Even in a country prone to informality, such as Brazil, certain attitudes or habits may stir controversy or criticism. Before you cross the line and step on somebody’s toe, check these big no-nos:
- Soccer – When I met my husband, Lenny, who’s American, I told him that, as an honorary Brazilian, he was supposed to choose a soccer team to support. He told me to ask my father’s opinion on this relevant subject. My dad’s answer: “on one hand, you have a certain Italian vibe, so you might support Palmeiras. On the other hand, you are not snobbish and like to blend in, so you might go for Corinthians”. Naturally, he suggested teams from São Paulo, where we come from. Wisely, my husband, answered: “ok, but which is your dad’s team?” Since my father is corintiano, Lenny followed his lead. It is easy to incur in a faux-pas in this arena. So, check if your friends or colleagues are passionate about a certain team before bashing it. Also, be extremely cautious if you decide to wear a team’s official t-shirt. Imagine this scenario: you are walking past a stadium. The game is over and you are spotted by the opposing team. Things could get ugly.
- Food – Most rules that are valid in the Western world should work in the country. In a restaurant or dining with friends, you may want to hold the fork in one hand, the knife in the other, switching whenever necessary. No elbows on the table, no knives used as forks, no open chewing mouth, no napkin hanging from your collar. Also, you shouldn´t use your thumb to push the food towards the fork. And don´t belch – unless you are a macho man among your peers. On the other hand, I understand it may be acceptable to use a tooth pick in most environments (very frequently found in cheap or moderately elegant restaurants).
- Smoking – Brazil follows the global anti-tobacco trends. Cigarette ads are forbidden on radio, TV or magazines. You cannot smoke in indoor environments such as libraries, government buildings, hospitals, restaurants, classrooms, offices and theaters – but, in some of these places, you can still smoke in the reserved smoking areas. The state of São Paulo is an exception – since last year, smoking is forbidden in “collective environments”, both public or private. This includes bars, restaurants, nightclubs, offices, taxis and apartment building lobbies. Alas, the law is not always respected or enforced.
- Dress code – Brazilians can be very liberal in this department, but certain things are likely to stir some attention – in a bad way. To wear socks with sandals is a classic example. It screams “foreigner” and will most certainly cause laughter. The same with tropical shirts, full of pink hibiscus or flamingoes. May be cool in Miami, but you definitely won’t blend in that well in Rio. One more thing: when touring a beach town, you might bump into a historic church worth the visit. Most won´t allow you to enter shirtless or wearing a bathing suit. Some might even forbid circulating in shorts or flip-flops.
- Lines – Sticky subject because it is a type of social interaction that may cause tension . Some believe that paulistas (like myself) love to stand in line – that we will do that even when we don´t know where it will take us. I think this might be true. I am pretty tempted to join lines. Once installed, I begin to enquire what is it for. Anyways, I understand most Brazilians don´t consider lines sacred – they just indicate a possibility of human arrangement that may or may not be respected. For that reason, when standing up in a line, I try to be really close to the person in front of me, to discourage those interested in filling that gap. Just in case.
Do you agree with my observations? Don´t you wanna share with us some stories of faux-pas that caused confusion – or hilarity – in Brazil?
If you liked this post, you might want to read 20 best tips if you are visiting or moving to Brazil and Is “gringo” an insult?