Monday, January 24, 2022

Traditions & Customs in Brazil

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Brazilians tend to be very open and talk freely about their problems, including political and other issues. They also use a lot of self-deprecating humour. This allows you to make jokes about Brazil’s problems when they talk about these topics, in a playful way. When you point out something bad to them, they often give answers like “It’s nothing. Look at that. That’s so much worse.” But don’t copy them, as they may be offended if you criticise certain areas like the outdoors or football. In some small towns, local politics can be a sensitive subject and you need to be careful when talking about it. Always be polite.

Be aware that racism is a very serious offence in Brazil. Most Brazilians disapprove of racism (at least in public), and even if you are only joking or think you know your society, it is advisable to refrain from anything that could be perceived as racism. According to the Brazilian constitution, racism is a crime for which there is no bail and which carries a prison sentence of 6 months to 8 years. This is taken very seriously. However, the law only seems to apply to statements and actions that are openly and unquestionably racist. Therefore, be aware and respectful when discussing race relations in Brazil; do not assume that you understand the history of racial inequality and slavery in Brazil better than a Brazilian person of colour.

Remember that Portuguese is not Spanish, and Brazilians (and other Portuguese speakers) will be offended if you don’t bear this in mind. The two languages may be mutually intelligible to some extent, but they differ considerably in phonetics, vocabulary and grammar. It is not a good idea to mix Portuguese and Spanish; don’t expect people to understand what you are saying if you insert (intentionally or not) Spanish words into Portuguese sentences.

It should also be noted that Brazilians are football (soccer) fanatics, so there are clashes (sometimes violent) between teams from different cities, and walking around with a team’s jersey in certain areas can be considered controversial, even dangerous. Saying bad things about the Brazilian national football team is not considered an insult, but you should never praise the Argentine team or compare the two.

Brazil is open to LGBT tourists. São Paulo boasts the largest LGBT pride parade in the world, and most major cities have gay scenes. Be aware, however, that homophobia is widespread in Brazilian society and Brazil is not the sexual paradise many foreigners perceive it to be. Couples who do not conform in any way to traditional heterosexual expectations should expect to be verbally harassed and stared at if they show affection on the street, although some areas of most major cities are very welcoming to the LGBT population and LGBT-oriented bars and clubs are common. It is best to ask around to find out which areas are more conservative and which are more progressive.

Social label

  • Cheek kissing is very common in Brazil, both between women and between women and men. When two women, or the opposite sexes, meet for the first time, it is not uncommon for them to kiss. Two men want to shake hands. A man kissing another man’s cheek is extremely odd by Brazilian standards (unless it is a family relationship, special Italian offspring and very close friends). The kiss is appropriate for informal occasions, to introduce oneself or to get to know someone, especially among young people. The handshake is more appropriate for formal occasions or between women and men when no intimacy is desired. Attempting to shake hands when offered a kiss is considered odd, but never rude. On the other hand, clearly refusing a kiss is a sign of contempt.

When you meet for the first time, depending on the location, you kiss once (São Paulo), twice (Rio de Janeiro) or three times (e.g. Florianópolis and Belo Horizonte) alternately on the right and left cheek. Note that when you do this, you should not kiss each other on the cheeks (as in Russia), but simply touch the cheeks and make a kissing sound while kissing the air, as putting your lips on a stranger’s cheek is a clear sign of sexual interest. If you do not follow these rules, you are unlikely to be considered rude, especially if it is known that you are a foreigner.

  • Many Brazilians can dance and Brazilians are generally comfortable with their own bodies. When talking, they may stand closer to each other than North Americans or Northern Europeans and also tend to touch each other more, e.g. shoulder or arm, hugs, etc. This is not necessarily flirtatious in nature.
  • Brazilians love to drink and going to pubs and bars is an integral part of social life – sometimes even for those who do not drink alcohol. However, alcoholic beverages are not allowed in some places, such as football stadiums, and drink-driving laws have become increasingly strict and rigorously enforced.
  • Brazilians do not usually take off their shoes as soon as they arrive at home, nor do they expect their visitors to do so. Therefore, only remove your shoes when visiting if your hosts ask you to or if you see them doing so.

Table etiquette

Except in very formal situations, Brazilians generally do not pay attention to their tone when eating or talking. Restaurants tend to be relatively noisy and cheerful environments, especially if there are tables with large groups of people.

Most meals are eaten with a fork/spoon and knife, but there are some things you can eat with your hands. If you’re not sure whether to cut things a little shorter with the knife or just grab something with your hands, observe the behaviour of people around you and imitate them – or just ask.

Burping is considered impolite unless you are with very close friends or relatives. Brazilians usually place the knife and fork parallel on the plate to signal that they have finished.

If you order a beer or a soda and there is a cup with it, the waiters may refill it for you from time to time when they see it being emptied. They usually collect the empty bottles and cans without asking you.

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