Study Abroad Etiquette: Brazil

Before students travel abroad, encourage them to brush up on their etiquette so they can comfortably adjust to their new surroundings. In this blog, we’re sharing tips to help your students embrace the local culture and avoid common etiquette mistakes in Brazil.

Greetings and Punctuality
Brazilians are known to be friendly, relaxed people and tend not to stress about punctuality—however, it’s still recommended for foreigners to arrive on time for their commitments. Make sure to take the time to greet and say goodbye to everyone you meet. Married women kiss twice, once on each cheek; single women kiss three times. Men typically greet each other with a handshake, but hugging and backslapping are common among friends. However, don’t be too friendly as this could give off the wrong impression.

Conversation and Gestures
It may be wise to learn some conversational Portuguese before traveling, as most Brazilians are not fluent in English – even a few key words and phrases can help. Expect people to be animated and engaged during conversation. Physical contact is quite common, especially between men. Maintain eye contact when speaking to someone, and remember, Brazilians don’t consider it rude to interrupt one another as this shows engagement in the conversation. Be careful with gestures – for example, the ‘ok’ sign is considered vulgar, wiping your hands together means ‘it doesn’t matter,’ and clicking your tongue and shaking your head signals disapproval.

Your clothing choices will reflect upon you in Brazil, and it makes a great impression to dress well. Brazilian women tend to favor eye-catching, colorful clothing. Men dress casually, usually in shorts. Shoes should be on trend and polished. Nails should be clean and manicured. There is a dress code for churches and government buildings: no shorts, flip-flops, miniskirts, or tank tops. Everywhere else in Brazil is quite casual.

Meals can be quite lengthy in Brazil. Do not touch food with your hands. Use a knife and fork for all food, even for things like fruit, pizza and French fries. Keep the fork in your left hand and the knife in your right at all times. Use a napkin while eating or drinking, and pass all plates to the left. Keep wrists on the table, but do not put your elbows on the table. In a formal dinner, eating utensils start from the outside in. The spoon and fork at the top of the plate are for dessert. Using a toothpick is not acceptable in public unless you cover your face with your hand. If you are hosting, don’t expect your guests to bring food or drink or to arrive on time, and do not indicate an end time on a dinner or party invitation.

If you are invited out to a restaurant, typically the person who invited will pay; however, you should still make an offer to pay the bill. If you need your server’s attention while you are eating, hold up your index finger on your right hand and say, “Garcon,” which means waiter. If you need the check, say, “A conta, por favor,” as checks will not be brought unless requested. A 10% service fee will be automatically added to the bill, and a tip is not usually given on top of this.

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