If this isn’t your first informational read on business etiquette in Brazil, we need a clean slate.
Why am I skeptical of your Brazilian business culture knowledge?
As a Brazilian with experience working with other Brazilians, the answers I have found online on the business norms in Brazil offer lackluster advice that does not FULLY cover the richness and complexities of the Brazilian culture.
So, undo what you think you know about Brazil business etiquette and listen up.
We’re giving you the BEST overview of how to gain the trust and respect of Brazilians in your business negotiations. This is guaranteed to help you get off on the right foot when you start a business in Brazil.
Full disclaimer: There will always be different opinions and ideas when it comes to discussing culture. This is simply a business perspective on Brazilian culture as it compares to other cultures. If you have any different thoughts or opinions on our take, we would love to hear them!
If you want to get more Brazilian business information, take a look at our latest report today!
The Secret to Brazilian Business Culture You Didn’t Know About
Although Brazilians have a strong national identity that will bring most soccer fans together to cheer their team on during the World Cup, the people within the country are more unique than you might assume.
Here’s the truth you might have missed out on:
Brazilians are VERY different culturally from one another and, not surprisingly, this affects the norms of how to communicate and do business there.
More importantly, being aware of their differences and pointing them out to Brazilians will go a long way in creating conversations that will earn you their respect and favor.
Taking this into account, let’s start with our first tidbit of knowledge must-have:
1. Business Culture in Brazil Is as Diverse as the Country
This is the foundation from which we will draw to give you more valuable insights into the culture of doing business in Brazil.
From the way they speak the language to their core beliefs on how they see the world, the differences between Brazilians are VERY clear. Throw in the hybrid versions living in other parts of the world and you got yourself a much more complex breakdown than the one we try to generalize below.
Quick Culture Breakdown of Brazilian Identities
Here’s an attempt we made at covering the bigger distinctive identities inside of Brazil. These identities contribute to the butt of many jokes between Brazilians that you will hear in the country.
- Paulistas: Reigning from the business metropolis of the country
- Cariocas: Harbored in the marvelous city of Rio
- Mineiros: Perched upon the mountains of the countryside of Brazil
- Baianos: Hailing from the land of pristine beaches, and
- Gauchos: Cornered at the southernmost tip of the country
All identities have their own distinct cultural similarities when compared to other Brazilians that affect how they do business. Even among them, there are identities we could list that could go on forever.
For instance, Paulistas are from the state of São Paulo, whereas Paulistano/a was actually born in the CITY of São Paulo). This is an important distinction because people who were born and raised in the city have very different customs and manners than people who live in the countryside (interior) of São Paulo or on the coast.
Do you know any other common identities in the Brazilian culture? Please comment below so we can continue adding value to this overview of Brazilian business culture!
That being said, we still need to get into some generalizations.
I know the word has a bad connotation to it but there is no denying the cultural similarities between people of the same region when doing business. No worries, I break the advice up with bonus insider tips that point out the nuances between people in the country!
2. Brazilians Tend to Be… Later.
Astute punctuality is not the first thing you think of when you think “Brazil”.
Brazilians are more laid back than other cultures when it comes to showing up to meetings on time – or showing up at all. It is common for meetings to be delayed for some time or to be rescheduled for another time entirely.
HOWEVER, there are some exceptions to this rule. In São Paulo, it can be very disrespectful to be late to business-related events. That’s because it is unfathomably huge and commutes across the city can take hours.
Don’t believe me? São Paulo is home to the largest helicopter fleet in the world for businessmen and women trying to beat traffic. In Brazil’s “big apple”, time is still money.
Bonus Insider Tip!
Usually, the more north you go (closer to the equator, i.e. where the Baianos can be found) and the more east you go (closer to the beaches, i.e. where the Cariocas can be found) you will find people are even more laid back when it comes to punctuality.
