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Yes. It's perfectly possible to use "non-adjective" expressions for thanking people.
"Valeu" is pretty ok in Brazil, informal but not seen as a bad thing.
"(Eu) agradeço" (I thank you) is also a good one :)
And even if you are a woman, you can still say "obrigado!" as an interjection. That can be accepted and is not so weird. The opposite, though, a man using "obrigada" will be frown upon.
Haha that's what some people say about "male" or "female" but I don't buy into that. =)
I could alternate, or I could just leave the vowel off, half the time people ellide the syllables anyway in actual conversations. I'd be curious though if there is a convention that any nonbinary people have been adopting.
Here's the longer explanation. The literal translation of "obrigado" is "obliged" and because it is an adjective it has to agree with gender; in this case the ending changes from 'o' for masculine agreement to 'a' for feminine agreement. Because you are using the adjective to describe yourself then you must use a different ending depending on whether you are a man or a woman as Riley has already explained much more succinctly.
[Added later] Many discussions disappear quickly here. Here's one I dug up on this topic: http://www.duolingo.com/comment/60688
I can understand your confusion because you would expect a native speaker to know best. This article is in Portuguese and the writer basically says what I say, but some of the commentators disagree and agree with your friend instead: http://emportuguescorrecto.blogs.sapo.pt/4029.html.
Here is another viewpoint: http://www.flip.pt/Duvidas-Linguisticas/Duvida-Linguistica.aspx?DID=1008. This seems to be the most authoritative one. It repeats what I say, but adds that "obrigado" can also be thought of as an interjection and therefore can be used by both men and women alike.
Ask your colleague to look at these pages and see if she is swayed by their arguments. I'm sticking with my simple rule.
Thanks for your very quick answer! Hehe, my level of portuguese is at "Olá, eu sou uma mulher e eu gosto de abacaxi. A borboleta escreve um livro. Parabéns! Tchau!" but it's very flattering that you would think I could understand a whole article in portugues :D Maybe it's a regional thing, as my friend is from Madeira. But I'll stick to your rule, I think :)
Google is your friend. When I'm faced with a page of dense Portuguese I'll often cheat and paste the URL into Google translate. The little knowledge of Portuguese I've picked up here helps me untangle some of the gibberish that Google occasionally produces (it is easy to see the original Portuguese in a popup), but even without that refinement you'll usually be able to get the gist. In fact, Google's Chrome browser on a desktop computer detects the page language and offers to translate it with a single click of your mouse.
When you know what "obrigado/obrigada" means, the more logical is too agree the gender with yourself, not the person you want to thank. I don't know if Portugal has its own Royal Academy for the language, I didn't find an official site as for other language (Someone knows where we can find official rules?), but every site I checked with Portuguese lessons, explain that it has to agree with the person who speak. Ex: http://www.omniglot.com/language/articles/obrigado.htm
I believe there are misusage of the language, as for every language, but it's not the official rules.
Your colleague might be right. Duolingo's Portuguese is the Brazilian one. There are things that change between it and the European Portuguese.
Once I saw a Portuguese man getting offended here because a Brazilian man said that "mais pequeno" is wrong and people might think you are illiterate if you say it instead of "menor". While this is true in Pt-Br, "mais pequeno" is the standard in Pt-Eu according to the first man.
So women say "Obrigada" and men say "obrigado", but what if i want to say "WE thank you" and we are a mixture of males and females, what should i say?
Technically, "Obrigados" for an all-male or mixed group and "Obrigadas" for an all-female group, but these forms appear to be little used in Brazil. See: http://www.normaculta.com.br/obrigado-ou-obrigada/
See the link previously mentioned by PERCE_NEIGE which covers this point and gives some alternative ways of saying thank you in this case: http://www.omniglot.com/language/articles/obrigado.htm
Just a coincidence. While they sound alike, and have similar use, Arigatou dates far before the Portuguese ever came to Japan. Also, the meanings differ slightly. Arigatou merely means thank you, while the litteral meaning of obrigado is "obliged", used as in "I'm obliged (to return the favor)". Wikipedia mentions this in this article: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Japanese_words_of_Portuguese_origin
I'm a native English speaker. 'Thank you" is a more emphatic version of "thanks." For example, you'd probably say "thanks" if somebody got you a glass of water. But you'd probably say "thank you" if somebody bought you a new car. "Thanks" is often spoken more neutrally than "thank you."
I don't think this is real problem because you can always add "não" to make the "no thank you" meaning clear.
I'm told it is possible for "obrigado/a" to mean "no, thank you" in certain circumstances. Let's say you have just finished a meal and the waiter asks if you would like a coffee, if you respond with simply "obrigado/a" rather than something like "obrigado/a, aceito" it is possible the coffee will never come. :-)
Well, I got that cultural snippet from one of the comments (the one by SeeBe) at the end of this amusing article: http://www.economist.com/blogs/johnson/2013/06/brazilians-ctd
Thank you for sharing, David! Your link prompted me to find the precursory blog post in the Economist, plus another post which is also apparently related. Quite amusing stuff!