As a gringa in Brasil I am often highly entertained by the astounding cultural differences between Brazilian culture and any other culture I encountered before. My Portuguese is progressing and consequently typical cultural habits from Brazil keep revealing itself to me. Ironically I realised that sometimes I offended Brazilians without even knowing it. And then some things here in Brasil are just… Out of the ordinary. Don’t want to be surprised or accidentally offend Brazilians? Or have you been to Brazil already and want to know my impressions? Check out these 16 cultural habits.
1. PORTUGUESE IS KING
Just because Spanish is spoken in every other country around Brazil definitely does not mean Brazilians speak or understand Spanish. And you can absolutely forget about English for that matter. To survive in Brazil you have to increase your Portuguese skills because Portuguese is king.
2. SHARING IS CARING
How dare people order a small beer just for themselves. In Brazil this is absolutely not done. If you are hanging out with your Brazilian friends you order a liter bottle and ask for some copos to share around. Another advice? Brazilians like their beer ice cold so you better drink up fast.
3. EMBRACE THE THONG
Floss bikini´s are definitely a thing so you better embrace it. But no worries ladies, there is no need to hit the gym before you come to Brazil because in this amazing country there is no body shaming.
4. GRINGO POTTY TRAINING
Never, never ever throw toilet paper in the basin. Use the bin next to the toilet instead. I know what you are thinking right, eeeehw. But you will clog someones entire pipe system if you don’t comply to this rule so just get over it.
5. CARNAVAL IS SERIOUS BUSINESS
Carnaval is not just a holiday or a party. It is serious business. Celebrating carnaval takes dedication, power and months of preparation. So brace yourselves if you arrive in Brazil between September and February because unlike common beliefs carnavals previas (pre-parties) already start in September.
6. BE WARY, FELLOW ARGENTINA LOVERS
Don´t ever show affection towards Argentina, especially when it involves soccer because you will get hurt. Personally I can’t understand what al the fuzz is about. I love Argentina. Its the country with the highest hot guy per square meter ratio. Anyway, its best hide your affectionate feelings towards any matter involving Argentina because they will not be appreciated.
7. TUDO BOM?
Tudo bom? [everything okay?] is something everyone will ask you, everywhere. Don’t ever reply with an OK sign gesture. In most countries the OK gesture indicates someone is fine, however in Brazil this gesture is the equivalent of flipping people off. And while were at the topic of tudo bom I must warn you that people don’t genuinely want to know how you are doing when they ask you. They expect you to reply with tudo bom and carry on with the conversation.
8. DO NOT CRITICISE BRAZIL
You will find yourself in a heated discussion between Brazilians criticising social injustice in Brazil at some point during your stay. Please do not take this as an invitation to speak negatively about Brazil because a foreigners perspective is not appreciated. And do not try to compensate by bashing your own country, national pride is at the core of Brazilian culture and therefore this can be regarded as offensive.
9. MANY WAYS TO SAY NO
Before my arrival in Brazil I did not know there are so many ways to say no without directly implying a refusal. Brazilians don’t like to refuse things but will certainly not push themselves to do something they don’t want to do. Which leaves an awkward situation in which Brazilians will kind of tell you yes and not keep their promise. My advise? Don’t always expect people to keep their promises.
10. CROSSING LINES WITH WAITERS
Feel free to call a waiter upon arrival at a restaurant. I have been a waitress for 8 years and I can’t stand people whistling or waving at me while I am carrying plates to another table and they arrived just a minute ago. In Brazil however it seems a necessity as Brazilian waiters will not approach you in a restaurant and everyone else does it.
11. LACK OF PERSONAL SPACE
Be prepared to give up your personal space when you are in Brazil. You can’t knock off meeting new people with just a handshake. You have to go in for the full hug and one, two or maybe even three cheek kisses. And then from that point on its what you do every single time you greet this person. Don’t be too worried though, you’ll get used to it.
12. DO NOT BE SQUEAMISH ABOUT MEAT
Are you a vegetarian like me? Parabéns! But do prepare yourself for a carnivore culture. Never feel pressured to eat meat, but don’t be squeamish about it either. People are proud of their fleshy food creations and your commentary is offensive to Brazilians.
13. EVERY DAY ITS HUSTLING
Undeniably there is a big gap between rich and poor in Brazil. But everyone gotta make a living so you will find people ‘hustling’ every day. May it be individuals ‘helping you park your car’ or ‘renting out bus cards’ at the bus station. Don’t be shy about using the hustlers services, sometimes they can be quite useful.
14. COLGATE SMILES
Brazilians are the cleanest people I know. Personal hygiene is highly valued, and I find myself in an office where my colleagues brush their teeth two or three times a day. It’s also common to be offered to take a shower at someone’s house. If this happens don’t feel offended, in Brazil this is considered polite.
15. DO NOT TOUCH FOOD
Brazilian culture does involve sharing food, but don’t forget they are the cleanest people I know. Touching someone’s food without cutlery, a napkin or even plastic gloves which a lot of restaurants supply is considered absolutely disgusting. Hell, sometimes I even feel like my friends think I am gross when I touch my own food.
16. LEAVE YOUR TRASH AT THE BEACH
Tourism provides a considerable income for many Brazilians and therefore the cleanliness of beaches is highly valued. You will probably notice cleaners in blue suits on the beach around the time the sun starts to set. However, some trash, cans specifically, have an incentive value for individuals picking them up. To help provide an income for the less fortunate it is therefore recommended to leave your cans next to the bin on the beach. Please make sure you leave your cans where the tides won’t reach to make sure the cans don’t end up in the sea.
Confession time. One of my greatest wrongful assumptions before I came to Brazil was assuming people would understand and speak Spanish. My first weeks I openly expressed my love for Argentina and I have used the OK sign (with friends who bursted out in laughing luckily). And I have always considered myself a clean person, but I have upped my tooth brushing game since I arrived. Finally, against my nature I started leaving cans on the beach. Do you recognise any of the cultural habits described above?