3. Handshakes, Hugging, Backslaps, and Kisses Are Used When Greeting
These are very common greetings in Brazil with business associates. Make sure to greet everyone (every individual person) when you arrive to say hello and to individually say goodbye to everyone when you leave!
Kisses are usually shared with women and backslaps are more common amongst men.
**Remember that kisses are not actual kisses! You simply touch cheeks and make air-kissing sounds! Like so:
Bonus Insider Tip!
The number of kisses that are exchanged in a greeting will also depend on what part of the country you are in. Some Brazilians do one kiss, others do two kisses, and some even go back for a third!
4. The Way You Present Yourself Will be Judged
How you put yourself together is extremely important Brazilian business culture.
Women should have their nails manicured and hair managed and look presentable in all business meetings. As for clothing, it is important to always look professional – skirts that are too short or show too much cleavage are seen as inappropriate.
Men should have a clean look and have on appropriate clothing when presenting themselves. Beard and hair shouldn’t be too long and it’s best to cover up tattoos or take a break from any large visible piercings.
As long you are sporting a nice, fitted suit (usually black), you’ll be fine.
Pay attention to fashion! Because the Brazilian population is so mixed in physical appearances, Brazilians can often tell a lot about the social class of a person by their clothing. This ties back to some deeply-rooted classism that can still be seen in Brazil today.
Although Brazilians are big consumers of brand names and flashy accessories, there are many faux brands that have flooded Brazilian slums.
The point? When it comes to brand name clothing, it won’t make or break your success in Brazil. My advice would be less is more. Try not to draw too much attention to yourself – simply look sharp as a tack, showing you mean business.
Workplace Attire in Brazil
Workplace dress codes in Brazil aren’t all that different than in the U.S. You might see more color than you are used to in Brazil, however!
Here are some examples of how you might see Brazilians dressed in professional settings.
This can range drastically from full-blown suit and tie for more governmental or financial settings, to more casual sweaters and even colorful button-downs for ad agencies or creative directors.
Bonus Insider Tip!
In some places, the “business wear” might be more relaxed compared to others.
For instance, in Rio, it’s less likely that you will find people wearing flashy objects and primped suits. Partly because of the heat, but mainly because everyone will tell you to be careful with looking like a target for robbers! The level of exaggeration and danger will depend on the type of Brazilian you meet.
5. Hygiene is High Priority
Brazilians appreciate hygiene and cleanliness – it’s no wonder they buy the most deodorant per capita compared to any other country in the world. It is also customary for them to shower more often or brush their teeth more than you might be used to.
Make sure you smell and look nice when you are walking into business meetings or speaking with associates.
Bonus Insider Tip!
I have yet to meet a Brazilian who does not appreciate good hygiene and cleanliness in a business setting. If you have, let me know!
6. Brazilians Have a Particular Feeling About the Spanish Language
Before you get it twisted, Brazilians do NOT speak Spanish.
But why is it so important that we know what language Brazilians DON’T speak? Why didn’t I start this section with the language they actually speak?
Well, here’s the dilemma:
Brazilians don’t get upset that you might not know their language (which is Brazilian Portuguese, by the way), they get upset specifically at the fact that you believe they speak the same language as the “rest of Latin America.”
Brazilians pride themselves on being the only major Portuguese-speaking country in Latin America – it sets them apart culturally and makes them unique.
When you assume they speak Spanish, you incorrectly put them in the same boat as the people they inherently believe they are better than.
This is a GENERALIZATION, of course, but a friendly rivalry is bound to happen when you compare countries that share the same continent. Think of it as a playful U.S.–Canada rivalry, except that it can become a bit more violent when soccer is being played.
Using Spanish to Do Business in Brazil: Is it Kosher?
That being said, should you avoid using the word Spanish when in Brazil?
Absolutely not! The languages actually share a TON of words!
Portuguese and Spanish share 89% of the same lexicology, making it easier to learn one if you know the other. If you speak Spanish, you can learn the differences between the languages and do your best at Portuñol (a mix of the two languages) until you can speak Brazilian Portuguese well enough!
