a robber who lifts shops. This makes for imprecision, but also for flexibility. And there are such beautiful words as “bierselig” (beery), “Blechlawine” (traffic jam; literally “tin flood”) and “Drahtesel” (bike, boneshaker; literally “wire donkey”). When I was looking for an English equivalent of the word “Fernweh”, I found only “Wanderlust”: Anglophones can translate the German word only with another German word.

Because of this combinatory flexibility, German is a very expressive language. But otherwise it has a gazillion rules, which hardly anybody has mastered completely. And this is a hindrance to creativity; you’re always asking yourself whether you’ve written something correctly. And then there little time to pay attention to the content.

And what do you do with this?

I’ve therefore created Ultradoitsh (ultra-German), a logical and consistent system, and Wunschdeutsch (preferred German, high-strength), a democratic, grass roots German. Kaudadeutsh (hodgepodge German) is internationalized and multicultural German that uses the greatest possible number of foreign words in their original form. It reverses the vowel shift; that is to say, back to Low German, so that people who speak another Germanic language can understand it better. And, of course, my last book is about Brazil, so German becomes more Brazilian. There’s also a “Europano”, a mixture of European languages. But I haven’t written a book in this language. I’m not crazy: I want to have readers!


The World Cup in “Zégerman”

A few alemãos will certainly be coming to the World Cup in your former homeland of Brazil. For the sake of fairness, could you also simplify (Brazilian) Portuguese for German speakers? An example, please!

Yes, I’ve also created “Brazileis”, which is orthographically simplified and adopts the simplifications of street Brazilian – for example, in the conjugation of the verb “querer” (to want):
School Portuguese Brazileis Analogue German
Eu quero Eu keru ich will (I want)
Tu queres Ce ker du willst (you want)
Ele quer Eli ker er/sie will (he/she wants)
Nós queremos A jent ker wir wollen (we want)
Vós quereis Ceis ker ihr wollt (you want)
Eles querem Elis ker sie wollen (they want)

And of course the plural is designated by only a single definite or indefinite article. For instance, instead of “Os cachorros associais” (die asozialen Hunde, the asocial dogs), as a deterrent warning fixed on houses is often formulated, Brazileis has “Us caxorru associau” (die asozial hund, the asocial dog).

Similarities between Germans and Brazilians

“The Germans are poor, but cheerful – while the Brazilians have lots of money but are constantly whining.” Your film Schroeder liegt in Brasilien (i.e., Schroeder Is in Brazil) (“an informative documedy”) subverts clichés: how do Brazilians think about Germans – and vice versa? What similarities between the two cultures have you noticed?

They are the two countries with the biggest public festivals in the world – Carnival in Rio and the Oktoberfest in Munich. But Carnival also has a strong presence in Germany, and the Oktoberfest is also celebrated in Brazil, at least in the south. They are the two biggest football countries, at least if you consider the historical score in the World Championships. A few years ago the Brazilians dominated Formula 1; now the Germans do. Economically, Germany is the fourth largest world power; Brazil the sixth. So if you consider that there are 193 countries in the world, Germany and Brazil are practically neighbours on the “tables”. Of course, the Germans are still rather ahead in per capita income … After the Indians, the Portuguese and the Africans, the Germans were the fourth people to discover Brazil 200 years ago. And in Sao Paulo there’s the largest German industrial centre in the world. Moreover, both peoples grew up with Mickey Mouse and American television – at least in West Germany.

For your latest book, Per Anhalter durch die brasilianische Galaxis (i.e., Hitchhiking through the Brazilian Galaxy), you hitchhiked for months through your old homeland. What Brazilian characteristics and practices now seem to you to be odd after years of “Germanization”?

In Brazil you can buy almost nothing without giving your tax number (CPF), which is then immediately checked at the central office. In German, the state controls its citizens through the compulsory registration of address. What is unpleasantly noticeable in Brazil is the evangelisation. Previously, 90 per cent of the population were lax Catholics, and the remaining 10 per cent were lax Protestants. Today about 30 per cent are evangelicals, Pentecostals. They’re the driving force of the wave of prohibitions sweeping over the country.

A prime example can be found in the high-rise where my sister lives: you arrive there and to the left of the entrance is a sign reading: “Honking Prohibited!” You enter the enclosed grounds and you’re already confronted by three outdoor non-smoking notices. At the lift: “It is prohibited to take guests with you into the pool” (swimming pools are a regular feature of middle-class high-rises). “It is prohibited for children less than twelve years of age to use the lift alone.” “It is prohibited to discriminate against people because of their race or religion”. And also the hotline for denouncing smokers. You enter the lift and finally see a sign that isn’t a prohibition: “Smile, you are being filmed”.


Zé do Rock, born in Brazil, is a writer and comedian who now lives in Germany and writes various texts, including the original version of this interview, in “Zédeutsch” or “Dorockemán”, a satirical alienation of the German language.