Being a fresh gringo to Brazil has given me some insights on the cultural differences between Brazil and the U.S. Some of cultural differences can lead to some problems. Take this story for example…
Being new to Brazil I was trying hard to make Brazilian friends and get integrated into Brazilian culture. After a few weeks of living in Brazil, I was finally invited to my first party and I was really excited!
This was a great opportunity for me to make some friends, practice my Portuguese, and see how Brazilians party.
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One of my English students wanted to have a class on Sunday morning, but because I really wanted to have a good time at the party, I told him I wouldn’t be able to teach him that day, even though I could’ve really used the money.
When the day finally came, I was so excited I couldn’t think about anything else. I was told the party started at 9pm, but I arrived a little late, at about 9:15. I walked up to the door and I could see through the window that there was a family having dinner…
I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t even know the person who’s house it was! I called my friend that invited me to the party but he didn’t answer his phone. I thought maybe the party had been cancelled…
I waited around for awhile for my friend to return my call, but eventually I just went back home, defeated.
I decided to just watch a movie and forget about the party.
At about 1am I awoke from the sound of my phone. The friend who had invited me to the party was calling. I picked up the phone and he told me the party was awesome and asked me why I wasn’t there…
Little did I know that Brazilians have a different concept about time. It was too bad that I missed out on the party because I wasn’t used to Brazilian culture. But I sure learned my lesson…
The Good and Bad of Brazilian Culture
I’ve been living in Brazil for almost four months now which has given me plenty of time to notice some differences in the culture here, and compare it to the United States, where I was born and raised.
The main reason this article was written was so that our Brazilian readers can see how their behaviors are being interpreted by a foreigner and to give them another perspective on their habits and ways of life..
When you’re inside your own culture, it’s sometimes difficult to distance yourself enough to certain things that may be obvious to a foreigner, simply because everyone around you is doing it.
So when you have an outsider come in, they can tell you things about your culture that you may have never thought of. But even if you have thought of it, maybe the foreigner (me!) can give you a different perspective on it.
You may not agree with everything that this article says, and that’s okay, but I recommend that you be open to what someone from another culture has to say about the Brazilian way of life.
So without further ado, let’s start with the positive aspects of Brazilian culture.
1. Brazilians are Patient
Unlike the USA, which is obsessed with efficiency and getting as much done as they possibly can, Brazilians are generally in less of a hurry. They don’t seem to get as stressed out about the little things like Americans.
Patient people are much more enjoyable to be around than people who aren’t. They tend to take pleasure in the little things in life, and are also less likely to get sick.
In other words, Brazilians are more likely to stop and smell the roses.
2. Brazilians are Warm and Accepting
I often hear how warm Brazilians are to people they don’t know. There are many examples of this, but I want to talk about something you may not be aware of…
One of the first things that I noticed when arriving here from the United States, was how much more comfortable people here are with holding eye contact.
Many Americans are very uncomfortable with holding eye contact; on the street, hardly anyone looks into anyone else’s eyes. And if you do make eye contact, it only lasts a brief second.
When you don’t hold eye contact with strangers, it makes you much harder to approach and start a conversation with. Also, when someone is uncomfortable holding eye contact, it’s usually because they are insecure, have anxiety, or are nervous.
Brazilians tend to be more comfortable in their own skin (. People are much more comfortable holding eye contact and the more you look into someone’s eyes, the quicker you two will connect with each other.
Just from this simple fact alone, Brazilians appear to be more warm and inviting.
3. Brazilian Culture is Less Individualistic, and More Social
Both individualistic and social cultures have their positive and negative aspects.
Individual cultures can leave people feeling isolated and disconnected from the world, while social cultures can lead to conformity and lack of free-thinking.
Individual cultures produce people who think critically, embrace their unique gifts and perspectives, and strongly believe in their ability to succeed. Social cultures tend to produce people who are very comfortable in social situations and feel a sense of community with people and nature. This includes strong family values which creates families that are very close and happy together.
As was mentioned above, although both cultures have their positive and negative characteristics, they compliment each other extremely well.
So whether you were raised in a social or individualistic culture, you’ve likely gotten most of the benefits you’re going to get from it. However, spending time in a different culture than that which you were raised in can lead to rapid growth.
So this section has two messages: one is that Brazil is a great country for Americans to go to and two, America would be a great country for Brazilians to go to.
