Customs & Traditions in Brazil



General Etiquette

  • Standard greetings vary from region to region. The most common and appropriate greeting for anyone is a handshake. In Brazil, handshakes are usually firm, although some may prefer lighter handshakes.

  • Brazilians usually take the time to greet each person individually, making direct eye contact.

  • Do not refer to Brazilians as ‘Latin Americans’. Typically, ‘Latin America’ is thought to refer to those countries that have connections to Spain.

  • Brazilians tend to interact in a warm-hearted manner.

  • Engage in discussions on topics such as soccer (football) and the natural landscapes of Brazil. These are welcome topics of conversation.

  • Avoid discussing or debating politics, poverty, or religion.

  • Try not to be bothered by the lack of concern for punctuality. Arriving 15-30 minutes after the designated time is not considered late in Brazil.

  • Be open to invitations to join in social activities such as a game of soccer. It is a great way to interact with others and to build stronger relationships.

  • Show compassion for people’s problems and needs. It demonstrates a sense of consideration and warmth that is likely to be very appreciated by your Brazilian companion.

  • When talking to a Brazilian companion, inquire into the well-being of their family, spouse, children, etc. Family life is considerably important to Brazilians.

  • Light and inoffensive humor play a larger part in Brazilian conversation. So avoid being sarcastic or mocking during conversations. Brazilians are generally optimistic and light-hearted and wit or irony may be misunderstood.

  • When it comes to queuing etiquette, the concept of ‘first come, first serve’ does not always apply. Cutting in line may be tolerated if the person who comes later believes they are more important than others in line or they know someone who can assist with jumping the line.


Family

  • Family is very important to the Brazilian people and grown-up children often remain with parents until they marry.

  • Extended family members tend to keep close ties with one another and elderly parents are looked after, often living with one of their children.

  • Historically, family sizes were quite large but in recent decades people are having fewer children, particularly in the more urban areas.

  • There is a difference between types of marriages in Brazil, namely civil and religious. However, religious marriages are on the decline, particularly in urban areas.

  • Traditionally, Brazilians were expected to marry at a young age and make babies early in their life. This is changing in contemporary society, with an increasing number of people going to university and seeking financial security before marriage. These attitudes are more predominant in the urban middle class.

  • Divorce was not legalized until 1977 due to opposition from the Catholic Church.




Naming

  • The name structure in Brazil is the first name then the middle name, or names followed by the mother’s last name, then the father’s last name.

  • Females keep their name therefore and add their husband’s name last as a replacement to her mother’s family name.

  • In recent years the tradition has evolved and it is not always considered necessary for the woman to include her husband’s name.

  • Common given names are after older relatives (such as a great-grandparent) or after Catholic saints.

  • Brazil has adopted Portuguese naming patterns, meaning that it is typical for people to trace their ancestry back through both their maternal and paternal lines. This is reflected in their name, as they usually have two surnames; the mother’s paternal and father’s paternal surname.

  • It is common to find Portuguese family names ending in -ES (e.g. LOPES), while many personal names usually end in -z (e.g. Luiz).

  • Brazilians often use ‘nicknames’ to address one another. However, nicknames are mostly used among family and friends.


Meeting & Greeting:

  • Men shake hands when greeting one another while maintaining steady eye contact.

  • Women generally kiss each other, starting with the left and alternating cheeks.

  • It is common for friends to greet each other with a warm hug & backslapping.

  • If a woman wishes to shake hands with a man, she should extend her hand first.

  • Standard greetings vary from region to region. The most common and appropriate greeting for anyone is a handshake. In Brazil, handshakes are usually firm, although some may prefer lighter handshakes.

  • In a group or social setting, the person arriving is expected to greet everyone first. One is also expected to offer farewell to everyone when they are leaving.

  • When addressing an adult, it is common practice to call them “senhor” (Mister) or “senhora” (Miss), followed by their first name. As a general rule, use the formal address for people you are unfamiliar with as well as those who are older than you.

  • Common verbal greetings include ‘olá’ (‘hello’), ‘bom dia’ (‘good day’), ‘boa tarde’ (‘good afternoon’), and ‘boa noite’ (‘good evening’ or ‘good night’).



