Business Etiquette Around the World: Brazil

If you’re headed to Latin America’s largest economy, here is our advice for navigating business dealings while you’re there — sans any embarrassing faux pas.

Rio de Janeiro

Brazilians are known for their creativity and zest for life, which often translates into their wardrobes. Appearances count to Brazilians, and how you dress will reflect upon you and your company:

      • Brazilian businesswomen love wearing suits or dresses that err more on the elegant and feminine side with good quality accessories. Extremely formal, conservative attire is viewed as “dressing like a man”; manicures are expected.

      • Men in Brazil wear conservative dark suits, shirts and ties. Three-piece suits typically indicate that someone is an executive; two-piece suits indicate office workers.

    • Shoes should be stylish, polish and well-kept.

Brazilians are warm, welcoming people and when it comes to greetings — even in a formal business settings — you can expect more of the same. Respond to your counterparts in the manner they address you (i.e., if they use your first name, use their first name) and don’t be alarmed if you encounter a “close talker.” Brazilians tend to be comfortable with much less personal space than we’re accustomed to in the U.S.

      • Man greeting man: Shake hands firmly, often for a long time, and hold strong and steady eye contact. Once you get to know your associates, you can expect hugging and backslapping instead.

      • Man greeting woman: It’s common for men and women to exchange kisses on the cheek when first meeting — if you’d rather shake hands, extend your hand first.

      • Woman greeting woman: Women often greet by exchanging kisses on the cheek, left cheek first.

Extra Credit Greeting Tip: Have the other side of your business card translated into Portuguese and present your card to the recipient with the Portuguese side facing them. This is not required, but makes a great first impression.

Knowing some Portuguese is obviously a benefit — if you’re not fluent, making the effort to learn some key words, even if your pronunciation isn’t the best, will be well received.  Brazilians tend to speak loudly and love having long, animated conversations. They also love to joke, both at home and at work.

      • Face-to-face communications win out over written communications; however, when it comes to agreements, Brazilians insist on detailed legal contracts.

      • Communications are informal — anyone who feels like they have something to say will generally chip in with their opinions; interruptions are common and considered a sign of enthusiasm.

      • Introverts beware: if you’re not talkative, you may be misconstrued as not interested.

      • Good conversation topics include: soccer (football), family, music and Brazil’s growth as a country.

      • Conversation topics to avoid: Argentina/Brazil football rivalry, religion, Brazil’s class system, and the rainforest.

If you’re hosting, check with your local contacts for recommendations — many Brazilians expect business meals to be conducted in prestigious establishments.

      • Be prepared for a lengthy meal — it’s not atypical for a business lunch to last at least two hours.

      • Wash your hands before eating and don’t touch your food with your hands; use a knife and fork for everything, even fruit!

      • Don’t discuss business during meals unless the host initiates it.

      • Waiters generally don’t bring checks until they are requested.

Tips on tipping: If you are paying the bill, tipping is typically not expected — however, if you would like to be generous, service people will be grateful. At all restaurants and bars, a standard service fee of 10% is included as a line item at the end of the bill. The fee is not compulsory, even though it may seem so. However, most people pay it unless there’s a good reason not to (e.g. bad service etc.).

Giving a gift is not necessary during the first few contacts. If you decide to give a gift:

      • Avoid: Handkerchiefs (associated with funerals) and anything purple or black as these are considered mourning colors. Also, lavish gifts could be misinterpreted as a bribe and/or cause embarrassment.

      • Give: High-quality whiskey, wine, coffee table books and name-brand pens. If you’ll be going to a Brazilian’s home, flowers before or after visiting is a nice gesture.

      • If you are given a gift, open as soon as you receive it. Waiting is considered rude.

Be on time for meetings, but be prepared to wait for your fashionably late Brazilian associates for at least 10-15 minutes.

      • Don’t expect to dive right into business once the meeting starts as this time is reserved for relationship-building and socializing (don’t forget to refer to good conversation topics above).

      • Keep your cool — Brazilians like to take their time and don’t take well to pressure, confrontation or hard sell tactics.

      •  If necessary, use local lawyers and accountants for negotiations. Brazilians may resent an outside legal presence.

Do you have any other business etiquette tips you’d like to share about Brazil? Let us know in the comments below, we’d love to hear from you!

Safe Travels!