Generally, Brazilians can understand Spanish more easily than a Spanish-speaker would be able to understand Portuguese. So if you can adjust your ears to the Brazilian pronunciation, you will learn the language in no-time.
7. Attempts at Speaking Portuguese are Super Appreciated!
Unlike Parisians, who are known for cringing their way through an attempted conversation in broken French, Brazilians are liable to give you a smile and a clap on the back no matter how different you sound from them.
These might be the world’s friendliest people you are dealing with so don’t worry about using Spanish to your benefit when doing business in Brazil! As long as you don’t assume they are Hispanic, you will be fine.
Bonus Insider Tip!
Brazilians love attempts at speaking their language and will commonly say: “You sound like a Brazilian” if you can pull a couple of phrases together.
8. Knowing Colloquial Brazilian Portuguese Will Help You Understand Conversations
You know that Brazilian Portuguese is the official language spoken in Brazil, but how do Brazilians actually speak to each other?
I don’t have the Webster definition of it, but I guess we can call it “Brazilian” for now.
Here’s the difference between Brazilian Portuguese and “Brazilian”:
The standard Brazilian Portuguese is formal and educational, the kind you would use to write research papers. On the other hand, Brazilian is the more informal type you would use in everyday language.
Without getting into the specifics of the differences between the formal Portuguese language and the Brazilian Portuguese, all you have to know is that the “proper” Portuguese is not ALWAYS used when doing business in Brazil.
In business meetings, you will find there is still a loose and more informal tone in the language that hugs more of the colloquial Brazilian way of speaking.
This includes the use of slang and different types of conjugations you might not have learned in a textbook.
Bonus Insider Tip!
Colloquial Brazilian varies depending on the region you are in.
For example, Paulistas and Cariocas use completely different words for the same things:
- bolacha vs. biscoito (two different ways to say cookies)
- mano vs. cara (two different ways to say dude)
Moreover, Gauchos use a different Portuguese form of “you” – tu instead of você. For example, tu vais instead of você vai. Their accent is also the butt of many jokes in Brazil (Brazilians make jokes about EVERYTHING!).
Our best advice is this – if you don’t know, ask! A bit of regional savoir–faire can take you a long way.
9. Regular Emails and Communications are Relatively Informal
From the way you greet, write emails, and communicate, you can apply a more informal tone to your conversations to match up the communication culture of Brazilians.
Using Whatsapp in Brazil for business – the international messaging app that has all but dominated Brazilian communication – might be the best way to communicate.
Bonus Insider Tip!
Keep a close eye on the differences in formalities depending on who you are working with and what part of the region you are in. It can vary when doing business with people in the north compared to the south of Brazil.
10. It’s Okay to Interrupt or Butt-In in Conversations
This one might sound like a joke but it’s true! Butting into conversations means you are engaged with the people you are speaking with.
Be careful – if you don’t interrupt, you might not get a word in!
Before you start interrupting, get a feel for how people communicate with each other first. Then, you can start butting in with all your confidence.
11. Small Talk Leads to Better Relationships
Brazilians do business with people, not companies.
You should show a vested interest in the people you are working with. Open up conversations with questions about how a person is doing and what’s going on in their life.
It’s all about the people!
Understanding this concept will help you navigate the business complexities of Brazil and lead you to build the right relationships with trusted partners!
Higher Cultural Understanding Equals Better Business in Brazil
No matter how you decide to expand into the Brazilian market, this wholistic perspective of the Brazilian business culture will help you with your future partners and associates in the country.
If you are taking the plunge into Brazil, you should NOT go in alone. Equally important as understanding Brazilian business etiquette from a Brazilian, is understanding how to do business in the country as a Brazilian.
If you need the right people to help you enter the Brazilian market, contact our team at Colibri today for the latest insights to help your business succeed.
Also be sure to check our latest Business in Brazil resource to get some key info on emerging markets and opportunity in the country!