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Brazil: Etiquette, Customs, Facts and Vital Information

by Lizbeth Pereira |

Brazil, South America


christ the redeemer rio
Photo by andybullock77

Location: Brazil is located in the east-central coast of the South American continent. Brazil shares its northern borders with Venezuela, Surinam, Guyana, French Guiana, and Colombia, the southern with Uruguay, the western with Argentina, Paraguay, Bolivia, and Peru, and has the Atlantic Ocean to its east.

Capital: Brasilia.

Brazil mapClimate: The climate of Brazil is mainly tropical in such areas as the Amazon Basin, sub-tropical in the Brazilian Highlands and rather temperate as you go south along the coastal lowland.

Population: As of July 2009, the Brazilian population was 198,739,269. About 31% of the population live below the poverty line. The Brazilian economy is based on agriculture, mining, industry, and service. The period from 2003 to 2007 saw a boom in the economy due to productivity gains and surge in exports. Government intervention in the form of far-sighted economic reforms, reduced taxes, and huge investments in infrastructure has helped sustain the economic growth. Main industries include textiles, leather, chemicals, cement, automobiles, machinery, and timber. Agriculture is mainly coffee followed by cocoa, wheat, rice, soybean, corn, and sugarcane.

Ethnic Make-up: White 53.7%, Biracial 38.5%, Black 6.2%, Others (Japanese, Arab, Native Indian) 0.9%.

Religions: Roman Catholic 73.6%, Protestant 15.4%, Spiritualist 1.3%, Bantu/Voodoo 0.3%, Others 2%, No Religion 7.4%. The Brazilian Constitution guarantees freedom of religion to all citizens. Evangelization has been an ongoing project in Brazil since its advent in 1549 under the Jesuits. There is no law against evangelization, and activities such as missionary works, setting up of churches, and training workers are carried on uninhibited.

rio carnivalLanguage: Portuguese is the official language and also the most widely spoken. Next in popularity comes Spanish, followed by French, German, Italian, Japanese, English, and some Native American languages.

Government: Federal Republic

Travel Issues: Travel to Brazil from any part of the world, except Britain and Germany, requires procuring a visa before travel. Citizens of some countries such as the neighbouring nations, as well as a few such as Ireland, Italy and others do not need a visa if the reason for travel is tourism. You need to contact the Brazilian consulate in your country to ascertain your specific status regarding the need for a visa mentioning your reason for travel. Other documents needed are a passport with a six month validity and airline tickets.

Health & Safety: A Yellow Fever vaccination is mandatory if travelling from an infected country. It is advised if travelling to certain Brazilian states in the Amazon area. Hepatitis A, Tetanus, and Diphtheria shots are recommended though not mandatory. Those planning to visit rural and jungle areas may need to consider Hepatitis B, Typhoid, and Malaria shots as well. Some areas in Brazil are prone to the Dengue fever and so, appropriate precautions against mosquitoes need to be taken if travelling to these places. Though tap water is considered potable, bottled water is a safer option for drinking purposes.

rio beach
Photo by over_kind_man


boy in brazilThe People
Brazilians are mainly from mixed European and African descent, and other indigenous heritage. This amalgamation has resulted in a broad-minded, gregarious outlook on life that makes visitors feel welcome. The original Brazilians are the indigenous Indians who make up the smallest ethnic group of about 320,000 people.

brazil buildingThe Religion
The main religion of Brazil is Roman Catholicism which is practiced actively by over 70% of the population. There is an element of gaiety and festivity associated with the practice of religion marked by elaborate public celebrations and parades. There are also small groups of other religions such as Judaism, Buddhism, Shinto, and Rastafarian.

Role of Family
A Brazilian family in the modern context would comprise a couple and their children living under one roof. However, very strong bonds bind them to extended families including grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Modern permutations such as single parents and dual working parents have altered the urban social set up to some extent.

Brazilians as a community honor their ancestors in multiple ways. The Roman Catholics remember the dead on the 1st of November every year. Religious rituals are held in the cemeteries and the graves are decorated with flowers and candles. The Japanese community have preserved their traditional customs to this day in the form of the Bon Odori Festival which is held as a token of grateful remembrance of ancestors who have passed on. The African people of Yoruba heritage also have a considerable presence in Brazil and they keep in spiritual touch with their ancestors through the practice of Egungun. These are the ancestral spirits who are supposed to have the power to bless or curse their descendants.

girl in brazilRecreational Activities
Recreation in Brazil can include anything from lolling on a beach to soccer. There are a variety of sports facilities such as golf, tennis, squash, and beach volleyball. Then there are water sports in the form of canoeing, fishing, diving, kayaking, surfing, and swimming. Outdoor activities include jungle trekking, rock climbing, hiking, biking, and skydiving. Other leisure activities include the night clubs, carnivals, dancing, and pubs.

