Guide to Cultural Traits for Expats in Brazil

Author: Jim Newham
Submitted: June 2014

The prevailing stereotype is that Brazilians are a fun-loving, easy-going people who divide their time between sunbathing, playing or watching football, dancing to samba and partying at carnivals. While many Brazilians do enjoy these activities, this is not the whole story.

It is fair to say that, as a rule, Brazilians are friendly, happy and outgoing. They are especially likely to be friendly if you speak some Portuguese. Understandably, however, they are likely to take umbrage if you are seen to insult their country. Furthermore, while Brazilians are laid-back, they are not supine when it comes to perceived government abuses, as recent protests about World Cup expenditure have shown.

The most obvious expressions of Brazilian exuberance are its many festivals, the largest of which is the Rio de Janeiro Carnival. Now the biggest carnival on earth, the Carnaval is simply a spectacular celebration of the Brazilian way of life. Rio, and also São Paulo, are also famous for their indulgent nightlife. Typical of the Latin American lifestyle, the party doesn’t get started till around 11:00 and tends to carry on past 4:00.

This does not mean that the Brazilians only know how to party, just that they are conscious of attaining a proper work-life balance. Brazilians know how to relax and are not in a hurry; if you expect them to be on time, you are likely to be disappointed. Try not to get too exasperated by this  lateness – maybe you should consider being late yourself, as it unlikely anyone will mind.

With a most agreeable climate and several hundred miles of fine coastline, beach culture is important in Brazil. Rio de Janeiro’s Copacabana and Ipanema beaches are world-famous, and the country has plenty of other fine beaches. The beautiful people who frequent such places generally wear as little as is decently possible, but note that this is not considered acceptable off the beach.

The cornerstone of Brazilian culture is the family. Grandparents are included in this and are usually cared for at home. As a rule, children live at home until they marry. Beyond this family unit is the extended family, the parentela, which adds further support. There is no official religion in Brazil, although Christianity, especially Catholicism, predominates and provides a further cultural framework.

Brazil retains a somewhat macho culture and female expats may find it harder to settle into the way of life than men. Nevertheless, with a female president in Dilma Rousseff, women are increasingly taking up paid work and making their voices heard.

Brazil is famous as the world’s most successful footballing nation. Brazilians are very passionate about football and can be seen playing it in the streets, in parks, wherever they can. Watching a match is a true Brazilian experience, especially in Rio de Janeiro’s Maracanã stadium. With Brazil being host of the World Cup in 2014, enthusiasm – and expectation of victory – are currently at top level.

The oldest football club in Brazil, Vasco da Gama of Rio de Janeiro, was founded in 1924 on the basis that people of all classes and races would be given the chance to watch or play. This was a multicultural milestone, and such attitudes now enjoy legal protection. Brazil has never experienced the severe racial tensions found in some other countries.

When greeting Brazilians informally, a handshake between men and a kiss on each cheek for women (these may be air kisses) are normal. As with most countries, you should take a small present with you when visiting a Brazilian’s house. Avoid the colours purple and black in your gifts as these are mourning colours.