by Bianca Otávio, Educational Consultant @WorldTribe
It is not so easy to talk about a culture in a huge country like Brazil, with its different customs and traditions that vary according to each region, causing a “gringo” and even the Brazilians to be very confused when it comes to describing it.
However, even with its diversity, there are some aspects which are the same all over the country. Thinking about this, here are 5 Dos and 5 Don’ts in the Brazilian culture, you should know before going to Brazil or dealing with locals in business, while travelling or whatever the circumstances of your communication:
Learn some basic expressions: You don’t need to be fluent in Portuguese (yes, Brazilians speak Portuguese, not Spanish), but you will make the Brazilians very happy just by trying to interact in their own language, like saying “Obrigado” if you are a man, “Obrigada!” if you are a woman, which means “Thank you!”, also “Bom dia!”, “Boa tarde!”, “Boa noite!”, which means “Good morning!”, “Good afternoon!” and “Good evening!” or “Good night!” (in Portuguese there is no difference between the last two English greetings of the day). Believe it, if you do that, Brazilians will react in a more friendly way, even more than they already do.
Shake hands, hug and kiss: everybody knows that Brazilians are very comfortable with physical contact such as kissing and hugging, even when they are not familiar with the person, but if you are not comfortable doing that, you can start with a firm handshake when you meet a Brazilian. It shows that you are open towards the person and builds more trust in the business world and so on. Also, don’t react mad if you receive a hug or a kiss on your face (in some regions such as Rio de Janeiro they even give you 2 kisses, one on each side of your face). It doesn’t aim to be disrespectful, it is just their culture.
Try the food: Brazil is also known for their cuisine, with dishes such as Feijoada, Pão de Queijo, Churrasco (a different kind of barbecue), also the drinks like Caipirinha and Cachaça. Interestingly they have different versions of the same dish depending on the region, and even different varieties of foreign recipes, many times making them tastier than the original abroad. It is important to mention that some Brazilians feel offended if they offer something to eat/drink and you don’t accept it, so, just try!
Be aware: Brazilians are very nice people, most of the time they are very open to help, but unfortunately, as in any developing country, there are some people with not so good intentions, such as thieves, and most commonly pickpockets, so, be aware of this. Avoid walking in crowded places, don’t use too much jewelry and don't leave a big amount of money in your accommodation. Ask the locals for recommendations about safe places and safe times of day to do each of the activities you planned. If you follow those steps, you will be fine to enjoy the country.
Try to connect with people: Maybe you are a bit scared after reading the last “do” above, but don’t be! Brazilians in general are very nice and friendly, so don't lose this opportunity to connect with them, be open and you may find a friend for life!
Don’t speak Spanish with Brazilians: we know it is not very common nowadays, but many people still commit the mistake to think that in Brazil people speak Spanish. The confusion happens because Brazil is the only country in Latin America that speaks Portuguese, which is very similar to Spanish, but IT IS NOT THE SAME LANGUAGE. If you commit this mistake, maybe a Brazilian will seem to don’t mind, but don’t be mistaken, because deep inside they will be very annoyed about this.
Don’t say bad things about Brazil: Brazilians are always complaining about the things that don’t work well in the country, but if you are not Brazilian and start to complain too much about their country, you will regret it. First, they will be incredibly angry about what you said and then they will become the most patriotic people in the world and will try to show you the very good things Brazil offers until they change your mind.
Don’t say “you don’t look Brazilian”: what is being Brazilian? It is a country with influences of Africans, Japanese, Europeans and many other nations around the globe. Therefore it is natural that Brazilians are not only black and indigeneous, even if they represent the majority of the population. We have a world inside the country which makes Brazil what it is, a multicultural nation, where everyone is welcome and any color, religion and other facts that determine a culture can be found there.
Don't throw the sanitary paper in the vase: it is more a hygienic aspect than a cultural one. Unfortunately the Brazilians sewage system doesn’t support paper, so the Brazilians throw it in the trash bin beside the toilet. It looks weird and sometimes gross, but there is no other option, because if you throw it in the vase, it will damage the plumbing, causing a Brazilian to be very angry with you.
Don’t talk just about soccer, carnival, samba …: Each country has its stereotypes. In Brazil these are soccer, carnival, samba, beautiful women, among others. But we know that as a big country we have much more than that. Some Brazilians do not even like soccer, and don't know how to dance. Then, while you are talking to a Brazilian try to understand the things they like and don’t assume that just because he or she is Brazilian they automatically are the stereotype that the media sells.