13 Cultural Do’s and Don’ts in Brazil to Have a Happy Life
If you’re learning Portuguese, the cultural do’s and don’ts in Brazil are going to be part of your life at some point.
You know when you visit Aunt Joanna and she offers your coffee, you say you don’t want it and she instantly frowns at you?
Or you offer your hand for a handshake and your friend Carlos jumps for a hug?
It’s things like these that you should keep in mind if you want to have a happy life while living or visiting Brazil.
And that also works when your Brazilian friends visit you in your country.
But since we are learning Portuguese here, I’m going to include some important vocabulary you’ll want to have.
Not only can you show off your Portuguese language prowess. You’ll be able to understand what uncle Geraldo is talking about with your significant other.
And most links here lead you to pages in Portuguese 🙂
Don’t Use English
So, don’t expect to go to a supermarket and ask questions in English and get an answer.
When in Brazil, speak Portuguese.
Even if you don’t trust your language skills yet, do use Portuguese.
Brazilians are always happy to see a foreigner using their language. And they’ll do everything in their power to help you get your message across.
They’ll even speak louder to help you. 🙂
Do Shake Hands and Hug and Kiss
Your Brazilian friend Carla invites João, Maria, and Simone over for a few drinks. You were invited, too.
Upon arriving, Maria gets up close to you and kisses both of your cheeks.
The other friend, Simone, kisses your cheeks as well.
You may be smiling sheepishly not knowing what to do about that.
Then, the third friend, João, enters the room and, not knowing what to do, you try to kiss his cheeks.
You wouldn’t do that if you were a male.
In Brazil, kissing someone’s cheeks is very common. As you’ll see in the following chart, kind of sexist, too. (But hey, it’s what we have.)
I’ve never been able to do that naturally — I had a “European” education — but other people will kiss you as soon as they meet you for the first time.
Two men greeting would do so by shaking hands or by giving a man hug — you kind of pretend you’re going to hug but then you just use one arm and tap your friend’s back very lightly once or twice.
How many kisses should give? It depends where you are.
In some cities, it’s three kisses alternating the cheeks. And in others, two are enough.
But one would seem unnatural to me (I’m from Ceará, a two-kiss region).
Don’t Use High-Value Bills to Buy Stuff
You go to the supermarket. You see a delicious-looking sandwich. You want to eat it, so you take it to the cashier.
There, you greet the worker – basic politeness never hurt anyone – and offer a 100 R$ bill to pay for your 8 R$ sandwich.
The cashier will probably ask:
- Você tem trocado? Do you have small change?
And if you say no, now you have an enemy:
- Você me desculpe, mas não tenho troco. I’m sorry, I don’t have change money.
And if you expect to take something away with you, you got to be patient.
The cashier is very likely to get angry and go somewhere to change money.
But if they’re having a bad day, they’ll probably just say sinto muito (“I’m so sorry”) and let you go without your stuff.
Do Give a Tip at the Restaurant
When dining out, you should always give the servers a tip.
I don’t know what you believe tip-wise, but you can take it from me that other people don’t care.
Salaries are extremely low here in Brazil. Tips make part of the salary in general.
And if you suspect that the restaurant is not given the servers their tip, give the server the money directly.
You’ll have a happy camper on your side.
(And you’ll guarantee nobody will spit on your food.)
Don’t Lose Your Cool over Delays
Never believe when a Brazilian says: chego já! (I’ll get there in a minute.)
Chances are, they just got home and haven’t even dressed up yet.
In Brazil, we are late most of the time. We don’t do that because we are bad people.
Sometimes it’s the traffic. Sometimes it’s a neighbor. We always find a reason for our delay. 😊
If you agree with a friend to go to the restaurant at seven, your friend will be at least 20 to 30 minutes late.
You can plan accordingly.
(And in time: I don’t complain. I hate it but I’ve been late myself and my friends have been gracious about it.)
When you use public services, you’ll probably have to visit the same place twice or three times.
People don’t work very fast there, and the bureaucracy overwhelms anybody who tries to work according to the system.
You could ask, quanto tempo vai levar? (“how long is it going to take?”) And if they say “up to forty-eight hours” it’s going to take exactly 48 hours for that particular thing to be done.
Do Say No at Least Three Times to Be Understood. And Don’t Be Too Direct
A friend’s friend came from Germany to Brazil to stay a while.
She was very German — punctual and completely no-nonsense.
I usually admire these traits. But when I went with my friends to entertain her, I didn’t remember the fact that she was from Germany.
I bought this beautiful piece of cake that we have in our hometown. And I offered her a bite.
