Do Brazilians Keep Promises?

We are hosting a friend from Estonia for a couple of weeks. The six days my compatriot has been here have surprisingly demonstrated how much I have already learnt about Brazil, the world and me in it! So far, I was convinced that I was still in the mid-process of adapting or understanding Brazil and Brazilians. I did not think I had made as much progress in the last two years as I would have liked. That is, I was not too happy with myself when it came to feeling like a fish in the water in my new environment.

However, this new experience of having someone from my homeland living with us for a while has served as a valuable lesson – I am actually not doing so bad at all! Moreover, even though, I think I have not changed my own values or the way I act too much, I have magically come to understand the Brazilians and their motives.

So what are the important lessons I have already learnt and integrated into my life here that might strike foreigners as funny or weird at best, or disappointing and frustrating, in the worst-case scenario?

In this post, I want to focus on how plans and promises are made in Brazil and why they are not always kept.

A Whole New Meaning to Planning

Engagements, arrangements and even promises work in a whole different way here than they do back in Europe. To get us started, it is of utmost importance here to be flexible and not to take anything too seriously (as we Estonians tend to do).

The best guideline to go by to avoid disappointment and unnecessary conflict is, therefore, to understand that plans are just ideas to be fulfilled only if nothing changes or gets in the way. In addition, sometimes plans, promises or invitations are made in the heat of the moment or as an act of friendliness, to be forgotten a couple of hours later. Of course, I am talking about casual everyday engagements, like getting together with friends or acquaintances, going to meetings or the gym, promising to help someone move or show them the city, showing up for a doctor’s appointment or making plans in itself. Serious stuff like family, weddings and football are a completely different case.

How I understand it, is there are many reasons as to why it is like that. Firstly, invitations and plans are made on a rolling basis as they occur to a person. However, in their essence they are just ideas barely taking form in the head of the person speaking, and therefore, should be taken just as such by the other party. In addition, the degree of proximity of the people interacting plays a huge role in what is going to happen (or not happen) next. The grade of commitment is proportional to the strength of the relationship.

Let me give you an example:

You go out with a group of people and have a nice conversation with someone the whole night. It completely looks like you have made a new friend. They are so open and friendly and tell you that next weekend they are going to this amazing place where they have a house and they definitely want you to go along. You are exhilarated by the offer and about the fact that you have made such a great connection with someone. After all, you are a foreigner and in a serious need of local friends. So, you answer immediately that you would love to! You agree with the other person that they will send you all the trip details during the week, once everything is set.

You mark the day in your calendar and plan the week accordingly rejecting any other plans that surge for the same date. However, days go by and you do not hear anything from your friend. You start to get a bit anxious, as you would already love to plan the departure, what to take along, what to buy, for how long you will stay etc. Nevertheless, you think that your friend is probably handling it and you do not want so seem rude or obtrusive, so you patiently wait them to confirm the details.

When the travel date arrives you become a bit worried and decide to call or send a message to your friend. They either do not respond at all; respond only after the weekend you were supposed to travel together, or some time after you tried to contact them. Most probably they will say something like: “Oh, I am sorry, I did not realize you were waiting for me! Actually, we ended up not going to the place anyway; because my grandmother’s dog had to be taken to the vet and then we decided to go to João’s birthday instead. Let’s do something some other day!”

Feelings of  Worthlessness

If it is (one of) your first experience in making friends in Brazil, you will probably feel quite shabby. You might even cry a little and feel like nobody cares. In the beginning, that feeling tends to become even stronger as you meet more people. Everyone is so nice but at the same time completely unreachable. Each person you meet greets you with a kiss and asks where you are from and what you are doing in Brazil. After a while you will have figured out a phrase that you repeat like a broken record every time someone asks.

You become “the foreigner”, especially after noticing that the same people tend to ask you the same questions two, sometimes even three times, as if they had never heard the answer before. It starts to feel like being a gringa was a defining characteristic of yours, or at least the only one that is worth attention. You seem to be a magnet for just two minutes and then everybody goes back to their own as if they had fulfilled a duty and could go on with their real lives now.

