A Look at the Cultural Customs of Brazil

In August, the 2016 Summer Olympics will attract thousands of people from around the world to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil’s glamorous tourist hub along South America’s Atlantic coast.Rio De Janeiro image
For those of you planning to attend the Games, or who may be interested in visiting or doing business there someday, we decided this is the perfect time to feature Brazil as part of our ongoing review of cultural customs and traditions in other countries.
Like the United States, Brazil has been described as a melting pot, reflecting the diverse mixture of cultures, races and nationalities that influenced its evolution over the past few centuries. The Portuguese were the predominant European group that constructed settlements in the country beginning in 1500. Over time, the European influence melded with the various local indigenous tribes to create the eclectic cultural makeup of modern-day Brazil.
Language & Communication
Portuguese is the official language of this country of 190 million people, making it the largest Portuguese-speaking country in the world—larger than Portugal itself. Brazilians communicate in a rather relaxed, informal manner. Don’t be offended if you find yourself being interrupted during social or business conversations. While direct in the way they speak, people in Brazil show their friendly nature by standing close or even lightly touching others on the arm or shoulder during discussions. Friends routinely greet each other not with handshakes, but hugs or backslapping.
Due largely to their rich Portuguese ancestry, the vast majority of the country is Roman Catholic. Brazilians place great emphasis on building and maintaining strong families. Most families are large, with even extended family members sharing close relationships with one another. Family and church values are woven into much of Brazil’s cultural fabric.
Business Relations
In business, Brazilians look to establish trusting relationships with counterparts before deciding to enter into long-term business deals. Corporate meetings are rather informal, typically beginning with general small talk in order to get to know one another and to create a more personal tone. Business partnerships are more likely to form through a slow, measured approach rather than one that is rushed. Not surprisingly then, personal, face-to-face meetings are preferred over written communications. It’s wise to bring an interpreter who is fluent in Portuguese and knows the business etiquette well. ProvideBrazil Map business cards that have English printed on one side and Portuguese on the other, and present them as soon as you are introduced to a new colleague.
Social Etiquette
As we’ve mentioned, Brazilians are open, friendly people who value personal relationships. When meeting for the first time, men will shake hands while women will kiss each other on the cheek, starting with the left and then the right. Appearances are important, and people typically err on the side of being over-dressed as opposed to being too casual, even for social events. If invited to a person’s home for a party or dinner, it’s customary to bring the host or hostess a small gift. Flowers or wine are most common. Avoid gifts containing black or purple colors, which are associated with mourning.
Whatever your reasons for visiting Brazil—the Olympic Games, a business trip or to see the sights—make sure you understand the cultural and communication differences you’ll encounter. Like any foreign country, the cultural customs of Brazil may surprise you. For more help in preparing for your trip, give us a call. We are happy to assist.