Anything else important for this culture
Portuguese is the national language of Brazil, but it has some striking dissimilarities with the language spoken in Portugal. For instance, while “rapariga” means girl in Portugal, it means prostitute in Brazilian Portuguese. So, even fluent speakers of the European Portuguese have to be careful of nuances.

Brazilians use expansive gestures and expressions while communicating and most of these mean the same as anywhere else, such as the thumbs up sign. But the OK gesture made by touching the tips of the thumb and forefinger is best avoided as it has an obscene connotation. Also, requesting silence with a hush gesture is considered as rude as yelling “Shut up”. A clenched fist with the thumb between the forefinger and middle finger does not mean you violence but is meant to wish you good luck. It is called the figa.

In a multi-level building, the first floor is referred to as the ground floor or lobby level, and the second floor is called the first floor and so on.

Brazil soccer
Photo by markhillary


Meetings & Greetings
Normal western courtesies are appropriate when meeting people. A handshake is an accepted form of greeting between men. Women are greeted with a kiss on both cheeks and the same applies when taking leave.

soccer boysCourtesy
Brazilian men will, generally, hold doors open for women and rise when women enter the room and this is not meant to be patronizing. If you intend to smoke, it is common courtesy to offer everyone a smoke before lighting up. Never light up during a meal.

Gift Giving
Gift giving is a normal practice in Brazilian social life. Gifts are given and received for birthdays, celebrations, anniversaries, and as tokens of gratitude for a favour or some service. If visiting Brazil, a souvenir from your own country would be a much-appreciated gift. If not, a box of chocolates, a bottle of wine, or even flowers are customary. Never gift purple flowers as they are a sign of mourning. If gifting wine, avoid tequila and mescal. Gifts are opened as soon as they are given.

Dress Code
Since the weather is mainly tropical and therefore warm, casual clothing is the norm in Brazil for most occasions. If the occasion calls for formal wear it would be intimated earlier. If visiting a church or some related holy venues, certain decorum in dressing is called for. Formal occasions find men in suits and women in formal wear comprising skirts or pants. Women tend to accessorize a lot and wear fashionable shoes even with jeans.

band in rioDining Etiquette
If invited to dinner by an acquaintance, it is customary to arrive a little late. Never arrive early as the host may not be ready for you yet. In fact, it is considered alright to turn up even an hour late. Dinner time can be quite elastic and even stretch to midnight. If dining in restaurants, dinner time is usually around 9 p.m.

When seated, the most honoured guest will occupy the head of the table with the host and hostess on either side. It is not considered rude if you leave food uneaten on your plate. Your drink will be refilled as soon as it reaches the lower half level. While at table, resting your wrists on the table is the right thing to do rather than leaving them on your lap. Sandwiches are eaten with a fork and knife while salad may be an accompaniment to a main meal rather than precede it. Do not cut up your lettuce, but rather bundle them onto your fork.

Visiting a home
It is customary to carry a gift when accepting an invitation to someone’s house. If it’s a formal visit, gifts may be sent beforehand with a handwritten message. Arrive fashionably late and be well-dressed to show respect for your host. Be prepared for boisterous conversation and lots of beverages before actually sitting down to dinner. It would be a good idea to not arrive hungry as dinner may well begin way past midnight.

Communication Style
Brazilians have an expansive style of conversation and may frequently touch you on the shoulders and arms while talking. They may stand very close while talking and this is considered the norm as far as they are concerned. If it makes you uncomfortable, step away as unobtrusively as possible as otherwise, you may appear rude and standoffish. Brazilians in the big cities like Rio and Sao Paolo may speak some English, but generally there is a lack of English in the other areas. It would be a good idea to learn some basic Portuguese to make life easier.

rio night
Photo by Phillie Casablanca

Dos and Don’ts
In bathrooms, Q means hot water and F means cold water. Brazilians are not keen on being punctual and visitors who turn up on time will usually be left hanging. However, for a business meeting, it’s best to not be more than ten to fifteen minutes late, and again, if it’s a job interview, arrive on time. When choosing a gift for a Brazilian, avoid Argentinean products and local leather and wine. Do not leave your cutlery on either side of your plate at the end of a meal, as this may be taken to mean that you were not happy with the food.

Do not carry expensive personal items such as cameras and iPods when you go exploring. Petty crime is rampant and you could attract unwanted attention if you dress flashy. Keep to Bermudas and T shirts to blend in. Vehicles are driven on the right side of the road, but be prepared for a certain amount of callous overtaking and a disregard for traffic rules. Other things to watch out for would be car jacking, kidnapping, and bag snatching.

waterfall in Brazil
Photo by VinceHuang

Carnival lady by sfmission.com
Two boys and soccer boys by
Girl by babasteve
Building by Jay Woodworth
Band by over_kind_man

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