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Expats in Brazil can expect that culture shock will come in a number of stages. For many expats, overcoming culture shock in Brazil will be the hardest part of adapting to life in the country. Most find that the honeymoon stage lasts a bit longer than usual, making the later stages of culture shock more difficult.
Brazilian locals tend to be incredibly welcoming and friendly, and the local population always seems to be happy and smiling. Expats who have a positive attitude and are keen to learn about the local culture will have a smoother transition into life in Brazil.
Meeting and greeting in Brazil
Expats should be prepared for lots of physical contact in Brazil. Brazilians will often greet with a kiss or a hug. It is also common for both men and women to either pat someone on the shoulder or place their hand on one's hand or arm to make a point. Even in crowds, Brazilians maintain much less physical distance than expats from Western countries normally find comfortable.
Learning the correct way to greet and address people is a vital part of living in Brazil. A stereotypical Brazilian greeting is the 'air kiss' – a kiss hello on each cheek. While this is a fun way to greet people, be sure to learn the appropriate contexts for this greeting.
Brazilians are very body-conscious. As such, expats often need to adjust to what may seem like overly forward or brutally honest comments about their health, weight and even hairstyle.
Inequality in Brazil
Perhaps the biggest factor contributing to culture shock in Brazil is social inequality. Brazil may be a world economic powerhouse, but the disparity between rich and poor is blatantly obvious. Huge slums, or favelas, are visible in most large cities.
Expats in Brazil can generally afford to live comfortably. Domestic help is easily obtained, and overseas and regional trips are the norm. Private healthcare is easily accessible for expats, as are private schools. However, this is not the case for a large percentage of Brazil’s population.
Language barrier in Brazil
Learning basic Portuguese before leaving for Brazil will ease a new arrival's transition. Limited English is spoken in the larger cities, but those living in rural areas are unlikely to encounter locals who speak English. However, as Brazil has so many enclaves filled with expats from a multitude of cultures, Portuguese also often becomes the easiest way to communicate in a social setting.
Time in Brazil
As with many other South American destinations, locals in Brazil take a particularly relaxed attitude towards time. It's not unusual for Brazilians to show up anywhere from 15 to 45 minutes late to social events. At the same time, while being late for social occasions is fairly common, punctuality is expected in formal situations.
Taking time out to enjoy a siesta or spending hours at a social dinner are also important aspects of life in Brazil.
Religion in Brazil
Brazil is home to one of the largest Roman Catholic communities in the world. Many locals combine their Catholic faith with the spiritual practices of local Amerindian origin. As such, expats may find themselves unfamiliar with specific aspects of local religion and have trouble adapting.
Despite its sizeable Catholic community, the country is also home to a range of other faiths. Expats in Brazil will find that they are able to practice their religions freely.
Women in Brazil
Many male expats have reported that Brazil is a very easy country to adjust to, while female expats often find it considerably more difficult. Like many Latin American countries, Brazil is dominated by a 'machismo' culture and Catholicism also plays an important social and cultural role. These factors tend to dictate that women take on quite traditional roles within society and even in business situations. That said, things are changing. More Brazilians are starting to believe in gender equality at home and the workplace.
Bureaucracy in Brazil
Another aspect of life in Brazil that may initially take some getting used to is the many levels of bureaucracy in government institutions. Most expats will find that this is particularly evident when applying for a residency visa.
Brazilians try to maintain a balance in their social relations and general day-to-day activities. Business meetings are important, but so is football and family time. Many expats will be impressed by the Brazilian people’s resilience, resourcefulness and ability to stay positive and greet life with a smile – which comes in handy when dealing with bureaucratic red tape.
►For info on finding a new home in the country, see Accommodation in Brazil
"I definitely experienced culture shock in its most varied forms here. From bad dates and friends that did not show up, to conversations I could not participate in just because I could not get a word in, to a completely different work culture and even sexism. That is how my blog was born. It is a way to analyse and express the changes I am and have gone through and what I have learnt about Brazil and myself in the process." Estonian expat Dona shares her experiences of Brazil
"Culturally, Brazil is socially very hierarchical and communications tend to be indirect, versus the US’s direct approach. Not to mention, from a gender perspective, while women are increasingly common in professional circles, there is still a strong fragmentation of the labour market along gender lines." Read US expat Jennifer's interview about Brazil.
Are you an expat living in Brazil?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Brazil. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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