That’s all she said.
I felt bad. Dejected. Why did she say “no” so quickly and abruptly?
When someone offers you something in Brazil and you don’t want it, say that you don’t want it but as if you didn’t mean it.
We will then offer it once again, adding Você tem certeza? (“are you sure?”)
Again, say you are sure as if you don’t mean it.
And then, we’ll probably say Olha que vai acabar logo, hein? (“you had better accept it because it’s going up too fast”.)
Sometimes we even wink.
And here you can say again that you don’t want it and you can say it firmly.
In Brazil, we are highly indirect. The expression “beat around the bush” exists because Brazilians exist.
Don’t Stroll Around with Valuables at Sight
If you won’t want to be mugged like these guys, don’t walk around sporting a high-tech camera and an extremely expensive necklace.
If you make it too easy – in Portuguese, it’s dar sopa (lit: “give soup”), those robbers and muggers will seize the opportunity.
As the saying goes, “A ocasião faz o ladrão.” (The situation makes the robber.)
Just keep in mind that you don’t want to go through this experience.
Don’t Ask People if They Are Either from Rio or São Paulo
I don’t see much of a problem here, since I’ve been asked that question before.
But most Brazilians don’t come from those two cities.
Not even from those states. (And São Paulo is expensive anyway; who wants to pay that much?)
So, if you truly want to connect with your interlocutor, you could ask:
- Me conte um pouco mais sobre o lugar de onde você vem. Tell me more about the place you’re from.
- De onde você é? E onde fica isso? Where are you from? And where is it?
Do Be an Expert When Driving
I don’t know how you could possibly decide to drive a car in Brazil, but if you do… brace yourself.
The traffic in Brazil scares anyone.
(Unless you’re from a place analogous to Brazil.)
A friend of mine traveled with her family to Rio de Janeiro, her husband’s hometown. He wasn’t surprised at the challenge of going across the street. But she was.
And simply walking across the street without being hit by a car is a challenge.
Drivers will hardly ever stop for you to walk across.
And if you put your foot on the faixa de pedestre (crosswalk)in hopes that cars will stop and wait for you to walk across… Don’t make this mistake.
And a Last Note
When it rains, the city stops.
In most big Brazilian cities, traffic stops when the rain comes.
So, if you have any appointments on a rainy day, plan accordingly.
Do Go to Shopping Malls
I have friends in Canada, China, and the US. And they tell me they like going to a park for a walk and socializing.
In most big cities in Brazil, you’ll not have that luxury.
And you’ll find out very quickly that most Brazilians prefer going to the shopping mall (or, in good Portuguese, “o shopping center”).
The shopping mall exerts a strong influence on people’s minds.
It’s in the shopping mall that things happen.
The windows are full of products (as vitrines), the food court (or a praça de alimentação), the merchandise… And other people!
The hustle and bustle (a muvuca) of the town takes place in the shopping malls.
Don’t Talk about Politics
Três coisas não se discutem: política, futebol e religião.
I mean, you can. But Brazilians get very passionate — and I mean negatively so — when discussing politics.
In the city I’m living in now there was even murder because two people disagreed in their political views.
So, if you want to bring up the topic of politics, be careful.
If your interlocutor shares your political views, the world is nice and everything is pink and love’s in the air.
But if they hold slightly different political opinions, stick to neutral topics like the weather or gossip.
Do Know There Is Gossip Everywhere
Some people will say they don’t do it. Others will even affirm they hate it.
But the fact is, in Brazil gossiping (fofocar) is an art form.
So much so that we even had a program devoted to that very topic (Os Aspones).
Every block usually has a head gossip (a fofoqueira-mor or o fofoqueiro-mor). They’re the person you want to go to if you hear a loud noise in the middle of the night. They will know what happened.
They are always lurking (espreitar) to see what people are doing, putting their nose (xeretar) in their neighbor’s business.
Don’t Drink Tap Water
In many houses, Brazilians have a water cooler (um gelágua) to drink mineral water.
It makes most kitchens look like offices in my opinion, but that’s beside the point.
And if we don’t use a water cooler, we have a clay filter (filtro de barro).
And some people say that no water beats filtered water (nenhuma outra água ganha de água de filtro).
So, those are just a few of the many, many, many cultural do’s and don’ts in Brazil.
Some gringos who visited Brazil compiled a list of things they hate in Brazil.
And you’ll see, most of the things deal with one of the cultural do’s and don’ts in Brazil
And tell me the comments below:
What cultural do’s and don’ts do you have in your city, country, or state?