Brazilian Culture, Customs And Etiquette

Brazilians are always up for doing something new. They love to just hang out with each other and will often stay up late into the night with groups of friends, just talking and having fun, even if they have to be at work the next day.


In general, Brazilians are a fun-loving people. While attitude in the South may be somewhat colder and more reserved, from Rio upwards people usually boast a captivating attitude towards life and truly enjoy having a good time. Some may even tell you that beer, football, samba ad barbecue is all they could crave for. Brazilians are always up for doing something new. They love to just hang out with each other, and will often stay up late into the night with groups of friends, just talking and having fun-even if they have to be at work the next day.

Brazilians live to party. Whether it's at the beach, a barbecue at home with the family or a quick beer at a café on the street, the meaning of life is clearly to socialize as much as possible. If they run short of gossip (and they rarely do) there's always football (soccer) and the telenovelas to chat about. Regardless of the poverty and suffering in Brazil you'll never be short of smiles in the street. A large portion of the population is uneducated, people tend not to trouble themselves much with the existential dilemmas that plague your average Westerner.

Friendship and hospitality are highly praised traits in the Brazilian society. Family values and social connections are also strongly valued and the distinction between known and unknown people may acquire a significant weight in day-to-day interaction. To people they have met, or at least they know the name, Brazilians are usually very open, friendly and sometimes quite generous. Once introduced, until getting a good reason not to, a typical Brazilian may treat you as trustfully as he would treat a best friend. This may have an agreeable impact, but it also means that outsiders not always get the same special treatment as locals. Nevertheless, Brazilians are reputedly one of the most hospitable people in the world and foreigners are usually treated with respect and often with true admiration.

Attitudes towards foreigners may also be subject to regional differences. The state of Santa Catarina for instance welcomes their Spanish-speaking tourists with bilingual signs and welcome committees. In Salvador, the largest city of the Northeast, anyone talking, acting or looking like a tourist (even other Brazilians!) could be charged higher prices, such as in parking lots, in restaurants, etc.

Brazilians who live in Rio de Janeiro are called cariocas and their character is known all over the country. Their accent gives them away with the emphasis on the 'sh' sound which makes everything they say sound easy-going. Rio de Janerio is a beach city and one of the advantages for Brazilians living there is hitting the beach whenever they can to sink a few beers and hit on one another. In short, cariocas are renowned for their inability to take life seriously, something that annoys the paulistas from Sao Paulo, who are famed for their dedication to making money and working too hard. Cariocas love to party, to gossip and it's fairly easy to head out on the town and meet new friends each night. Just don't expect them to remember your name the next time they see you.“Te Ligo!” = I’ll call you, they smile. Never mind that they didn't ask for your number.

Brazilians are by nature a very warm and friendly people. Cheek-kissing is very common in Brazil, among women and between women and men. When two women, or opposite sexes first meet, it is not uncommon to kiss. Two men will shake hands. Trying to shake hands when offered a kiss will be considered odd, but never rude. In some places when people first meet, they will kiss three times, alternating right and left cheeks.

Friends traditionally greet one another in one of two ways: the 'beijinho' (little kiss), or the 'abraco' (hug), and a greeting such as 'Bom dia' ('Good morning or day'). Other greetings used include 'Como vai?' ('How are you?') or if meeting someone for the first time 'Prazer em conhece-lo' ('Its a pleasure to meet you'). Appropriate responses to 'Bom dia' would be to answer the same thing back, and to 'Como vai?' to answer 'Tudo bem, e voce?' ('All is well, and you?'). When two men who are friends meet one another, they will typically shake each other's hand while at the same time patting each other on the back in a manly fashion - the abraco. When two women greet one another, they will use the beijinho. This typically consists of brushing the cheek on either side once for married women, and adding a third for unmarried girls. The third beijinho is to wish the single girl good luck in finding a husband. If you are unsure of the marital status of the woman you are meeting/greeting, you may forget the beijinho and just use a standard hand shake. This same beijinho rule applies to when a man and a woman meet each other, this kind of greeting is usually used by the younger crowd, but is used by all when they know each other well. The beijinho is often used when a young man and woman are meeting for the first time as well. When parting company, a typical thing to say would be 'Ate logo' ('See you soon'), or 'Tchau' (pronounced 'chow', which means 'good-bye' or 'bye').

