Living It Brazilian’s previous post How to understand a Brazilian? – Part 1 started listing a number of characteristics and attitudes that I have experienced when living in Brazil and among Brazilians. Of course, there is so much more to a nation than you can fit into a short blog entry. However, many of us, foreigners living here in Brazil or having Brazilian friends or family members, will always continue to try and explore this matter a bit further – what Brazilians are really like and why.
Sometimes it seems like it is a task that will never be completed, like a friend of mine said – even NASA has not been able to describe a Brazilian yet. However, meanwhile we wait for a scientific definition, we can definitely try to make our own lives a bit easier by sharing experience. Therefore I present to you – How to Understand a Brazilian – Part 2! While the first part focused on describing some more general attitudes or aspects, this post will try to unravel a few peculiarities that come up in social situations and behaviors:
- Social is a norm
Brazilians seem like naturally very social and socially apt people. They often have big families, a number of friends and very many acquaintances. It is common to engage in small talk whenever in a social situation – whether buying bread in the bakery, getting your documents renewed or your blood test taken. It is because Brazilians understand the importance of a positive interaction and separating themselves from the mass in order to get better service and results for themselves.
The logic is simple and works like a charm: ask about the other person, find a common topic to discuss, make them feel liked and respected and then ask for their help, showing that they have the power to help you and you trust them to do just that. As a rule, the person you are engaging with will be much more willing to do what is asked from them and will do even a bit more than they would do for someone else that they did not connect with. Asking someone’s name, even if you are never going to see them again, is a norm. Brazilians know well that if you call someone by their name, they will pay more attention to what you are saying.
Nevertheless, it is all a kind of a game, a game that everyone knows the rules to and is very accustomed to playing almost automatically. Therefore, no one takes those interactions too seriously, especially once they have fulfilled the requirements of basic courtesy and/or received whatever they came for.
In addition, although Brazilians seem very open, welcoming and talkative, it is actually very hard to forge meaningful relationships. You see, when many social interactions are a game, almost an automatic behavior, if you may, it becomes harder to realize when a connection is sincere and there are no second intentions, other than liking someone as a person and being open to cultivate a friendship with them. That is why making real friends in Brazil generally takes time, a lot of time, and many many consistent interactions before a basic level of trust and/or attachment can be formed.
A tip for non-Brazilians: If you want to find out more about how Brazilians often come off when you, a foreigner, try to make friends with them and how to act in those situations, read Living It Brazilian’s two previous posts Do Brazilians Keep Promises? and 10 Ways to Keep up With Conversations in Brazil.
- They are a flirt and there will be no boundaries until you set them
Consequently, Brazilians are also quite advanced in the game of love. Emphasis on the word “game”. Brazilians are not afraid to flirt. They often go directly after what interests them and can be very assertive in the process.
There is no shame in being attracted to someone and showing it. Quite on the contrary, for a Brazilian it is quite natural to openly express their desires and no false shame about it whatsoever. However, it is all a tease, a game you need to know the rules to in order to play along. If you have ever been to a party in Brazil you know what I mean. Better still, if you have been to a bloquinho during carnival, you definitely know what I mean.
It is common for guys to try and go for a kiss a few minutes after meeting a girl they find attractive. With the same casualness as if they were just buying a drink for someone. No strings attached. There is even pressure on guys to have to find someone hot (or not) to kiss whenever they go out with their friends, to feel that the night has been a success. This pressure to “show their manly hood” can cause very uncomfortable and even shocking situations for foreigners that do not know what to expect. Not exactly a feminist wonderland, if you know what I mean.
Guys in a nightclub, especially if a little drunk, can be so obtrusive that girls are left with no other option than to literally push them away and/or yell at them. I will never forget how shocked I was to hear, when I had just started my exchange in Brazil, that two of my fellow exchange students, both blond and beautiful girls from Germany and Austria, literally had to push guys away and yell: “Go away! Leave!” at a Sertanejo club as the only option to escape unwanted attention.
A tip for non-Brazilians: This tip is meant especially for girls. The same way Brazilian guys can be very assertive when trying to flirt with you or kiss you, you have to be very assertive and firm when showing what is okay for you and what is not. Being polite and nice will not always get you out of a sticky situation. In that case, do not be afraid to raise your voice and make yourself clear with firm, yet concise words. Even if you like a guy, it is always a good idea to remind them that you are not a Brazilian and will not play the game the way they expect a Brazilian girl would.
