Brazilian Society and Culture
At The Brazil Business we have written several articles about particular aspects of the Brazilian culture and society, however, we have never explained what exactly is in the core of the Brazilian behavior. Learn in this article what exactly leads Brazilians to behave the way they do.
A society based on family values
In one of his most important book, “Raízes do Brasil”, Sérgio Buarque de Holanda explains where some of the aspects of the Brazilian culture and society come from. One of them is the explanation of why nepotism and corruption are accepted in Brazil (at least to a certain extent).
According to Holanda, Brazilians make no distinction between private and public environments. We don’t use to call people by their last names, for example. Unless the person is introduced to us by his/her last name, we will call him/her by the first name or even by a nickname.
This difficulty Brazilians have to separate private from public is a direct result of organic or communal relations. In other words, it means that Brazilians relate to each other based on kinship, neighborhood and friendship. In the mind of most Brazilians, it isn’t wrong to use the influence as a boss to employ a cousin instead of giving opportunity for those who had already been in the company or went through a selection process.
Order vs Clutter
In his book “Memórias de um Sargento de Milícias”, Manuel Antônio de Almeida has created a character that embodies the Brazilian ethos: Major Vidigal. Throughout the novel he tries to characterize order, respect and obedience. However, in a comic extract of the novel he receives the unexpected visit of some ladies while he was still wearing pajamas and flip-flops. So he rushes inside and put on his uniform coat, perfectly buttoned, but down his waist he is still wearing his pajama pants and flip-flops.
Antônio Cândido, a prestigious Brazilian sociologist, writter and professor, in his essay “A Dialética da Malandragem” has seen this figure of Major Vidigal as a trustworthy representation of the Brazilian culture and society: we try to represent order, but a significant part of us will always be in favor for some mess.
Differently from some European countries that have adopted a flat organizational structure in which there are few or no levels of intervening management between staff and managers, the great majority of Brazilian companies still operate under a hierarchical organization form.
In this traditional organizational model, everybody is subordinate to someone else, with the exception of the company owner. Those who are in favor of this structure claim that this brings motivation as there is room to grow within the company (you can always be someone else’s boss) and, at least in theory, it is a model based on meritocracy (if you are the boss, it is assumed that you worked for it and achieved the required qualification for it).
The problem with this more traditional structure is that it exempts people from responsibility and makes it hard for them to get effectively involved in the job they’re performing. The direct result can be demotivation as the person feels totally replaceable as well as abusive practices by those who are in a higher position.
Problems between boss and employee are responsible for 26% of the dismissal requests in Brazilian companies and one of the issues that undermine this traditional organizational structures; however, lack of perspective for professional growth is responsible for 31% of the dismissal requests and can be a problem in flat organizations.
The importance of food, appearance and small talk
Brazilian society as a whole is very food-oriented. It is not out of nothing that almost half of the Brazilian population is considered to be overweight. If European people would invite their friends for a soccer match, Brazilians would invite their friends for a barbecue. Every celebration in Brazil is full of food as this is seen as a sign of prosperity. Brazilians would rather having excessive food and throw it away once the guests are gone than to have portions according to the number of guests. After all, you never know if you’re going to receive extra guests.
This is so strongly intricate in the Brazilian popular culture as a whole that it is extended to the business environment: on a Friday after work, most Brazilians would rather meet their colleagues at a bar, a pizzeria or a “churrascaria” than inviting them to go golfing or playing soccer. And even if they do invite you for a soccer match, you can be sure that there will be a barbecue going on. This is why in Brazil it is so common to have business meals. If you are going to meet somebody, there must be some food involved.
Important: A foreigner invited for a barbecue may not know what it really means in Brazil. It is a rather informal celebration in which a lot of meat (basically only meat and a few side dishes) is served and it is accompanied by beer or soda. If you are one of those people who are extremely concerned about the amount of red meat you eat or only drinks natural juices, than you probably won’t enjoy being in a barbecue.
Also, barbecue in Brazil is often a very joyful celebration, with music on and is usually held in relaxed environments. The purpose is to have fun. For this reason, it is not a regular meal with specific time to begin and to end. If you are invited to a barbecue, you should probably reserve the rest of the day for it.
What you see is what you get
Brazilians are very judgmental regarding appearance. People in Brazil believe that the way you look reflects directly your job position, your educational level, your age and even if you must be taken seriously or not.
This judgment is not restricted to what the person wears, but it also includes several other aspects of appearance: haircut, skin, nails and even body shape. Just to give an idea, last year a private school in São Paulo city asked its black employee who used to wear an afro hairdo to straighten her hair in order to “look good”. The case was taken to the police and the school was accused of racism.
Trying to fit into Brazilian patterns of what a successful person should look like is exhausting and in some cases, even impossible. Thankfully things have been changing in Brazil and a more relaxed appearance have started to be accepted in corporative environment that involve creativity such as publishing houses and advertising agencies. Hopefully this new tendency will be extended to other business environments as well.
When having a meeting in Brazil, you will notice that there is a strange need for small talk. Regardless of how serious the meeting is, you will probably find yourself talking about the weather or about some stereotype of your own culture (if you’re German, for example, you will probably end up talking about German cars).
I believe this happens because Brazilians, in general, do not deal very well with excess of formality and also because they see this as way to evaluate you. Brazilians tend to close deals with people that somehow they consider to be a friend. It is almost as if they could evaluate your character by saying how nice you are.
Just like in many other countries, Brazilian women still earn less than men. This happens because Brazil still is, to a certain extent, a sexist country, but this sexism is not restricted to men.
Brazilian women tend to be “spoiled”. I will explain: at the same time they fight for equality (which is a fair fight, by the way), they still want men to open the door for them, to carry their heavy bags, to pay the restaurant bill, to drive the car and all these little “favors” that are seen as a sign of politeness.
If in some European countries a man can be accused of harassment for opening the door to a woman, here they are expected to pour her drink while in a business meeting. And it does not mean he has any interest on the woman, it only means that he is being polite.
Women are also granted with some rights that are refused to men: if they work as bus drivers, they will very rarely work at night; they have rights to maternity leave (I know, men don’t get pregnant, but if something happens to the mother after the baby is born or a man decides to adopt a newborn, he does not have the same rights a woman would have to take care of their babies); if a woman decides to accept a job that was considered to be exclusively male like driving a truck, this is seen as a sign of progress, a positive achievement, but men still suffer from prejudice if they are engaged in job positions primarily occupied by women, such as teaching little children.
Women also enjoy a series of exclusive services: there are women-only gyms, medical clinics, hospitals, police stations and when arrested, they are kept away from men. Also, differently from men, women in Brazil are not obliged to join the army. So we can say that even though Brazil is sexist to a certain extent, it is also a women-oriented country.
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