Friday, August 14, 2015

Brazil Buzz

From that bottomless font of listicles comes some subtle insights into Brazilian culture. Buzzfeed presented ten Brazilian cultural traits to a group of "gringos" and recorded their responses. I am not going to translate the whole article, but I do provide the highlights below. All of them ring true, and most of them are quite familiar to me, based on visits over the past two decades to various places, mainly in Rondonia and Santa Catarina. 

This image is from the "final considerations" portion of the article. See the original article for more cool and fascinating images.

See the original article for the replies from Buzzfeed's original panel. If you don't read Portuguese, ask a friend who does to read them with you -- some of the reactions are hilarious. My own thoughts are in italics below.

1. Tomar mais de um banho por dia.

Take more than one shower a day.

This is especially common in the warmer parts of the country, and in fact the chance to take a shower will be offered to guests arriving in a home, much as they might be offered a drink. When I was in the Amazon -- a place that can be humid, smoky, and dusty all at the same time -- I often took 2, 3, or even 4 showers in a day.

This is not as wasteful as it sounds for two reasons First, these are not the long showers that North Americans often take until their water heaters are drained. Second, most Brazilian homes do not have water-heater tanks. If anything, a water heater is a small electric heater attached directly to the shower head. Not being terrified of these is another cultural distinction!

2. Escovar os dentes no trabalho.

Brush teeth at work.

I am not sure why this is not more common in other countries. 

3. Sentar ao lado do parceiro no restaurante.

Sit next to a partner at a restaurant.
I had not really noticed this, but as one respondent noted, it does make kissing your date easier.

4. Segurar sanduíche com guardanapo e comer pizza com garfo e faca.

Hold a sandwich with a napkin and eat pizza with a fork and knife.
Brazilians also tend to eat while sitting down in one place. Eating while walking or driving seems uncivilized to them. Because it is.

5. Chamar todo mundo pelo primeiro nome (inclusive a presidente da República).

Call everyone by their first name, including the president of the country.
Surnames are sometimes complicated; first names are more fun and often more unique.

6. Jogar papel higiênico sujo em um lixinho ao lado da privada.

Put toilet paper in a wastebasket next to the toilet.
This certainly got the most animated reactions from the Buzzfeed crowd. I don't think the article explains that this is common throughout Latin America, and has to do with the limitations of plumbing. Even where the plumbing could handle toilet paper, though, the habit is deeply ingrained. Of course most of the gringos on the Buzzfeed panel were horrified by this, but it really is not a big deal. Most of those little waste baskets are covered, and most are emptied frequently. It is not something that Brazilians -- or frequent visitors to Brazil -- expend much energy thinking about.

7. Ter 30 dias de férias por ano e mais de dez dias de feriados.

Have 30 days of vacation per year and more than ten days of holidays.
Something else that should be common. Can we really not get our work done in 220 days? I think that one reason Brazilians are so productive is that they know how to take a vacation -- or even a coffee break -- in a way that allows them to return to work more focused.

8. Comer abacate como fruta, inclusive com açúcar.

Eat avocado as a fruit, even with sugar.
I actually never noticed this.

9. Marcar o horário de uma festa sabendo que as pessoas só vão chegar duas ou três horas depois.

Mark the time for a party, knowing that people are only going to arrive two or three hours later.
If a party is scheduled for six, people will start getting ready at six -- to go join other friends who are on the way to the party. Around 8:30, people who have been gathering in smaller groups for a couple hours will arrive, and the room will go from empty to electric.

10. Terminar mensagens com “abraços” ou “beijos”, mesmo com pessoas que você não conhece pessoalmente.

End messages with "hugs" or "kisses," even with people you do not know personally.
There is really no down side to this.

Cultural geography examines the patterns that help to give regions an identity, to distinguish one place from another. It often begins with "big picture" cultural characteristics such as language, religion, food, and music. These are certainly important, but the finer points of ordinary life -- the mores of a culture -- can be even more instructive.

See my Musica page for more thoughts on the relationship between visible features of a culture and its deeper components.

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