Hacking Brazilian Culture: Magically Transform Your Dear Brazilians into Prompt, Respectful People

Brazilians might be complicated, but these strategies can make them tolerable

Brazilians. Illustration by Johanna Thomé de Souza. Instragram:
Brazilians are love. And fucking crazy. Illustration by Johanna Thomé de Souza. Instagram: johannatds.

Why do Brazilians act the way they do? We don’t know either.

But over our decades of dealing with them, we have discovered some strategies for turning our favorite Brazilians into (slightly) more respectful, prompt, and reliable people.

We can’t magically transform your favorite Brazilians into empathetic, organized people. But these hacks can help a bit.
We’re not going to claim that you can wave your hands over your favorite Brazilians and turn them into empathetic, organized people who follow through on every promise. But with a few key strategies we can at least help you slightly improve the situation, and cope.

Perhaps the most frustrating manifestation of your Brazilians’ Brazilianishness is their tendency to leave you stranded and put out when they are late, cancel on you at the last minute, or just fail to show up? Or maybe you are tired of the high ego barriers to communication, or the carefree trampling over others’ feelings and well-being?

We’ve gathered a number of strategies over the years based on input from non-Brazilians who have travelled to Brazil, lived in Brazil, and loved, hated, and tolerated the countless Brazilians in their lives.

These tips are also heavily based on input from Brazilians themselves, who are often even more painfully in need of such strategies for dealing with their compatriots.

These Brazilian-hacks are meant for gringos in Brazil or for those who deal with Brazilian expats.

Sure, they imply a bit of a critique, but they are meant to help you better enjoy Brazilians, what with their best music, weirdest kissing, cutest necks, and so much more.

We hope that with these tips you may better love your lovely Brazilians!

1First off, for comfort, keep in mind the Brazilian everyman, Arnesto from the Adoniran Barbosa song. Not showing up and blowing off your friends is a celebrated, integral part of Brazilian culture. There are endless expressions for screwing over friends and skipping out on obligations: hoje vou furar, vou dar o bolo, etc.

2

Appointments with Brazilians require extra time not just for lateness, but for listening to the long and lovely excuses
In addition to taking into account that your Brazilians will be very late, plan on an extra 5-15 minutes just for listening to the long stories they will want to tell you about why they were late. It’s very important in Brazilian culture to spend time talking about how much one wanted to be on time, and thought about being on time. You need to let them talk about this; it makes them feel better to talk about their imaginary, struggling-to-be-on-time selves, and this is a standard part of any greeting ritual.

3When making plans with Brazilians, be sure to invite some non-Brazilians along for the outing too. Then, when the Brazilians fail to show up, you won’t be left all alone.

4Tell the Brazilians a meetup time that is an hour (or two! or three!) earlier than the time you give to everyone else. They will then show up right on time and make no one wait! It’s key that you don’t tell the dear Brazilians in your group that they have been given a different meet-up time, but it is fine to let them naturally “discover” what has been done. Yes, they will be offended, and in subsequent meetups may arrive even later in anticipation of having been given a “wrong” time, which you then compensate with four- or five-hour-early meetup times. This ongoing silliness can help Brazilians recognize the importance that non-Brazilians place on respecting others’ time and sanity.

5

Your Brazilian’s promise exists only as a quantum mechanical wave function; nothing is certain, there are only probabilities
Think of making plans with Brazilians as you would quantum mechanics. In Brazil, there are not definite fixed points in time at which a known thing will happen.

Plans and promises are unknown and unknowable. The best one has is probabilities.

The wave function will only collapse once the actual arrival has been observed. So we are left not to ever “plan” anything but rather to consider our odds. For example:

Your dear Brazilian invites you to a party next week. — 2-5% chance that the party exists, your Brazilian will give you the correct address, and be home when you arrive.
Your dear Brazilian invites you to a samba concert later this week. — 5-10% chance that your Brazilian will remember to come, and not cancel because it’s too rainy or sunny or windy, and that the samba concert actually exists and that the musicians remember to bring their instruments or are able to borrow some.
Your dear Brazilian accepts your invite to go out tomorrow with enthusiastic certainty, using phrases like “combinado” (“the plans are set”), “combinadissimo” (“completely for sure”), “amanhã a gente se ve certeza” (“tomorrow we will definitely see each other”): 17% chance that they won’t cancel at the last minute.
Your dear Brazilian proposes a movie tonight at 7pm, and confirms this several times by WhatsApp, including with running texted reports that they are getting dressed, leaving the house, in transport, and a little late but they’ll be there. — 60% chance that they will actually show up before 8pm.

As with quantum mechanics, there is the inevitable collapse of the wave function once the Brazilian is observed (or not) actually physically in front of you. Until then, you can never know for sure; the Brazilian promise is a vague indescribable cloud of matter and energy, an unknowable.