- No need to have taboos
Similarly to not being ashamed to flirt and show that they are attracted to you, Brazilians are very open about several subjects that may be kind of taboo in other countries (like Estonia, for example). This includes everything that has to do with bodily functions, sex, even mental health and seeing a therapist. While a bit shocking to some, it can actually be quite refreshing to talk about those things with no false shame, as all of those things are a natural part of life and should not be “hidden out of sight”.
Brazilians openly discuss everything that has to do with the body and mind. Whether it is going to the bathroom, losing weight, things that may happen during sex or what one’s therapist might have said. This is not so common in all cultures.
Several years ago, when taking a course of International Communications in Estonia, all students had to present to others a campaign from another culture that they think would not work in their own culture and explain why. Back then, my group chose the Brazilian pee-in-the-shower campaign (Faça xixi no banho), which promoted doing so in order to save water by assuring that this is completely normal and everyone does it. To illustrate the inappropriateness of this campaign in the Estonian cultural context, all I had to do was to ask the audience who in the room admits they pee in the shower or what they would think if they saw such a campaign on Estonian TV. Needless to say, there was an uncomfortable silence in the room, no one raised their hand to speak, some looked away and others even made a disapproving grimace. And this was a group of young people.
A tip for non-Brazilians: If you experience it, do not be taken aback or disgusted. It is not lack of education or respect why Brazilians freely talk about topics considered “very intimate” in other countries. It is because they see no need to hide the evident. If you get a chance, try it, it can actually be very liberating.
- The importance of family
Family is very important to Brazilians. Families can be quite big and they stick together and support each other through thick and thin. They meet often and spend a lot of time together. They make decisions together and feel very strongly about the “family duty”. In tough times, it definitely makes a huge difference to have a network of close persons to rely on. And in happy times it will always be a party whenever the family comes together to celebrate.
However, it has to be noted that this is not something that applies to a majority and not always in a way you would expect. There is a lot of poverty in Brazil and many dysfunctional relationships from which children that will not have adequate parental guidance and/or support are born, and consequently end up in precarious conditions, often involving drugs and crime.
In addition, According to the Brazilian Census Bureau (IBGE), the divorce rate in Brazil has increased by more than 500 percent since the 1960s. So the kids that have had the luck of growing up in a full, functional and wealthy families, are often over protected and overly attached and therefore, find it extremely difficult to start an independent life once they have entered adulthood.
It is not uncommon that thirty-year-olds are still living with their parents enjoying a carefree and responsibility free life like they were still 17. And since the world outside seems so ugly and dangerous, those parents often favor this situation and will not voluntarily ever have the determination to kick their children out so they would learn to make it on their own. Especially since starting salaries in the job market are low, yet living cost extremely high and it would be impossible for a young person to continue enjoying the lifestyle they had or sometimes even cover their basic needs.
A tip for non-Brazilians: Since I started this blog, I have heard from some of you that have Brazilian other halves, that fulfilling the family duty can sometimes be too overwhelming, as some families like to be together all weekend, every weekend, and try and make decisions for the couple and you as foreigners feel your privacy is being intruded. I would recommend standing your ground. If you are with a Brazilian, the same way you are trying to get to know their culture and adapt to it, they should too. Therefore, if something crosses your limits, you should discuss it with your partner and then try and find a compromise that works for both.
- Brazilians are weird about foreigners, so just get over it
Even though Brazil is such a large country and does receive quite many tourists every year, Brazilians still tend to act as if a foreigner was from another weird species, an alien, and clear communication between the two was impossible. So do not be surprised if instead of responding to you, people sometimes simply laugh and walk away or if it seems no one is taking you seriously or will not ever remember where you are from (even after having asked about ten times).
Do not get mad, it is true that Brazilians just are weird about and awkward around foreigners. People are curious about you as a foreigner, but the foreign factor also makes it difficult for them to see you as a person. You often get asked about why you came to Brazil and receive compliments on your Portuguese (no matter how good or bad it actually is), but for some reason it seems that your being a foreigner is just another reason why not to take you seriously or see you as an equal. It could have something to do with the inferiority complex, we discussed in Part 1 or with the fact that they think that you as a foreigner will never be able to understand a Brazilian with all the country’s complexities involved, but either way they are either underestimating you or themselves.
A tip for non-Brazilians: All you can really do is be yourself and Make Yourself Count. Do not feel bad because you cannot seem to be taken seriously. It is not personal, honestly, it is not. Just keep being yourself and eventually it will happen. With some people it will be a lot quicker than others, but it will happen.
Aaaand let me know what you think and if I missed anything essential, I would love to hear from you!