The thumbs up in Brazil

Today we are publishing a guest blog post written by John Clites, an American expat residing in Brazil. In this post John gives an essential and easy tip for communication in Brazil, and explains when you can use the thumbs up in Brazil.
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Hi everyone,

Today I will provide you with a basic lesson in how to communicate in Brazil – even if you know not a word of Portuguese.

Simply give the thumbs up. The thumbs up can be used virtually anywhere and for anything in Brazil. For example:

      • A businessman has just given you directions or other information and you wish to thank him.
      • The barraca attendant at the beach has just brought you a beer which is estupidamente gelada (“stupidly icy”)
      • You inadvertently cut off a guy in traffic and wish to make amends.
      • You intend to cut off a guy a traffic and want to alert him.
      • You are at a boate (nightclub) with friends and the music is deafening. Your amiga asks if are having a good time by giving you the thumbs up and raising her eyebrows. You indicate “Yes, definitely” by giving a thumbs up back and smiling broadly.
      • A guy you know is passing by on the other side of the street and you two acknowledge each other with mutual thumbs up.
      • Really, any time you wish to express that something is cool or OK, even when the exact meaning may not be entirely clear:

HOWEVER, the “OK” sign, formed by touching the tip of the thumb to the tip of the index finger, should NOT be used in Brazil, as it essentially is an invitation to do something that a proctologist does on a daily basis. You might make this mistake once (as I did at a churrasco my first trip down), but you’re unlikely to make it a second time. It’s a major faux pas.

So there you have it. Lesson 1 in communicating in Brazil. That wasn’t so hard, was it?

I hope that you are giving your computer screen the thumbs up.

Still in Brazil


About the author: John Clites is a U.S. citizen who first visited Brazil in 1993. He fell in love with the country and traveled Brazil extensively before finally moving there in 2008. He divides his time between teaching English, writing about Brazil, and maintaining his blog, His first e-book, Teaching English in Brazil, is available at His second e-book, “Live well in Rio” is now available on Amazon. Readers may write to John at [email protected].