It is impossible to determine the way an entire nation behave. However, we can say that there are certain practices that can be defined as typical of a determined culture. In this article, we will give an overview of the way Brazilians generally talk and establish relations, so you will not be taken by surprise while doing business in the country.
It is always difficult to generalize the behavior of the peoples. We commonly read and hear around: Americans are this, English people do that, the Chinese are like this, and so on. Listing characteristics to define an entire nation is what people do to understand, simplify or justify the manners of other cultures. Not to mention that everyone wants to be prepared once they get face to face with foreigners, so it is better to carry some information about nationalities in general, than just sit up and hope for the best.
So, the point of this article is to provide some information on how Brazilians act while interacting with others, focusing on business relations. Have in mind that by generalizing the Brazilian population behavior, we will inevitably produce a stereotyped vision of who we are. But anyway, it is better having some information about us than none, right? Just do not take it all as a rule.
In the globalized world that we live, it is rather unlikely that cultural mishaps will have the power to totally ruin business relations. The most that can happen is a few minutes of awkwardness. Therefore, although it is important to be well informed, knowing you as a foreigner, people will expect that you will not know certain things and will act differently than them.
But that does not mean that your manners will not be judge in a personal level, which can actually damage your business in Brazil. As many times business in Brazil is influenced by personal relations, you might consider causing a got impression and making some effort to be liked in here. It is worthwhile.
When meeting a Brazilian for the first time, the best option is to wait for the host to make the first move. Then, you just have to follow in retribution. Normally, men greet each other with a firm handshake combined with strong eye contact. Women also use the handshake, but in addition, when they greet other women or men they kiss each other on the checks alternating sides. Men do not use this kind of greeting while interacting with other men.
The kiss on the check is a common way Brazilians use to greet each other, but it is a very informal gesture, usually performed between friends. However, it is not uncommon to see it happening in a business meeting or in other situations. The kiss is not a kiss itself, because the lips never touch the checks. It is more of a touch of checks.
In the state of Rio de Janeiro and Bahia, this greeting is performed twice, one for each check, starting with the right check of the person you are greeting. As for the rest of the Brazilian states, including São Paulo, the kiss is done only one time, in the right check of the other person.
If someone greets you that way, keep calm and reciprocate. Stepping back will be considered rude. But if the step back happens because you were caught off guard, just laugh and make a joke about it. In Brazil, jokes and smiles are always welcome to alleviate the pressure in embarrassing moments. It is better than making a face of disapproval.
Another common gesture used for greetings is little slaps men do on other men's back, shoulders or chest. Do not be frightened about it or step back (OMG, the crazy Brazilian is beating me!!!!). Understand that this is a natural practice Brazilian men do to one another. But do not try to imitate the gesture, some Brazilians actually do not like it. Sometimes hugs are also used as a kind of greeting, but more commonly between people that have some intimacy, which does not mean that it does not happen between people that never seen each other in life.
In Brazil, it is considered very polite to greet with a Good Morning, Good Afternoon etc, even if you do not know the person. Calling people by their surnames is not a usual greeting practice in Brazil, as well as using titles like Mister, Misses or Miss (Senhor, Senhora, Senhorita, in Portuguese). Even in business meetings people call themselves by their first names. But if your counterpart addresses you with a title, it is recommended that you do the same.
Here comes a little loose but not less important information: Brazilians refer foreigners by the Portuguese word gringo. If you are called that, do not take it is an insult, because the term is not used with that intention.
Interacting with Brazilians
It is important to note that most Brazilians do business with people, not with companies or organizations. Because of that, if a foreign team or individual who has spend a long time building a good working relationship with Brazil is replaced, the company goes back and has to start the relationship from scratch. Most of business relations in Brazil are based on trust and empathy. Therefore, it is wise to know beforehand how to captivate a Brazilian.
The Brazilian communication style reflects our warm and vivacious characters. One thing that might be scary to some foreigners is our touchy way of talking. It is very common for us to touch the arm or elbow of the person we are talking to. Brazilians also keep eye contact while they are carrying on a conversation. That practice has nothing to do with flirtation, do not get it wrong.