Visiting a home

  • Since Brazilians are generally easygoing, the etiquette for visiting their home is quite casual and relaxed.

  • It is considered to be impolite to arrive at the designated time. If invited to a Brazilian household, come no earlier than 15-30 minutes after the designated time.

  • If you are offered a complimentary cup of ‘cafezinho’ (‘black coffee’), accept it unless you have a good reason to refuse. In Brazil, coffee is a symbol of hospitality and is widely consumed. Likewise, offer cafezinho to anyone who visits your home if it is possible.

  • The purpose of dinner invitations or parties is primarily for socializing. In turn, people are not normally hasty to leave. Such invitations usually include time for conversing before, during, and after the meal. Typically, guests will not leave before dessert and a cafezinho have been served.


Giving gifts

  • If invited into a Brazilian home, bringing flowers or a small gift for the hostess is a good gesture of appreciation. A gift for the hostess’s children will also be greatly appreciated.

  • Flowers can be sent before or after a visit to someone’s home. Orchids are considered a nice gift but avoid purple ones.

  • Avoid giving gifts wrapped in purple or that are purple, such as purple orchids. The color purple is associated with mourning

  • Gifts are opened when received.

  • Small gifts such as a chocolate bar are often given as a symbolic gesture of appreciation towards someone who does a favor.

  • Wrapping gifts in vibrant colors will be appreciated, particularly if it is in the national colors of yellow and green.

  • Gifts that are sharp such as knives or scissors refer to an intention to ‘cut’ ties with someone. Thus, avoid giving gifts that may be interpreted as a cutting of connections.

  • Avoid giving practical gifts such as wallets, keychains, or perfume. These are considered to be too personal.

  • If a married man has to give a gift to a woman, he should mention that the gift is from their spouse to avoid the gesture being interpreted as flirtation.

Dining & Food:

  • It is not unusual to be casual about timing so being late for dinner or a party is not frowned upon, however, avoid being more than half an hour late for dinner or more than an hour for a party.

  • Eat with the knife in the right hand and fork in the left. After eating, place the knife and fork next to one another and do not cross them.

  • In formal dinners remember that the eating utensils start from the outside in. The spoon and fork at the top of your plate are for the dessert.

  • There will be separate glasses for drinking, red wine or white wine and beer.

  • Do not place hands out of sight and keep wrists but not elbows on the table.

  • Do not eat food with your hands - including fruit. Items such as fruit should be cut with a knife and fork.

  • Food should always be passed to the left.

  • The most honored guest sits at the head of the table and hosts to sit on either side.

  • If invited to a restaurant it is normally the person who offers the invitation who pays although it is important to make an offer to pay.

  • Brazilians often like to spend some time over a meal so expect to not rush off.

  • Brazilians often tend to eat quietly. Burping and making noise with plates and cutlery is considered to be poor etiquette.

  • Brazilians tend to finish all the food they put on their plate. Taking more food than one can eat and leaving unfinished food on one’s plate is considered impolite, suggesting that the person did not enjoy the food.

  • It is common to have a second serving.

  • When eating out in a restaurant, often people will lift their hand and motion for the waiter to come to them.



Communication style:

  • Brazilian people are open and friendly.

  • Generally, public displays of affection such as holding hands and kissing are acceptable.

  • They often use hand gestures in their way of communication.

  • It is strange for women and children to link arms when walking and men may use both hands to shake hands to add warmth and sincerity to their greeting.

  • Brazilians generally tend to avoid conflict.

  • During a conversation, Brazilians tend to stand very close to one another. Some foreigners can find it a shock.

  • Given the cheerfulness of their expression, the listening habits of Brazilians may seem changeable. There is a tendency to interrupt one another, as each person attempts to express their viewpoint.


Other considerations

  • Be careful if you use hand gestures towards a Brazilian. Some gestures have different and unexpectedly strong meanings.

  • Brazilians are often involved in their physical expressions, particularly with gestures. The purpose of gestures is to help emphasize their point of view on a matter. There are hand gestures worth mentioning. The rubbing of hands together refers to the idea that something ‘doesn’t matter, or it is not a ‘big deal’. Additionally, the use of the ‘thumbs up’ gesture signals approval. Do not use the ‘OK’ hand gesture; it is considered to be offensive and rude.