Cultural Newsletter: Brazil

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Brazil is the world's fifth largest country and covers three time zones. This Latin American country shares borders with all South American countries except Chile and Ecuador. Jair Bolsonaro is the 38th and current President of Brazil, and was sworn in on 1 January 2019.
It is home to a vast array of natural resources, key to which is its agribusiness sector and also a young population. Yet without far-reaching reform, the economy is in danger of returning to the bad old days.

Brazil has a population of 209 million. After the importation of African slaves was outlawed in the mid-19th century, Brazil sought Europeans (Italians, Portuguese, Spaniards and Germans) and later Asians (Japanese) to work in agriculture. Recent immigrants come mainly from Argentina and Chile or are returning Brazilians.

Three important aspects stand out in Brazilian culture – the three F’s: Família, Futebol & Fiesta! No matter how rich or poor, how black or white or how northern or southern the Brazilian is very fond of his family, football and partying.  Family comes first to Brazilians. Grandfathers, grandmothers, aunts and uncles often live together in extended family groups. But the concept of ‘family’ does not end here. Even the maid with her family can become so connected in time that they are also considered family. In fact, everyone joining the regular family gatherings is considered family, a blood relation is of lesser importance.

Brazilians believe that their football is unique in the world, influenced by samba and capoeira. It is played and watched with almost religious devotion. In fact, football can be considered as the binding ‘religion’ between all social groups in Brazil. When the national team plays, families and friends gather around their televisions in the street to watch the match together. However, when the national team lose a game, there is an atmosphere of widespread sadness. Football is the epitomised Brazilian Dream. In a country with inequality, football is one of the few ways to climb the social ladder. Many young boys in the big city slums (favelas) dream of becoming one day a big star like Pelé, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho or Neymar.

Throughout Brazil you will hear the samba. Brazilians enjoy singing and dancing. On the whole they are extrovert in personality and despite working hard – many have multiple jobs to make ends meet – they have a laid back nature. If things do not work today, then they will possibly the next day: ‘Tudo da certo no final’, tomorrow everything will be better.

Brazilians like meeting new colleagues, but don’t mistake an invitation to have a coffee or a beer as you becoming a new friend. Like family ties, close friendships are highly valued by Brazilians and much time, effort and emotion are invested in friendships. Being someone’s friend here is a privilege and responsibility. If you are not used to this expressive kind of friendship or if you are keen on your privacy, you may come across as ‘cold’ and ‘distant’. Remember, look Brazilians directly in the eyes both when talking and listening. Always shake hands, with men and women. It is well-mannered to greet every person individually – just saying ‘hi’ to the whole group will not be appreciated. Saying goodbye is in the same style.

Group discussions can be very lively and unorganised, seen through western eyes. Everyone seems to talk to everyone at the same time, people are interrupted without asking permission and jumping from topic to topic is customary.
Seating at a business meeting will often be arranged in a hierarchical order. Hierarchy is important in Brazil. Indicate to your Brazilian counterparts that you are empowered to make company decisions. In Brazil it is easier to go from top to bottom in an organisation, than vice versa.

There is a great disparity in terms of wage differentials, and therefore lifestyles and aspirations, among the different classes in Brazil. Power is held in the hands of the few. This hierarchical nature is reflected in the degree of formality observed among people in business situations. Great deference is paid to authority figures. Job function, scope of responsibility, and reporting relationships are clearly defined and strictly followed.
If an agenda is produced, do not expect it to be followed. All the issues on the agenda will be covered, but not necessarily in the order they appear on the written document. In a country which is severely hampered by red tape and bureaucracy, this flexible approach ('jeito') is of real importance and may prove to be your greatest asset.

Do not be offended when a phone call will be answered in a business meeting, it does not mean the other is not interested in the deal. Also, do not leave too fast after the meeting has ended. An extended farewell is essential to the protocol of business meetings Brazilian style.
As previously mentioned, the ‘personal component’ of a business relationship with a Brazilian is very important. Changing your team during the process of negotiations can be lethal; even the perfect business deal can be off.
Through western eyes the process of doing business might seem to start slowly but later on details suddenly will be analysed thoroughly. In any case, expect a rather time consuming process and do not push too hard for strict deadlines; this might put off your Brazilian business partners and there will be no deal at all.

After reaching an agreement it is customary not to sign a contract immediately. This will be done at a later occasion. When drawing up a contract, you should be advised by local legal professionals. If you only use people from outside Brazil, your business partners might be offended by your ‘proof of distrust’. Be aware of the fact that a signed contract in Brazil is not naturally a definite agreement. It might differ from what you agreed upon in the first place and can be changed while already in effect.

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