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Dealing With Culture Shock In Brazil – Some Advice For New Expats

The very mention of Brazil conjures up images of a tropical paradise with breathtakingly beautiful beaches, pristine rain forests, football and the carnival. While all of this may be true, moving to Brazil as an expat is no picnic. You may be setting yourself up for a huge disappointment if you’re expecting the same kind of thrill and satisfaction from living in the country as you got from your holiday here. Brazil is a great place for expats, but it’s important to have realistic expectations. There are many cultural differences, some that are glaringly obvious, and others that may start to get under your skin only after a few months of settling down.Brazil is a melting pot of sorts, not just because of the wide variety of immigrants and travellers from across the world, but because the local population is itself of a very mixed ethnicity. Brazil’s population includes people of Italian, German, Japanese, Arab, and African origin, as well its small indigenous population. This ethnic diversity is also reflected in the multicultural nature of Brazilian society. The country is overwhelmingly Catholic, and a lot of the cultural differences will emanate from their religiosity and the religious influences on culture.

Communication Problems

Portuguese is the most widely used language in Brazil, and if you wish to integrate well and communicate with the local population it would be a good idea to learn the language. English is widely spoken in the bigger cities and with the huge expat population you will probably find a sizeable community of expats from your home country. This said, Portuguese is the most effective language for communicating with other expats and Brazilians and it will enrich your experience greatly. Try and learn some Portuguese before you leave for Brazil or enroll in a beginner’s course once you get there.

Socioeconomic Inequality

Once you’ve settled in, you will not help but notice the huge economic disparity and widespread poverty. This is probably the most disturbing and unpalatable aspect of life in Brazil as an expat. The country is regarded as financially strong, but the economic benefits are mostly enjoyed by a small percentage of the population. Slums and shanties aren’t hard to miss in the large cities, and the differences in lifestyle can seem obscene. Expats can live luxuriously, as labor is cheap and private health care is affordable, but this is not the case for most of the local population.

Keeping Time

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Timing isn’t everything in Brazil, and you may find the disregard for punctuality irksome at first. Brazilians, like most South Americans, are laid back and love their slower paced life. Don’t fight it, and accept that this is probably what makes it such an idyllic destination for travellers and expats alike. If you can be a little more flexible with your schedule and plans, you will really begin to enjoy life in Brazil. Brazilians take a lot of time off work to simply relax during the afternoons or for social meals. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself stood up though, as Brazilians, like most of their Latino neighbors, hate being negative and will give you an affirmative response to invitations even when they have no intention of showing up. This is just their idea of being polite, so again, don’t fight it!

Cultural Idiosyncrasies

You’ve probably heard that Brazilians are a warm and amiable bunch, but nothing can fully prepare you for Brazilian society.

Brazilians are extremely friendly and social, and they are also extremely expressive. The typical way to greet someone is indicative of this – an air kiss or a kiss on the cheek is the accepted, and probably expected, greeting! Brazilians are also brutally honest, and will comment on appearances and bodily features that one would normally consider sensitive, such as weight, hairstyles and so on.

Traffic and Parking

Driving in Brazil can be challenging enough, but your driving woes will be compounded by the traffic snarls that can make a short, fifteen-minute commute take as much as two hours. If you can avoid rush hours, you should be able to escape most of the traffic. When parking your car, don’t be surprised if some random person points out a parking spot to you or turns up after you’ve parked your car in an empty spot, and then asks you for a parking fee or a fee to keep your car ‘safe’!

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