For us, that is not considered an invasion of personal space. When doing business in Brazil do not be taken aback if a Brazilian stand very close to you while speaking. Moving away may be interpreted as rejection. But that does not mean that you have to do the same gestures back, just keep cool. Brazilians can be a little loud and annoy some gringos as well. It is normal for us, do not be surprised about it.
If you feel extremely uncomfortable with the way a Brazilian is talking to you (especially with regard to the touches, little slaps, kisses etc) it is not necessary to be angry at him or get offended somehow. Just explain that this attitude is not common for you, that your people do not do this, that you are not used to it. Make him understand that you do not like it. It is a sincere approach, and it will be definitely respected.
Also, If you belong to a culture that has restrictions to physical contact (even to the handshake) you can position your body a little farther from the person and do a sort of bow or nod with your head as a greeting.
Another thing that might be considered strange by some foreigners: when speaking, Brazilians can became quite animated and passionate. Interruptions are normal and rather than having a negative and disrespectful connotation, it reflect interest in what is being discussed and a wish to participate and add points to your thoughts.
The following video has a good amount of tips about business etiquette to be followed during negotiations in Brazil.
Brazilian are fond of small talk. We are always small talking at all places: subways, elevators, buses, queues, etc. So, before getting down to the nitty-gritty of business, you can begin talking about other things besides the business itself.
Many people will say that talking about soccer is a good topic to start a dialog with a Brazilian. I personally think that it may be seen as kind of cliche, as many foreigners come to talk to us about it. If you do not know about Brazilian soccer that much, you can even create an awkward situation by mentioning a team that the person you are conversing hates, for example, or even saying wrong information about his team. It is good to remember that soccer is like a love or hate thing in Brazil. Believe, not everyone is crazily passionate about it, actually a lot of people cannot stand it.
Avoid themes like Carnaval, samba, violence, beaches, Rio de Janeiro, women, favelas, corruption and other things that Brazil is stereotyped about. This will give the impression that you are one more gringo pretending that know us, when actually know nothing. Politics in Brazil are also a complicated and polemic matter to discuss about. Even Brazilians avoid this topic while talking to each other.
It would be a good surprise if, instead of talking about topics that we are tired of hearing from gringos, a foreigner initiate a conversation with something else. Because Brazilians like to know the person they are dealing with, how about talking about you? You can talk about your life in general, your country (Brazilians love to know about other countries, they are very interested in foreign cultures) or your visit to Brazil, what cities you knew, what restaurants you visited and so on.
Aceita um cafezinho?
Do you wanna a cup of coffee? Coffee is the drink that seals the deals in Brazil. Present in all the business negotiations it is also a social drink, Brazilians like to enjoy their coffees with other people around. So, it will be a plus for you to accept the cafezinho when offered. If you absolutely hate coffee, that's ok, you can ask for a tea, water or soda, but it will not give the same impression.
How to really annoy a Brazilian
Many gringos’ attitudes can really irritate a Brazilian. So it is better if you watch yourself on the following topics:
- We do not like people speaking Spanish with us assuming this is our native language. If you do not speak Portuguese, stick with English or with your native language if your Brazilian counterpart has the knowledge to follow you.
- Please do not mention the last soccer play we have lost to Argentina. We are very sensitive about it. And never mock our soccer team, no matter what it is.
- Assume that our capital is Rio de Janeiro, Salvador or even Buenos Aires (yes it happens!!!).
- Speaking of Argentina, avoid comparations between this country and Brazil.
- Treating us with arrogance or superiority. If you consider your country better than ours, you are on your right, but please, keep it to yourself. If local people complaining is already annoying, imagine foreign people.
- Do not assume that we are nothing but Carnaval, naked women, soccer, beaches, samba and favelas. That is one nonsensical misconception.
- Do not hush a Brazilian. We think that time is out of our control.
- Brazil is 85.9% urbanized. Do not ask us what the rainforest is like.
- Unfortunately, Brazil is still a very sexist country, where the virility of men is exalted. Some Brazilians can be very offended with comments regarding sexuality.
- Assuming a woman is promiscuous only by the fact that she is a Brazilian, based on what you may have seen in Carnaval videos.
- Do not refer to us as a Third World.
- Do not come here assuming that we are a messy country and thinking you can do whatever you want here, as we do not have any laws.