Brazilians use a lot of body gestures in informal communication, and the meaning of certain words or expressions may be influenced by them.

  • The thumbs up gesture is used everywhere and all the time in Brazil.
  • The OK gesture (thumb and finger in a circle), on the other hand, may have obscene connotations in Brazil. Avoid it if you can, people may laugh at you, or be offended (usually if they are drunk). Use thumbs up instead.
  • A circular movement of the forefinger about the ear (a gesture that Germans use to indicate telephone for you) means you are crazy!, the same as in English.
  • Stroking your two biggest fingers with your thumb and stating that something costs a long time is a disguised way of saying that something is expensive (same as French) (not in whole country).
  • Clicking your middle finger with your thumb multiple times means a long time.
  • Joining your thumb and middle finger and snapping your index finger upon them means fast (not in whole country).
  • Stroking your lips with your index finger and snapping it means delicious, grabbing your earlobe with your index and thumb means the same (not in all country).
  • Making a fist with your thumb between the index and middle finger is the sign of good luck (not in whole country).
  • Touching the palm with the thumb and making a circular movement with the hand means I am being robbed!(sometimes meaning that some price is too high) (not in whole country).
  • The Hush gesture is considered extremely unpolite, just about the same as shouting "shut up!" to someone.
  • An informal way to get someone's attention (similar to a whistle in other cultures) is a hissing sound: "pssiu!" It is not perceived as unpolite, but gets really, really, REALLY annoying if repeated too often. They also call cats with a similar sound, rather than the kiss noise others (the French again) produce.

In Brazil, personal space is less of a concern than in the U.S., and in conversation it is not unsusual for two people to be much closer to each other space-wise than would typically be seen in other countries. If someone is speaking to you and they seem uncomfortably close, it is just a cultural difference and shouldn't be deemed offensive. Almost everyone can dance and Brazilians are usually at ease with their own bodies. While talking, they may stand closer to each other than the regular American or Northern European, and also tend to touch each other more. It's not uncommon to touch each other on the shoulder or arm occasionally while speaking and visitors should not take this as impolite or as a violation of personal space.

No one knows how to make the most of the beach as Brazilians. The beach in Brazil is simultaneously a social scene, a place to show off one's body and find inner peace. Most Brazilians living near the beach will hit the sands at least once a fortnight and they transform it into a whole social event. Brazilians spend the day on the beach drinking beer, eating nuts and melon and talking about football (soccer) or the latest telenovela. It's one of the most democratic places as apart from the designer haircuts there are precious few clues as to the wealth of the individual. No one can own the sands and so they're a free space for everyone in Brazil - something quite rare in a country that suffers from the worst distribution of wealth in the world.

Girls and guys in Brazil are generally very sexually liberated. The cult of the body in Rio possibly rivals even Los Angeles or parts of Florida. The body itself is a cult and an end unto itself. You go to the beach in Rio de Janeiro on the weekend and the sands are full of beautiful bodies getting tanned. In Rio in particular there must be a higher density of beauty salons and gyms than anywhere else in the world. Everywhere you turn you see beauty salons or gymnasiums and it's all about looking good when they hit the beach. All the guys want big muscles and the girls want to look hot. Then they head down to the beach and slip into bikinis and trunks and flirt, smoke and chat away on the sand. Brazilians in Rio love to pose and that's why one and all wear as little as possible when they get to the sands.

No one would be caught dead on the beach in Brazil wearing the kind of bulky swimming costumes seen in the West. The entire point of going to the beach there is to show off your body to the entire world, even if you are pushing 60. Brazilians have no sense of shame and instead enjoy and celebrate the tiniest bikinis and trunks imaginable. For the men the speedo swimming trunks are the standard and in any given afternoon on the beach a good ten minutes should be sent standing around with your hands on your hips, swaggering about and talking loudly about football (soccer). Guys don't use beach mats but instead sit straight down on the sand. Brazilian girls cover themselves with as little material as possible. Despite their provocative appearance nudity is generally considered quite taboo and it's rare to see a woman without her top on, on any of the popular beaches.

he gays have their stretch of the beach, the marijuana smokers another and the dumb gringos end up with the bit of sand in front of the hotels that gets hit by thieves every time they leave their belongings unattended. In Brazil no one goes for a swim without asking someone to take care of their things which provides the perfect opportunity to start up a conversation with one of the girls or guys you were eying earlier.

