Language, Culture, Customs and Etiquette
Welcome to our guide to Brazil. This is useful for anyone researching Brazilian culture, customs, manners, etiquette, values and wanting to understand the people better. You may be going to Brazil on business, for a visit or even hosting Brazlilian colleagues or clients in your own country. Remember this is only a very basic level introduction and is not meant to stereotype all Brazilian people you may meet!
Facts and Statistics
Location: Eastern South America bordering Argentina 1,224 km, Bolivia 3,400 km, Colombia 1,643 km, French Guiana 673 km, Guyana 1,119 km, Paraguay 1,290 km, Peru 1,560 km, Suriname 597 km, Uruguay 985 km, Venezuela 2,200 km
Climate: mostly tropical, but temperate in south
Population: 202,656,788 (est. 2014)
Ethnic Make-up: white (includes Portuguese, German, Italian, Spanish, Polish) 55%, mixed white and black 38%, black 6%, other (includes Japanese, Arab, Amerindian) 1%
Religions: Roman Catholic (nominal) 80%
Government: federative republic
Language in Brazil
Language is one of the strongest elements of Brazil's national unity. Portuguese is spoken by nearly 100 percent of the population. The only exceptions are some members of Amerindian groups and pockets of immigrants, primarily from Japan and South Korea, who have not yet learned Portuguese. The principal families of Indian languages are Tupí, Arawak, Carib, and Gê.
There is about as much difference between the Portuguese spoken in Brazil and that spoken in Portugal as between the English spoken in the United States and that spoken in the United Kingdom. Within Brazil, there are no dialects of Portuguese, but only moderate regional variation in accent, vocabulary, and use of personal nouns, pronouns, and verb conjugations. Variations tend to diminish as a result of mass media, especially national television networks that are viewed by the majority of Brazilians.
Brazilian Society & Culture
- Brazil is a mixture of races and ethnicities, resulting in rich diversity.
- Many original Portuguese settlers married native women, which created a new race, called 'mestizos'.
- 'Mulattoes' are descendants of the Portuguese and African slaves.
- Slavery was abolished in 1888, creating over time a further blurring of racial lines.
- Unlike many other Latin American countries where there is a distinct Indian population, Brazilians have intermarried to the point that it sometimes seems that almost everyone has a combination of o European, African and indigenous ancestry.
Brazilian Family Values
- The family is the foundation of the social structure and forms the basis of stability for most people.
- Families tend to be large (although family size has been diminishing in recent years) and the extended family is quite close.
- The individual derives a social network and assistance in times of need from the family.
- Nepotism is considered a positive thing, since it implies that employing people one knows and trusts is of primary importance.
The Brazilian Class System
- Despite the mixing of ethnicities, there is a class system in Brazil.
- Few Brazilians could be described as racist, although social discrimination on the basis of skin colour is a daily occurrence.
- In general, people with darker brown skin are economically and socially disadvantaged.
- The middle and upper classes often have only brief interaction with the lower classes - usually maids, drivers, etc.
- Class is determined by economic status and skin colour.
- There is a great disparity in wage differentials--and therefore lifestyle and social aspirations--among the different classes
- Although women make up 40% of the Brazilian workforce, they are typically found in lower paid jobs such as teaching, administrative support, and nursing.
- The 1988 constitution prohibits discrimination against women, but inequities still exist. The one place where women are achieving equality is in the government.
Etiquette and Customs in Brazil
- Men shake hands when greeting one another, while maintaining steady eye contact.
- Women generally kiss each other, starting with the left and alternating cheeks.
- Hugging and backslapping are common greetings among Brazilian friends.
- If a woman wishes to shake hands with a man, she should extend her hand first.
Gift Giving Etiquette
- If invited to a Brazilian's house, bring the hostess flowers or a small gift.
- Orchids are considered a very nice gift, but avoid purple ones.
- Avoid giving anything purple or black as these are mourning colours.
- Handkerchiefs are also associated with funerals, so they do not make good gifts.
- Gifts are opened when received.
If you are invited to a Brazilian's house:
- Arrive at least 30 minutes late if the invitation is for dinner.
- Arrive up to an hour late for a party or large gathering.
- Brazilians dress with a flair and judge others on their appearance. Casual dress is more formal than in many other countries. Always dress elegantly and err on the side of over-dressing rather than under- dressing.
- If you did not bring a gift to the hostess, flowers the next day are always appreciated.
Business Etiquette and Protocol in Brazil
Relationships & Communication
Doing business etiquette Brazil
- Brazilians need to know who they are doing business with before they can work effectively.
- Brazilians prefer face-to-face meetings to written communication as it allows them to know the person with whom they are doing business.
- The individual they deal with is more important than the company.
- Since this is a group culture, it is important that you do not do anything to embarrass a Brazilian.
- Criticizing an individual causes that person to lose face with the others in the meeting.
- The person making the criticism also loses face, as they have disobeyed the unwritten rule.
- Communication is often informal and does not rely on strict rules of protocol. Anyone who feels they have something to say will generally add their opinion.
- It is considered acceptable to interrupt someone who is speaking.
- Face-to-face, oral communication is preferred over written communication. At the same time, when it comes to business agreements, Brazilians insist on drawing up detailed legal contracts.
- Expect questions about your company since Brazilians are more comfortable doing business with people and companies they know.
- Wait for your Brazilian colleagues to raise the business subject. Never rush the relationship- building time.
- Brazilians take time when negotiating
- Do not rush them or appear impatient.
- Expect a great deal of time to be spent reviewing details.
- Often the people you negotiate with will not have decision-making authority.
- It is advisable to hire a translator if your Portuguese is not fluent.
- Use local lawyers and accountants for negotiations.
- Brazilians resent an outside legal presence.
- Brazilian business is hierarchical.
- Decisions are made by the highest-ranking person.
- Brazilians negotiate with people not companies.
- Do not change your negotiating team or you may have to start over from the beginning.
Business Meeting Etiquette
- Business appointments are required and can often be scheduled on short notice; however, it is best to make them 2 to 3 weeks in advance.
- Confirm the meeting in writing. It is not uncommon for appointments to be cancelled or changed at the last minute.
- In Sao Paulo and Brasilia it is important to arrive on time for meetings. In Rio de Janeiro and other cities it is acceptable to arrive a few minutes late for a meeting.
- Do not appear impatient if you are kept waiting. Brazilians see time as something outside their control and the demands of relationships takes precedence over adhering to a strict schedule.
- Meetings are generally rather informal.
- Expect to be interrupted while you are speaking or making a presentation.
- Avoid confrontations. Do not appear frustrated with your Brazilian colleagues.
- Brazilians pride themselves on dressing well.
- Men should wear conservative, dark coloured business suits. Three-piece suits typically indicate that someone is an executive.
- Women should wear suits or dresses that are elegant and feminine with good quality accessories. Manicures are expected.
- Business cards are exchanged during introductions with everyone at a meeting.
- It is advisable, although not required, to have the other side of your business card translated into Portuguese.
- Present your business card with the Portuguese side facing the recipient.