Understanding Brazilian culture - Intercultural Insights
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Understanding Brazilian culture
March 5, 2015

Brazilian cultureBrazil is a relatively modern capitalist country, very open to technology, where most of the population is Christian. But how do you set about understanding and analysing Brazilian culture?

These are all characteristics which Brazilian society shares with that of Western Europe and particularly France. However, when seeking to understand Brazilian culture, which is unique as a result of its multicultural origins, be prepared for a few surprises, particularly in the professional field.
The Brazilians’ way of thinking, communicating and working can be radically different from those of the French. Consequently, in order avoid any faux pas, it is recommended that when trying to forge long-term relationships aimed at guaranteeing the success of your project in Brazil, you should first have acquired the necessary skills needed to analyse and understand Brazilian culture

Establishing initial contact

The first contact is often very spontaneous, warm and friendly thanks to the natural sociability of the Brazilians, including in the professional field.

This outward hospitality can even appear a little invasive to us as French people, as the degree of interpersonal distance is reduced here. For example, it is perfectly normal in Brazil to “double greet” someone, with a kiss or handshake usually being accompanied by a hug, which has no special connotation.

This close interpersonal distance, which is much reduced compared to France, is found in all aspects of daily life. To forge links, it is important to accept and practice this abraço, which characterises the closeness and bond of friendship with your Brazilian contact. This is an intermediate step towards a more informal and direct communication style.

In day to day life and in the business environment, the Brazilians are generally very available and obliging. Only rarely will a Brazilian refuse to see you to talk and chat even if he is busy doing something else. He’ll stop what he is doing, to focus his attention on you.

This cultural characteristic makes the Brazilians much more “polychronic” than the French. Indeed, in the world of work, the Brazilians are more than able to carry out several tasks at the same time although they may experience some difficulty establishing priorities or sticking to deadlines.

As a foreigner, you should be aware of and respect this degree of availability but also take care not to offend them when the moment comes when you need to be available for them too. All of this is naturally subject to the limits imposed by professional discipline, a discipline of which the very definition is often open to debate.

In such an environment, a foreign manager who is more “results focused” rather than focusing on “participatory management” may introduce an excessive degree of formality in relationships. In a culture in which the group spirit and human relationships take precedence, this may lead to an atmosphere of tension, which may be unfavourable and counter-productive to what you’re trying to achieve.

Understanding the Brazilian approach to time

Another day-to-day aspect you should quickly take on board is the difference between the Brazilians and the French regarding their relationship to time, with the Brazilians having a very relative sense of punctuality. A Brazilian will rarely arrive on time for a meeting, but will not consider that he is late. This is the Brazilian pace of life, with no precise departure or arrival times, and foreigners have no other choice than to go along with this or spend the day pulling your hair out unnecessarily.

Building up your network

This proximity and conviviality make it easy to quickly build up networks of acquaintances and you can more easily join business networks. In Brazil, these networks are vital to create solid social and professional foundations over the long-term

Generally speaking, dealings between people are less formal and less subject to protocol than in France, to the extent that even certain established rules appear open to debate or even optional. Indeed, in a country governed by a sprawling civil service, it can be surprising to learn that there always seems to exist a jeitinho (literally, “little way of doing things”), a sort of parallel or round-about way of simply or more quickly obtaining something believed to be impossible. This notion, though ostensibly lacking in virtue, seems to be a source of that legendary Brazilian positivism.

On the other hand, in the professional sphere, it is more important to lay down clear limits to avoid leaving any scope for this Jeitinho where none previously existed.

Next article: The art of communicating with the Brazilians
Guillaume Sarrazin, Akteos consultant
This article was published in the ACCOMEX revue no.110-111

About author

Guillaume Sarrazin

Guillaume Sarrazin

Guillaume Sarrazin is a consultant and an expert on Latin America, and especially Brazil, specialising in economic intelligence in the Brazilian market and intercultural training focusing on Brazil. A graduate in economic intelligence and a lecturer at the FIA / FIPE (International MBA, Brazilian management schools). Joint author of a book on Brazilian intercultural management "Bien communiquer avec vos interlocuteurs brésiliens" (successfully communicating with your Brazilian contacts) published by Éditions Afnor.

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