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Learning To Communicate With The Locals In Brazil – Some Tips For Expats

Learning a new language and getting acquainted with an unfamiliar culture is often difficult for expats and it’s always great when the locals are helpful and accommodating. Brazil is one such place where the population is lively, warm and friendly towards foreigners. But it does help to have some awareness about how to communicate with the locals, not just to make life more convenient, but also to foster deeper connections that can enrich your stay in the country.


Portuguese is the language spoken in Brazil and having a little knowledge of it can be useful. In the big cities, many people speak and understand English.But the Brazilian population consists of many cultures and many a time Portuguese is the common factor that facilitates communication. There is a multitude of guides and phrase books that teach the basics of Portuguese. One other way of familiarizing yourself with the language is to watch Portuguese movies or serials with English subtitles. Engaging in social or cultural activities can also help to hone communication skills as they put you in touch with many native speakers.

Brazilians have a few favorite phrases and you may hear them crop up in most conversations. These include the following;

Um beijo! or Um abraço!

This phrase is usually used when a conversation between friends or close acquaintances ends. It can also be used at the end of an informal letter or email. Um beijo means a kiss and Um abraço means a hug. Men tend to reserve Um beijo for female friends and Um abraço for male friends.

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You may hear this when you thank someone. It literally translates to ‘imagine!’ but can be understood to mean ‘it’s no trouble at all!’

Pois não?

A literal translation of this phrase is ‘because no?’, but it means ‘can I help you?’. You may hear it at restaurants and shops.

Com certeza!

If someone asks you if you’re enjoying your stay in Brazil, you can say com certeza! in response. It means ‘of course!’ or ‘definitely!’

Social Etiquette

Brazilians often hug or slap the back affectionately as a way of greeting friends and close acquaintances. In more formal situations, the handshake is preferred along with steady eye contact. A woman usually extends her hand first if she wishes to shake hands with a man. Women greet each other with a kiss on each cheek, starting with the left. Air kissing is also quite common in Brazil, however it is important to know the appropriate contexts for different ways of greeting.
If you receive an invitation to a Brazilian’s home, it is customary to bring a small gift or maybe just flowers. Avoid anything that is black or purple as these are colors of mourning. The Brazilian lifestyle is quite laidback and guests are not expected to be punctual. In fact, it is usual for guests to arrive half an hour late for dinner and even up to an hour late for a party.

Brazilians tend to pay attention to appearances and like to dress up with flair even for casual occasions. Dress elegantly for social gatherings and don’t be alarmed if you receive comments about your clothes or hairstyle.

Conversation flows easily in the company of Brazilians, as they are a friendly people. However it is advisable to avoid expressing opinions or initiating debates on touchy subjects. Brazilians themselves are selective about the topics they include in their conversations and even though they can often be critical of their country, it’s best for foreigners to avoid doing the same, as it could be offensive.

Business Etiquette

Brazilians prefer to have face-to face meetings when doing business and also prefer oral communication to written communication. They consider the individual to be more important than the company they represent and hence they make it a point to know the person before they can begin doing business with them. However they do insist on comprehensive business contracts when it comes to business agreements. Communication in business meetings is usually informal and people can give their inputs freely. Group culture is prominent in Brazil and therefore one should avoid saying or doing anything that causes loss of face to someone in public.

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