Ipanema beach in Rio de Janeiro is the best place to meet cool Brazilians as there are hardly any prostitutes on this beach and it’s where the young crowd hang out to smoke marijuana. The beach is marked with stations called postos and the cool area to hang out and where you’ll find the most beautiful Brazilian girls is posto 9. Sometimes the police arrives to bust someone for smoking dope and a slow handclap goes up to alert everyone to hide their ganja in the sand. Further down the beach between posto 8 and 9 is the gay area of the beach. Some girls go there to escape attention but if you’re a guy then you might find some young or older hunk wanting to meet you.

Copocabana beach is breathtakingly beautiful but many of the sexy women who hang out there are prostitutes. They will tend to sit in groups and flash you inviting smiles and call out to come and join them. They may even come over to you. Copacabana is famous for its sex scene and many locals find it kind of sleazy. Copacabana beach is also where you find the old sex tourists who have just come out of their hotel in search of sex for sale.

The majority of the sex tourism is found around Copacabana and if the sight of disorientated European and American guys in their forties with Brazilian girls half their ages curled up in their laps is distasteful to you, then you're best off avoiding this neighborhood altogether. Few Brazilian girls would want to live in Copacabana just for the sleazy reputation the neighborhood has. If you want to meet Brazilians girls or guys then you need to head out of the tourist traps and hit the Rio nightlife.

When most people think of traveling to Brazil they imagine hundreds of beautiful samba dancers in dental floss bikinis shaking their stuff on the beach. The trouble with dispelling such fantasies is that the image of loose sexuality in Brazil is fairly true. For the average Brazilian to go out and kiss someone in a bar is no big deal at all. Most of them will sleep with someone and refer to it as a coisinha, a 'little thing'.

Dating rules are different as well. In Brazil there isn't the same approach to casual dating as in the U.S. for example. If two people are interested in each other, they will typically go out in a group with friends until the two know each other well, and will only go out alone if a serious relationship is being considered. When two young people become engaged, the young man will wear a silver ring on his ring finger to indicate that he is engaged. The young woman will wear an engagement ring as is typical in most countries.

Family ties in Brazil are very strong, and typically families will live in close proximity to their extended family, often in the same household. A young man or woman will often live with his/her parents until he/she is ready to be married.

Whereas the "Western" roots of Brazilian culture are largely European (evidenced by its colonial towns and even sporadic historic buildings between the skyscrapers), there has been a strong tendency in the last decades to adopt a more "American way of life" which is found in urban culture and architecture, mass media, consumerism and a strongly positive feeling towards technical progress. In spite of that, Brazil is still a nation faced to the Atlantic, not to Hispanic America, and the intellectual elites are likely to look up to Europe (especially France), not the U.S., as source of inspiration. Many aspects in Brazilian society (such as the educational system) are borrowed from the French and may seem strange at first to Anglo-Saxon visitors. Brazilians are not Hispanic, and there are even some locals who question whether Brazil is part of Latin America.

In Brazil it is considered rude to eat a sandwich with one's bare hands, people hold their sandwiches with a napkin, or as is often the case, if the sandwich comes in a small paper bag/wrapper, they will hold it with the bag. It is also considered rude to eat pizza using one's hands, typically pizza is eaten using a knife and fork. After a meal, if you use a toothpick, it is polite to use your free hand to cover your mouth - it is considered rude to allow your tooth-picking to be seen.

When in a restaurant, the tip is often included in the bill, but when not, tipping rules are generally the same as in the U.S. - 10% for bad service, 15% for good and 20% for excellent. A tip is called a 'gorjeta' in Brazil.

PHOTO: Pedro Lopez

Posted in Brazil, Countries and tagged , , , , , .

One Comment

  1. Sorry so late in commenting but I found your blog doing a secarh for Havaianas Flip Flops. The thing I like best about them aside from they are so very comfortable is that they have so many personalities. You can find a look for any mood. The ones with Swarovski crystals are amazing. Enough gushing.

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