What are the most common cultural mistakes foreigners make in Brazil?

I found this interesting discussion in one of my LinkedIn groups (Brazil – All Things Business) and I would like to share Patricia Branco Doi’s comment  about the most common cultural mistakes foreigners make in Brazil with you.

What are the most common cultural mistakes foreigners make in Brazil?

(Image credits: http://www.wikimedia.org)

By Patricia Branco Doi – I was born São Paulo and I have been fortunate enough to have studied both in Brazil and the United States for about equal amounts of time in my life. Having lived in the south of Brazil (Joinville- Santa Catarina), spending a lot of time in São Paulo with my family, and my minor in Portuguese (/Brazilian culture) at Purdue University has given me different perceptions of Brazilian culture…

…Culture is very different in different regions of Brazil. My assumption would be that most international businesses would interact with São Paulo, Minas Gerais, Rio de Janeiro, and maybe a few of the southern states. Even though we are one “povo” (people), we do have different influences and even regional syntaxes, foods, mannerisms, and customs. To generalize all of Brazil would be as ignorant as not differentiating a yankee from somebody from the “deep south”…

… I always tell people who ask me about Brazil that you cannot live in Brazil and be an atheist. Nature is just too strong too beautiful and Brazil and Brazilians just too lucky not to feel God at every turn.) … Brazil does have the biggest amount of Roman Catholics in the world. However, an American Catholic is extremely different from a Brazilian Catholic. An American professor of mine who has studied Brazilian culture and interacted with Brazil for more than forty years, calls it “folkloric catholicism”. (Hope that is not offensive.) Customs and practices are very different and our Catholicism will have a bit of African culture mixed into it = “sincretismo religioso”. Or, the mixture (syncretism) of religions.

African roots are found everywhere: food, religion, music, dance, martial arts, speech, etc. Another mixture you’ll find in Brazilian culture roots is indigenous roots. You’ll especially find it in proper nouns (city names, street names, etc). The rest of our heritage mainly come from Portugal, Italy, Germany, and Japan. (I personally am half Japanese, one forth Portuguese, and one forth Italian.) Be careful to not judge a book by its cover. 🙂

English is definitely more welcomed than Spanish. Most Brazilians will PROBABLY understand Spanish by gathering a few words and making sense of the context, but most will prefer to communicate in English. In my opinion, I believe it derives from the fact that most foreigners believe we speak spanish so Brazilians perceive it as insult. (This “gringo” doesn’t even respect our culture enough to know that we speak Portuguese!)

“Jeitinho” – the Brazilian way. We improvise, we think on our feet. Things do not always go exactly as planned, and if a just as efficient way gets things done, then why not? From an outsiders’ point of view, I could see how thing could be perceived as unpreparedness and maybe even disorganization.

“Hora Brasileira” – Brazilian time. Brazilians are typically late. I think this goes for just about any occasion. I could be wrong, but I would imagine that at a professional level this would be unacceptable. For everything else, I would say you should expect it.

Brazilians say there going to do this and do that, but in the end we don’t even show up. No warnings and to make matters worse, theres not even any explanations. I believe this is only culturally acceptable, because we let it be acceptable. If there isn’t any accountability, then it is going to continue to occur.

On the good side for foreigners, Brazilians have always (you can see this in older novels such as “O Cortiço” and some Machado de Assis books) embraced foreign cultures. As an American “gringo” expect to be treated actually pretty well.

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