Brazil has never received so much attention from overseas as it has in the last decade. Its economic growth and increased international influence in the last years, the hosting of the 2014 World Cup and the preparations for the 2016 Olympic Games made the world to want to know more about Brazil. Misconceptions about the country – like the assumption that Brazilians speak Spanish and their capital is Buenos Aires – are finally disappearing.
But what is being Brazilian all about? And why do most of the foreigners who visit the country fall in love with it?
The 11 habits and behaviors below are a good starting point for those who want to understand a bit more about life in the “Land of Soccer” (or would it be the “Land of Carnival”?).
1. Share a beer with your friends in a boteco
Almost all the countries in the world are full of bars. But only in Brazil will you find the combination of cervejas estupidamente geladas (“stupidly” cold beers), several types of cachaça and great (or sometimes not so good) appetizers in a place that opens at 6 in the morning for breakfast and only closes when the last drunkard staggers home. And to drink in a boteco like an authentic Brazilian, don’t even think of individual bottles. The “right” way here is to ask for a bottle (or as many as it takes) and share it, with everyone drinking from their own small glass. Unless the boteco has a good chope (a watery Brazilian version of draught beer), then individuality is allowed.
2. Celebrate Carnival
It’s not without reason that the Brazilian Carnival is one of the most famous celebrations in the world. To celebrate the Carnival is to get directly in touch with Brazilian culture. Several dances and music styles (and not only samba) are represented at a party that lasts several days and takes place in practically every corner of the country (each with its own regional particularities). Regardless of where you are, get your costume ready and enjoy the party!
3. Eat rice and beans
It’s the basis of Brazilian cuisine: white rice with beans (brown or black, depending on the region). Brazilians eat dishes like this many times a week, but with lots of variation (with meat, poultry, fish, an omelette, a fried egg, grilled vegetables, etc.). It’s so good that you can never get enough of it!
4. Greet everyone with kisses on the cheek
Between men and women, and among women themselves, it’s very common to greet with kisses on the cheek in Brazil – even among people who have just met each other. But it doesn’t work the same way in the whole country (always bear in mind that Brazil is very big): In Sao Paulo, it’s just one kiss, in Rio, it’s two. In some parts of the Northeast region, it’s three. Among men, the most common greeting is the handshake — unless they are old friends, in which case a tight and long-lasting hug with some pats on the back is not rare.
5. Get used to the traffic jams
The traffic in the big Brazilian cities is chaotic, and the public transportation is very insufficient. The subway, when it exists, is far from serving the whole city. So, unless you live in a small city or are very lucky to have subway stations both close to home and work, get ready to be stuck in crazy traffic jams.
6. Arrive a little bit late
It’d be very easy to blame the traffic jams and the lousy mass transit systems, but the fact is that, regardless of these excuses, Brazilians have a propensity for being late. Especially when meeting more than two friends, consider arriving about a half an hour late, unless the necessity of punctuality is explicitly stated. But be careful: that does NOT apply to professional appointments. Arriving late for a job interview thinking that it will show how integrated you are is definitely not a good idea.
7. Go to the beach
From Sao Paulo northwards it’s summer almost year-round in Brazil, so it’s always beach time. If you’re looking for surf and parties, you can go to Florianopolis, in the south. For hot weather the whole year, paradisiacal landscapes and calmer surroundings, the Northeast is the ideal destination. If you want to visit one of the most beautiful cities in the world, even if that means fighting for a place in the sand, then Rio is the right choice for you. But don’t limit yourself to only three options. Over 7,000 km of beaches can satisfy the most diverse tastes. Enjoy the coast and don’t forget to have a picolé de frutas (popsicle) or an açaí na tigela (frozen assai in a bowl) and to eat a portion of lula à doré (fried calamari).
8. Eat feijoada and dance samba on Saturdays
Take it easy, nobody is asking you to dance samba while holding a forkful of sausage. But a nice Saturday afternoon begins with feijoada and caipirinha. After the food settles a bit in your stomach, then it’s time to samba! For those who don’t know: feijoada is a dish made with black beans and various types of pork. Sautéed kale, white rice, sliced oranges and farofa (toasted cassava flour) are side dishes.
9. Root for a local Brazilian soccer team
To love the Brazilian National Team and its athletes who play in Europe is easy. But supporting teams who lose their best players to richer countries takes commitment. Soccer is the national passion and, despite the oscillating skill level, the Brazilian League and the regional leagues continue to attract a lot of attention. Choose your team and don’t forget to learn how to tease the rivals!
10. Dress in white and jump waves on New Year’s Eve
New Year’s Eve in Brazil has some very specific traditions. For starters, a lot of people dress in white. It’s not mandatory, but it’s the color most associated with the festivities. If there’s a beach around, you have to jump 7 waves while you make 7 wishes — the expectation is that they’ll come true in the new year. These traditions come from Afro-Brazilian religions, where it’s also very common to offer flowers to Yemoja, an African orisha known as “Queen of the Ocean.” There are also some foods that must be eaten on New Year’s Eve to guarantee abundance and prosperity for the next 365 days, for example lentils, grapes and pomegranates.
And most importantly… learn Portuguese!
All the experiences above are much more enriching with some knowledge of Portuguese. Besides, the language is extremely pleasant to the ears and is among the five most spoken languages in the world. Even a basic grasp of the language is sure to open many doors and will make your stay in Brazil a lot more interesting.