6Each of our dear Brazilians is a bit different, so pay careful attention when calculating the wave function probability above to individualize for each particular friend’s patterns. Some friends may have a 75% or 4% average show-up rate, or whatever.

7

Disrespect = drama = excitement = love
Recognize that being late and disrespecting others are both really just a facet of Brazilians’ tendency to create drama. And what good would a relationship be, in the Brazilian mindset, without a lot of drama and excitement? In the end, isn’t drama just a way of showing love? It can help you to be more patient if you at least pretend to believe this.

8Don’t be distant as a result of Brazilian carelessness or ego. Brazilians expect engagement. They may lack empathy for what they have put you through, but they expect you to do the same, loudly. If a Brazilian lover has a jealous fit about you being in a photo with someone else on social media, have a jealous fit right back about some unrelated thing. This demonstrates to your dear Brazilian that you also love him/her just as much. This engagement is key to your (doomed, but fun) Brazilian romance.

9

Rational argument will get you nowhere. Nor will anger. Just comment on Brazilians’ “weirdness”.
Don’t dismiss or “normalize” Brazilians’ behavior, for example, by saying tudo bem (“that’s all right”). This just encourages Brazilians to push things further. You should consistently express how strange you feel about it, as this increases the (small) odds of them addressing the behavior — people of any culture are more likely to change a behavior once they see it as “not normal”. Rational arguments as well as irrational anger are both not particularly useful. Emphasize that you find their Brazilian behavior very, very weird.

10Brazilians love to complain about other Brazilians being late and disrespectful, almost always with the reflexive promise that they themselves personally are not at all like this:

“Tem muitos brasileiros que são assim. Eu não sou. Eu chego na hora, os meus amigos sabem.”

Todos os brasileiros

Lots of Brazilians are like that, but not me. I arrive on time; my friends know it.

— Every Brazilian

Such a conversation is thus pointless, but you can at least point out to any Brazilian saying such a thing that they have just showed up an hour late that very day themselves. They will inevitably find this hilarious but also fail to see the point.

11Recognize that Brazilians place value on phone chat conversations. So the endless cycles of making plans by text messages, changing them, cancelling them, and so on is in itself is actually a ritual form of social interaction. You should consider that messages about attempting to make plans are in and of themselves a way of spending time with your dear Brazilians.

12If you are in Brazil, don’t be afraid to go out on your own when your Brazilians abandon you. You’ll end up having a good time and making new friends, regardless of whether the Brazilian friends you thought you had show up or not. Something fun will happen. Brazilians are a friendly bunch.

13

Gringo be warned: Have you yourself become too Brazilian????
If you should return to North America, Europe, or other such lands after an extended stay in Brazil, carefully check your impulses to make sure you haven’t picked up Brazilian habits. It’s common for people who have been living in Brazil to gradually acquire a more carefree attitude to time as well as lessened empathy for those around them. Check that you haven’t acquired new norms, as these could make you seem like quite a jerk in your home country. Are you speaking in vagaries and only about yourself instead of responding to others? Are you throwing trash on the street and not stopping for pedestrians?

14

Speaking Portuguese is a decorative art; it’s not about content or connection.
If you’re learning the language, recognize that speaking Brazilian Portuguese isn’t generally about communication. It’s completely normal for native speakers to converse with each other in Portuguese without understanding each other at all, so don’t feel bad when your conversations are similarly disastrous. It can be revelatory to ask to see a Brazilian friend’s chat records and take note of how much native Brazilians speak over each other without connecting. They often talk in parallel, self-obsessed worlds, each somehow not recognizing the other’s reality. All this means that lots of repeating and rephrasing is common, as well as increased drama. Give yourself a break when you are learning Portuguese and find you can’t communicate actual content. No one else does either.

15Another way that Brazilian communication may surprise is in its lack of directness. It is common to do a large circle around a subject before asking someone for something, for example, so as not to “seem rude”. Do likewise.

16While Brazilians have a terrible time making and keeping plans, if you are in Brazil and planning to leave, they will desperately make time to see you to say goodbye. People who could never seem to get it together to see you in “day-to-day” life will go very far out of their ways to make sure that they can see you off, and then loudly proclaim their saudades (nostalgia, missing) for you when you’re gone. You can harness this, if you wish, by pretending that you are about to leave Brazil from time to time when you are not, and thus have an excuse to get together with your Brazilian friends and be assured that they will show up for a “last time to see you”.

17This last tip is controversial, but you could, if you wish, behave more like your dear Brazilians. For instance, you might want to go out on a Friday night in Brazil. Go ahead and make plans (Level: “combinadissimo!”) with three different groups of Brazilian friends and dates with four different Brazilian lovers. Then, as Friday approaches and the various Brazilians cancel on you and on each other, you will hopefully wind up with at least one interesting actual plan for the night, and you can ditch the rest of your dear Brazilians. I could never bring myself to try this particular strategy, but its logical appeal is obvious.

Got suggestions to add? Drop them in the comments!

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