Local Customs in Brazil

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Customs in Brazil

Brazilians tend to be very open and talk freely about their problems, especially about political corruption and other problems. But don't imitate them, as they are likely to feel offended if you criticize their country or customs. In some small towns, local politics can be a sensitive issue and you should be careful when talking about it. Be polite, as always.

Be aware that racism is a very serious offense in Brazil. Most Brazilians frown upon racism, and even if you are only joking or you think you know your company, it is still wise to refrain from anything that can be perceived as racism. According to the Brazilian constitution of 1988, racism is a crime for which bail is not available, and must be met with 6 months to 8 years imprisonment. This is taken very seriously. However, the law only seems to apply to overt, unquestionably racist statements and actions. Therefore, be aware and be respectful when discussing racial relations in Brazil; do not assume you understand Brazil's history of racial inequality and slavery better than a Brazilian person of color.

Remember that Portuguese is not Spanish and Brazilians (as well as other Portuguese speakers) feel offended if you do not take this in mind. Both languages can be mutually intelligible to a certain extent, but they differ considerably in phonetics, vocabulary and grammar. It is not a good idea to mix Portuguese with Spanish, don't expect people to understand what you're saying if you (intentionally or unintentionally) insert Spanish words into Portuguese sentences.

It is also noteworthy that the Brazilians are fanatical about football (soccer) and so there are (some times violent) disputes between teams from different cities (and rivalry between teams of the same city), and walking with the shirt of a team in certain areas may be seen as controversial or even dangerous. Speaking ill of the Brazilian national football team is not considered an insult, but you should never praise the Argentine team or compare them both.

Brazil is open to LGBT tourists. São Paulo boasts the biggest LGBT Pride parade in the world, and most major cities will have gay scenes. However, be aware that homophobia is widespread in Brazilian society, and Brazil is not the sexual haven that many foreigners perceive it to be. Couples that in any way don't conform to traditional heterosexual expectations should expect to be open to some verbal harassment and stares if displaying affection in the streets, though several neighborhoods of many of the major cities are very welcoming of the LGBT population, and LGBT-oriented bars and clubs are common. It is best to gather information from locals as to what areas are more conservative and what areas are more progressive.

Social etiquette

  • Cheek-kissing is very common in Brazil, among women and between women and men. When two women, or opposite sexes first meet, it is not uncommon to kiss. Two men WILL shake hands. A man kissing another man's cheek is extremely bizarre for Brazilian standards (unless in father-son relationships). Kissing is suitable for informal occasions, used to introduce yourself or being acquainted, especially to young people. Hand shaking is more appropriate for formal occasions or between women and men when no form of intimacy is intended. Trying to shake hands when offered a kiss will be considered odd, but never rude. However, to clearly refuse a kiss is a sign of disdain.

When people first meet, they will kiss once (São Paulo), twice (Rio de Janeiro) or three times (Florianópolis and Belo Horizonte, for instance), depending on where you are, alternating right and left cheeks. Observe that while doing this, you should not kiss on the cheeks (like in Russia) but actually only touch cheeks and make a kissing sound while kissing the air, placing your lips on a strangers cheek is a clear sign of sexual interest.

  • In Brazil showers are long and frequent. In fact Brazil is the only country that rivals Japan in the amount of time people spend cleaning themselves
  • Many Brazilians can dance and Brazilians are usually at ease with their own bodies. While talking, they may stand closer to each other than North Americans or Northern Europeans do, and also tend to touch each other more, e.g. on the shoulder or arm, hugs etc.
  • Brazilians like to drink, especially (very) cold beer (in pubs and in hot weather) and wine (in restaurants or in the winter). However getting drunk, even in a pub, is considered very unsuitable unless you are with very good friends and everybody is as drunk as you. People go to pubs to talk, flirt and tell jokes, not essentially to drink.

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