10 Brazilian Customs That Seem Unusual to Expats

We know that every culture has its own traditions, custom and habits. Some cultural differences could seem really weird from a foreigner point of view. So I’ve decided to talk to BRIC Language’s North Americans and Europeans interns in Brazil and a couple of expat friends to see what Brazilian habits they found unusual.

  1. Small Portions 

    Our North American interns all agreed that they were surprised to see how the portion sizes in Brazil are much smaller compared to the oversized portions served in their countries. Another thing expats should keep in mind: there’s no such a thing as free refills of coffee (too bad) or soft drinks in Brazil.

  2. Expressiveness 

    Brazilians are very expressive, use many hand gestures and facial expressions to convey emotion. I have some foreign friends that have difficulty in understanding the peculiar Brazilian body language, which sometimes cause confusion and very often hilarious situations.

  3. Old Time Jobs

    In Brazil you can still find many professions and jobs that now are rare in the US, or not found at all such as frentista (gas station attendants). Some of these informal occupations are genuinely Brazilian like Cobrador de ônibus (bus ticket collector), malabaristas de semáforo (street jugglers) and the beach vendors in Rio, which sell literally everything you can possible imagine.

  4. Long Vacations

    In Brazil, as in some European and South America countries, vacations are usually longand highly anticipated. Generally speaking working Brazilians get 30 days of paid vacation, which isn’t different from the French, but our Americans interns in SP and Rio were really thrilled with the generous vacation time in the country, as opposed to the U.S where the average worker gets around 10-15 days off.

  1. Lots of Holidays

    “There are some many holidays in Brazil!” I hear that a lot. And… it’s true. There are 12 public holidays in total, which are observed nationwide, including Carnaval. Plus, each state and city may have its own holidays as well, so if we do the math… we’ll realize there are many days off in a year in Brazil. On the other hand, the US has 11 public holidays, Germany 9 and the UK just 8!

  1. Friendliness and Physical Contact

    Brazilians are very hospitable, warm and friendly, and frequently go out of their way to help foreigners even in big cities like São Paulo and Rio, which can be comforting. But don’t be surprised if your life-saver amigo gets too close to you when talking. It’s common in Brazil to talk to people in close proximity and occasionally touch them on the arms. Let’s not forget the cheek kissing when greeting a person! It’s a very important part of the local culture and expats should adhere to the custom.

  2. Brazil is (not so) Violent

    A lot has been said about the violence in Brazil throughout the years, and specially recently during the World Cup and the Olympics, when the country was bombarded with negative news worldwide. There’s violence in Brazil, but as one of our interns put: “if you are careful, street smart and avoid bad neighborhoods you should be fine and that’s valid not just for Brazil, but everywhere.” I couldn’t agree more.

  3. Brushing Teeth at Work

    Brazilians are very concern when it comes to cleanliness. Just as an example, Brazilians bring toothbrushes and paste with them to work so that they can brush their teeth after lunch. A typical Brazilian will often brush their teeth four times a day, and some restaurants even provide Listerine to their customers!

  1. Lack of Punctuality

    The perception of time in Latin cultures is very different from the European nations in general. There are many reasons to that. In this interesting book I am reading called “The Culture Map” the author says that punctuality “is profoundly affected by a number of historic factors that shape the ways people live, work, think, and interact with one another.” It also highlights that “in the developing world life centers around the fact of constant change.
    This is very interesting because as a Brazilian, I have always seen this attitude as something rude and have never actually thought about the historic reasons behind it.
    So here is an advice to the new expats and interns in Brazil: take it easy.

  2. Goodbye Ritual

    I wrote a blog post about this some time ago, in which I say that there’s is actually a ritual behind a simply goodbye, when it comes to Brazilians. Have you seen them saying goodbye? As an American friend of mine smartly described, “There are kisses, hugs and tchau – bye, and then some more talking, followed by a second round of the same ritual, which by now is getting close to 30 minutes, and nobody is leaving yet” That’s exactly how it is! So once again, take it easy.