Some tips for non-Brazilians
As many as there are fish in the sea, there are different types of Brazilians. Brazil is a huge melting pot of cultures, races, beliefs and lifestyles. Therefore, if you have not lived in Brazil at least for a while, never think you will be easily able to pinpoint a Brazilian in a crowd just by the way they look or act.
A Brazilian can be absolutely everything. They can look like Germans or Latinos. They can talk loud like Italians or in a polite and reserved manner like Japanese. They might drive fast cars on São Paulo streets and yachts in the Caribbean or carry on centuries old ways of living in the Amazonian rainforest. They might have travelled the world or never even stepped a foot out of their home state. They might be extroverted and agile samba dancers or someone that would not be caught dead drawing attention in public.
There are the cowboys, the fishermen, the yuppies, the drug traffickers and the list goes on and on. All and any of whom might be Catholic, Spiritist, Evangelist, Jew, Umbandist, Atheist or something completely different. Brazil is huge and colorful. It is full of large communities of Japanese, German, Italian, Portuguese, Africans, indigenous people and a mixture of all of the above and many more. There is a lot of poverty, but there are also extreme riches, enjoyed by a powerful few. So you get it, right? It is always hard to define a Brazilian without prejudicing or under-representing another Brazilian.
However, there is something that all of those different people share and that gives them certain characteristics or ways in common – the culture. The country with its own history and language has formed a strong and distinct culture that is represented through traditions, different art forms, but also through daily behavior, attitudes and communication.
I am a huge fan of discovering different cultures and trying to understand their ways of looking at life. Therefore, based on my own personal experience, I have identified here a few tips on how to understand a Brazilian in some common situations where their behavior might give a foreigner a headache or confuse them to say the least. This by no means is an exhaustive description that applies to every Brazilian. There is so, so much more, but let us just start with a few basics and go on from there, alright?:
- Brazilians are inventive optimists
The optimistic nature of Brazilians is one of the main motives that draws countless foreigners to this country. It is contagious and addictive and makes life worth living here. Brazilians are people that have faith. Faith in change, in a better tomorrow, in things turning out fine no matter what. Anyway, singing or dancing is always better than crying, right?
Brazilians see each new morning as a new opportunity (although often by noon, they admit that oh, well, that change will not happen today – but there is always tomorrow!). They believe in the flow of life and go forward with it despite the challenges. Moreover, Brazilians are some of the most creative people I have ever met. For every problem there is some kind of a solution. It might not be ideal, sustainable (or sometimes even legal :P), but it will always do the trick for the moment you need it the most.
A tip for non-Brazilians: The Brazilian optimism and joy is something we can all learn from. However, keep your head straight and notice when it aggregates and when it becomes ignoring the reality or excuse for not taking responsibility.
- …but they are tired of all the absurd bureaucracy and difficulties their country throws at them
The joy and positivism of Brazilians is well known around the world. However, it tends to mislead those that come here in search of a carefree life.
It is not that every Brazilian is happy-go-lucky and sambas through their life sipping a coconut at the beach. Actually, Brazil is a very tough country to live and make a living in and the government seems to do its best to make it even more complicated.
The country is not just very expensive, but also provides bureaucratic obstacles on every step you take, charges various taxes for every time you decide to move a finger and does next to nothing to guarantee its people a reasonable level of security, healthcare and education… You get it.
A tip for non-Brazilians: Check your expectations before coming to Brazil. Stock up on time, patience, money and tolerance for the absurd.
- Which is also one of the reasons they hate being criticized
Brazilians are very critical of their own country. They are aware of the many things that are wrong and do not get tired of discussing them. Brazilians themselves can be the biggest haters Brazil has ever seen. However, it is a member-only conference. Should a foreigner say a bad word about the country or accidentally hit a sore spot, things go south quickly.
I guess the Brazilian point of view here is: “Try being a Brazilian with aaaaallllll of its numerous aspects and implications yourself, before you judge!” And I can understand. However, living here, I myself feel like an adopted Brazilian and in addition to trying to make sense of this crazy world I live in, I also believe in putting in an effort to help make things better. And that is not possible, if you do not acknowledge what needs to be changed first, right?
In addition – also a topic many Brazilians talk about a lot – but that will most definitely piss them off when a foreigner (for example me, here, at this very moment) mentions it – is that there seems to be bit of an inferiority complex in relation to developed countries of the Western World. European countries, the United States and Canada are constantly put on a pedestal and Brazilians compare themselves against those countries, their education systems, manners and culture. Some funny notions, like the cold being chique, people in the “Old World” being more cultured and blond hair and blue eyes as a beauty ideal, also derive from there.
A tip for non-Brazilians: No need to censor everything you have to say, just be mindful and kind. Most importantly, find the right conversation partners that recognize a discussion for its stimulating effects and as an exchange, not a personal attack.
- A Brazilian is tries to seem very sure of themselves
During my first year in Brazil I stumbled over and over again on a situation where something a local person had sworn to be true, actually turned out to be completely wrong. Being the type of person that questions everything and can never be too sure of anything, the opinion of my Brazilian friends always seemed so unshakable, spoken with such conviction and self-assurance, while my own felt more like a guess. Therefore, I just had to believe them. “Since they are so certain, they must be right,” I thought, oh, so naively.
Yet whenever I did that, it finally turned out that they were just guessing or as wrong as they could have been, and my somewhat of a hunch had been correct in the first place. Or at least closer to the actual fact or truth.
Later on, I discovered that this is part of a widely spread behavioral pattern some Brazilians use in order to establish and position themselves as someone to be taken into account and trusted. In addition, the importance of “truth” itself can be different from what you expect. It is not as black and white as you would expect. There are always nuances, shades and interpretations.
However, in my experience it is more of a “fake it, ‘til you make it” kind of approach than an actual and belief in themselves no matter what. Moreover, appearing mighty confident and in control is a common tactics of masking actual insecurities or vulnerabilities, a coping mechanism necessary in a harsh society for winners.
A tip for non-Brazilians: Always verify first. Confidence and enthusiasm can be convincing, but make sure they are justified before you put your trust in someone.
- Because appearances matter
The former can greatly be explained by the importance of appearances in the Brazilian culture. Although so vast and variegated as a nation, many Brazilians themselves tend to judge people on their appearance. And by appearances I do not mean just how someone looks or dresses, but also the way they speak and act, where they go and what they have. You can read more on the topic of the pressure of being (stereotypically) beautiful in Brazil in one of my previous posts here.
Getting to know someone is hard work and Brazil is a country of hundreds of millions of people, so most eliminations/inclusions in a social situation are already made based on a first impression caused by someone’s appearances and manners.
A tip for non-Brazilians: You can win people over by complimenting how they look. However, I like to think you will be making a difference, if you sincerely draw admiring attention to something that is natural to a person and not acquired or enhanced, e.g. someone’s healthy complexion, bright smile or fierce curly hair versus their new and expensive purse or recently installed boobs…
And another one: Also, do not let yourself be pulled into the vicious circle of criticizing other peoples’ (and eventually your own) appearance. You will find many allies fast that love to join in for a good gossip/body shaming session, but they will also be the kind of persons that in order to feed their own insecurities will try and bring you down, instead of supporting you. Steer clear of those toxic relationships and you will be fine.
These are a first selection of five aspects that I have experienced as a foreigner in Brazil and that I am leaving with you today. Nevertheless, since Brazilians have so many different facets to them and I could not fit them all into one post only, inevitably, there will be a Part 2 (and maybe even Part 3). So check back more fore soon.
And in the meantime, I would love to hear from you – what is your experience with Brazilians?