And now that you feel good from reading the positives, let’s check out the
bad stuff stuff Brazilians can improve on…
1. Brazilians are Sensitive to How Foreigners Perceive Their Country
For some reason, Brazilians are very concerned with how other people perceive their country. For more info, check out the article Gringo Stereotypes, What Do We Really Think?
I’ve met numerous people who don’t like carnaval because it gives Brazil a bad image.
On one hand they’ll talk bad about the government and the negative aspects of Brazilian culture, and then they’ll get upset and defensive when they hear a foreigner say the exact same thing. Do you ever do this?
We had a poll on the Real Life English Facebook Community about how Brazilians thought foreigners perceived their country and almost EVERYONE had bad things to say. There were maybe one or two responses out of X amount that were actually a positive image.
Why do you think people think badly of Brazil? In my experience, it’s been the exact opposite.
I think this attitude has a lot to do with Brazil’s social culture. Brazilians can be very attached to the image of Brazil as if it was their own self.
I don’t notice this attitude in America at all. When foreigners criticize America, many Americans are quick to agree.
But on the other hand, some Americans are so self-centered that they don’t even allow the viewpoints of the people of other countries to even enter their awareness. They just think America is the greatest, and that’s that.
For example, when Americans criticize America, a stereotypical response is, “If you don’t like America, you can just get out.”
But on the other hand, being passionate about your country and actually caring about it are very good things.
2. Brazilians Don’t CORRECT People on Their Portuguese
As a Portuguese learner, I find it very unhelpful how Brazilians tend to not correct gringos on their Portuguese.
Sure, you don’t want to correct everything that someone is saying, but when you hear someone say something wrong, use a phrase that no one really says, or mispronounces something, correct them. Just because you know what they were trying to say, doesn’t mean everyone else will.
When you don’t correct someone’s Portuguese, you’re preventing them from becoming a more fluent speaker, you’re slowing down their growth.
Maybe the reason Portuguese is “a hard language to learn” is because Brazilians aren’t helping foreigners learn it!
I know Brazilians are just being polite and are very conscious of hurting people’s feelings. They don’t want to seem like a know-it-all or like they’re being condescending for correcting the person they’re talking to.
But don’t worry about hurting someone’s feelings. Most people like to be corrected because they want to know how to speak the language correctly. You don’t have to be in a class to correct someone’s mistakes.
When correcting someone, just make sure to say it in a nice way. For example, if my English student was to say, “I never been to the United States,” I would correct them by saying, “Oh, so you HAVE never been to the United States?” Then they can correct themselves by saying, “Yes, I have never been to the United States.” This doesn’t interrupt the natural flow of conversation.
Another way you can correct someone is if you notice them mispronouncing or using a word that is uncommonly used, you can make a mental note of it and just wait until there’s a lull in the conversation to bring it up.
English speakers are very well known for correcting other people’s English, even other natives! Often on the internet, people can get a little out of control with correcting people’s grammar and spelling (known as grammar nazis).
So please correct people on their Portuguese!
3. Brazilians are Habitually Late/Flakey
Brazilians just don’t really seem to care about doing what they say they’re going to do when it comes to time.
As an American, if you say you’re going to be at my house at 8:00, then I expect you to be at my house at 8:00, not 8:30. This was the problem I talked about at the beginning of the article.
Now you may look at this as just an American too stressed and in a hurry, but that’s besides the point.
The point is, why don’t you care about doing what you say you’re going to do? Because it’s common in your culture is just an excuse.
If you don’t know when you’re going to arrive, then SAY that. And if you don’t know if you’re going to show up, communicate that too.
Obviously, sometimes things happen that are out of your control. You’re not going to be on time 100% of the time, but that doesn’t mean you have an excuse to be late 100% of the time either.
From the point of view of other cultures, being habitually late communicates you don’t respect my time.
Again, I’m not addressing the issue of “why does it matter if I’m a little late.” No, it’s about doing what you say you’re going to do. It’s about having integrity.
However, I understand that because Brazilians have a flexible time frame, they tend to be more patient, relaxed, and live in the moment.
Don’t take this article the wrong way. Brazil is one of my favorite countries in the world, which is why I’m living here right now. It’s out of love for Brazil culture that I wrote this article.
But if there’s one thing you could take away from the article let it be this: correct people on their Portuguese! Remember, one of the reasons Portuguese “is such a hard language to learn,” is because Brazilians don’t correct foreigners trying to speak it! 😉
Stay classy, Brazil.
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