Seems awfully discouraging, right? But wait! You have not considered yet the…

Brazilian point of view:

In general, Brazilians are very social and verbal. They are excellent with people. It is in their nature, their culture, an important value and a way of life. Most people have a lot going on in their lives and the lives of the members of their circles. They have big families, many friends, acquaintances, neighbors, colleagues, crazy bureaucracy, complicated systems and lots of uncertainty. Each of the aforementioned means a series of (social) obligations and attachments to deal with daily.

Contacts are frequent, and the information flow never stops. Brazilians do not take too much time for making decisions or stopping to figure life out. They are in constant movement. There is no unnecessary pondering or questioning whether what was done, or what is now, is right. Anyway, life is more about the process than it is about the result. Brazilians are dynamic, not afraid of making mistakes and they let life roll out in front of them as they go.

It is important to go with the flow. First, you find a problem, and then, you find out if and how to solve it.

When you finally understand

Once you do get on one of those carousels by truly becoming part of a Brazilian circle, every once in a while, it makes your head spin. This is when you truly understand. It is only logical and natural that a person, no matter how social, just does not have the capacity or will to divide their purest selves between everything that is going on. Comparatively, it would be like reading, watching and listening all news that you can get your hands on during each day.

At the same time, everyone seems to be on the same wavelength here, so nobody even creates an expectation of actually bonding with someone they just met or coming through with plans that were casually thrown into the air as an idea. Everybody feels the load and shares the need to have the freedom to occasionally say no. Invitations are often meant as an expression of good will and politeness anyway. Ignoring someone is rude, but speaking two casual sentences to them can be just enough to get on with one’s life without maxing out energy resources but managing to be at least a bit considerate at the same time.

While the socio-cultural norms make Brazilians promise things to acquaintances they do not mean or will most likely not treat as a priority, the true essence of a person is and naturally only can be shared with their closest and loved ones. This is were commitment takes other dimensions. These relationships are constructed through years and years of cohabitation, building each connector at a time.

Therefore, the answer is yes – Brazilians do keep promises – if they think it is worth it. 

Any tips I can give to other foreigners out there? I guess it comes down to patience, keeping it light and not giving up. There are people just like you in Brazil, you just have to find them. Moreover, it is important to do it using the connections you have already made, because in the beginning you are only as trustworthy as the person that introduces you. However, once you start living like a local, you will soon develop a gut feeling and learn to play by the unwritten rules.

Other fellow foreigners, what do you think? Do Brazilians keep promises?

18 Comments Add yours

  1. Robson Silva says:

    Amazing, one of the most clear and precise descriptions i’ve read about this behavior so easly found among brazilians. I could think in a expat thinking something like this: “Stop to fool me you cheerful brazilians, if is not to we become great friends, so stop of give smiles and act friendly to me all the time!”. Tell more about your impressions in Pindorama Nation!

    Like

    1. Thank you for the feedback, Robson! I really appreciate it! I will sure post some more texts soon. I also created a Facebook page, to be able to stay in touch easily and notify about new posts: facebook.com/livingitbrazilian 🙂

      Like

  2. pandoana says:

    In Brazil (I am brazilian) believe that you can have many friends, but few truly friends. You just have to know people that can be make company to you. You have to find your peers.

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    1. I totally agree with you Pandoana! 🙂

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  3. mrtavora says:

    Incredibly perceptive. I don’t think a Brazilian could have broken down this issue the same way you did

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for the kind comment! 🙂

      Like

  4. Joanna says:

    Spot on!! It took me months to figure that out.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Kelly says:

    This is a great description of the complicated friendly/unfriendly vibe that Brazilians give off to foreigners; could not have written it better myself. I am a foreigner who lived in Rio for seven months, four years ago, and who has now returned and has been living in São Paulo since February. From my previous experience, I already knew this is how Brazilians tend to act. As such, I mentally prepared myself for it and told myself to not be taken in by their initial friendly reception, nor offended when they didn’t follow through on plans, and I have also been trying to stay persistent on my quest to make actual friendships here. However, month after month of persistency with little to no results does take its toll on one’s spirit and resolve to keep going haha, so reading this (and knowing that my interpretation of Brazilian behavior is not absolutely crazy) helps tremendously.

