Never mind the nasty habit of throwing garbage out of car windows — Brazilians are tidy people, who sometimes shower twice a day. Everyone is expected to change clothes daily, wash hands when coming in from the streets, and brush teeth after every meal (have you noticed Brazilian teeth?).
So if you’re staying at a Brazilian guesthouse or hostel, keep it clean, take out the trash, make your bed, use deodorant. And always take a shower before going to bed. Always.
Yes, the vast majority of Latin America are Spanish speakers. But this is not a country where people greet with “hola!” and thank with “gracias.” Brazil was colonized by many countries (oh, you hungry Europeans), but Portugal sort of won it and the land developed its own singular version of the language.
While it’s true that the languages sound similar, it’s easier to find someone trying to speak English than Spanish, especially in big cities, as that’s the second language in the school curriculum.
Still, when traveling outside tourist spots, chances are you won’t find anyone speaking anything other than the local language, or perhaps a regional dialect. If you’re planning on traveling to Brazil, it’s wise to learn a few words of Portuguese.
Make geographic mistakes.
Study your maps before crossing the border. I know it sounds silly, but some people really seem to believe the Amazon belongs to the US, which is just wrong.
Also, the capital is not Rio or São Paulo — it is Brasilia, in the geographical middle of the country. It was built in the ’50s by a team of architects and engineers led by Oscar Niemeyer, the longest-living architect to ever walk the Earth.
Do the Argentina thing.
It’s rude to name Buenos Aires as the Brazilian capital. It’s even ruder to conflate Brazil and Argentina in general. And it’s just horrible to be constantly comparing Brazilian and Argentinian soccer, churrasco, women, weather, transportation, or whatever. Don’t.
This is true in any country. You don’t walk into a house and say the couch is ugly, do you?
Still, we know: social injustice, lazy workers, corrupt leaders, the Brazilian jeitinho. It sucks, and we tend to spend hours criticizing our own ways. But foreigners are not allowed to, and if you decide to try it after two caipirinhas, you might get an angry look across the table or even a “you don’t know what you’re saying!” angry shout from someone who was bad-mouthing the country a second ago. Exception made to traffic in São Paulo, always a great conversation starter.
Note: The famous quote that goes “Brazil is not a serious country” wasn’t said by French President Charles de Gaulle, but by the Brazilian ambassador to France at the time, Carlos Alves de Souza — which instantly makes the sentence very much true.
Expect every gal to be slutty.
As a woman and a traveler, I know once you say you’re Brazilian, men start to flirt. While Brazilian women tend to be smiling, warm, and free-spirited (not to mention attractive), it doesn’t mean they’re always willing to make out with strangers or jump into your bed. Also: Unless you’re absolutely, 100% sure she’s a hooker, don’t offer money. Yes, it happens.
I’m sorry, but Brazil’s just not familiar with the obligation of always arriving on time. Leave that to the Brits. Always arrive at a party around an hour and a half later than indicated, blaming the traffic, rain, or whatever.
In business meetings, being 10-20 minutes late is usually all right. Personally, I hate it, but it is what it is, and once you learn to let things flow and not care about the hour, you’ll be hooked. Try it.
We Brazilians may mock our fellow Portuguese (the ‘português joke’ is truly a thing) for a number of reasons, but there’s something else we inherited from them other than language and centuries of slavery: a lack of efficiency.
Take a fast food drive-through, for instance. It isn’t rare to have someone take your order on a piece of paper, then make you stop at a window and deliver the paper to another person, then drive to another window and pay, then drive over to another line to wait to pick up your food.
Try not to force your Brazilian friend / coworker into doing something in a fast / efficient way. You’ll end up frustrated and annoyed.
Do the futebol thing.
If you’re in Brazil, you have to cheer for the yellow and green team. If you’re a gringo and really have to cheer for your country’s team during a match, do it at a friend’s house or an expat pub. Never the nearest boteco.
Mock the way we speak English.
While you’ll often find English speakers among Brazilians, especially in business, it’s rare to talk to someone who can speak the language perfectly. Add to the mix the fact that Brazilians are prone to long and complex sentences.
When in doubt, just ask. Ignore any errors, say the accent is cute, and, if possible, compliment when someone makes the effort of trying to speak your language. It will be appreciated.
Wear Havaianas on a date.
C’mon, we’re informal people, and there’s this never-ending hype of coloured plastic flip-flops around the world, but that doesn’t mean it’s okay to show your feet outside the house. No one does it. If you’re not at the beach / pool, wear proper footwear.
People will ask personal questions, take pictures without asking, show up unannounced, try to start a conversation while you’re busy, poke you to ask something trivial, expect you to change plans you already made…but we usually mean no harm.
If you think someone’s crossing the line, try to laugh about it and go back to your aloof ways, a quality not all my fellow countrymen/women are familiar with. Warm people, remember? It’s part of the charm and the reason we always get saudades when away from home — Brazilians, as with most Latinos, tend to feel people are very cold / distant / overly formal anywhere else.
Photo: Raul Arthuso