    Great blog!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Goro says:

    I DO FEEL THIS POST!!! I’ve been living in SP for 2 years and 7 months and I just found out and figured it out the way of Brazilian people live, make a plan or whatever. Until last april, I’ve always been annoyed by my brazilian friends but now i kinda understand them so it’s okay(sometime some friends annoyed me though). Like me, super organized Japanese, it was really hard to understand them & got along with them and have hard times. I’ll be back to Japan next year I can’t wait!! PS Brazilian people are super nice people we just have different way to live.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I completely agree with you. Over and over again I come back to the same realization – cultures are so very different, and the impact they have on peoples’ lives is huge. However, they all have their vantages and disadvantages and lessons worth learning. And if we want to get to know the world and live in different countries we do need to try and understand before judging 🙂

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  7. Tiago Luiz dos Santos says:

    F*cking brilliant… In fact, this was the topic I had with a real close friend of mine from Germany. What I said was something among your lines. But yours is so good and much more complete that I’ll need to send him this link to him. You nailed it!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much Tiago! I am so happy to hear that 🙂

      Like

  8. Marco says:

    Well; from my perspective, I can make no excuses for a complete lack of consideration for others, which in my opinion is what it boils down to. Despite their apparent inability to ´honour their word´ in regard to social interactions; you will see the same inconsiderate dynamic played out in every area of social interaction; be it on the roads where signalling your next movement is more of a concept than reality; where hundreds of thousands die every year because of this; or on a lower level, simply attempting to queue for a public service….
    For me to ´truly understand´ I cannot accept that a busy Professional and Family/Social life, in any way explains, or excuses what is in reality an accepted selfishness, and downright falta de educao.
    And, I have also noticed when you do it to them, they´re the first to complain, 🙂
    A life where the ´other´, outside of the family has little or no value, in itself demeans the value of the person, and indeed life itself.
    Surely, we were made for better things. 🙂
    Ahh yes; they do keep their promises´; based purely on self-interest (usually money, or sex) or when they are frightened in some way of the consequences of not keeping it…
    Anyway, I´m off. I could go on; but you´ll be pleased to hear, I wont.
    Thanks Brazil for showing the beauty of consideration.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Marco! I can completely understand where you are coming from. This is what it comes off as. However, when you try to put yourself in the shoes of the person that has let you down somehow or ask them to explain their behavior or motives you get a different reality. That is what i was trying to depict here. Also the focus here is more on personal relationships, not the society as a whole, which is a whole another topic. I myself, also try to follow the “no excuses” attitude and only behave the way I would like other to behave with me. But trying to understand is a better coping mechanism for me than just being constantly angry all the time 😛 Otherwise I would not bare to live here at all.

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  9. Higor Pereira says:

    Eu li também o seu post sobre as promessas e dei muitas risadas.

    Eu nunca fui assim com as pessoas.

    Mas eu sei que os brasileiros são assim.

    Eu não diria que a proporção é forte de acordo com o relacionamento, mas de acordo com a necessidade da pessoa.

    Se a pessoa precisa de você, vai querer te ajudar. Se a pessoa não precisa, vai dar uma desculpa.

    Mas isso é para as pessoas que você não vai fazer amizade mesmo.

    Pessoas que você vai conseguir fazer amizade, sempre estarão lá.

    Eu tive experiências semelhantes com europeus também.

    Muitos alemães estavão disponíveis quando eles precisavam de mim.
    Quando eu precisei deles, eles simplesmente deram desculpas ou foram rudes.
    Você escreve textos muito interessantes.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Muito obrigada por copartilhar, Higor! Gostei muito do seu análise nos dois posts! Me deu várias ideias para os próximos posts 🙂

      Like

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