The question that every single Brazilian asks me is “What are you doing in Brazil?”
A lot of Brazilians have a hard time understanding why an American would leave the US and move to Brazil.
To answer their query, and to give my fellow Americans a glimpse into how life is different in Brazil, I made the following video. I also recorded the same video in Portuguese.
When Brazilians hear that I’m from California, their response is often, “Why on Earth are you in Brazil when so many Brazilians want to live where you’re from?”
Most Brazilians haven’t traveled abroad so they don’t know what is so special about their country. I’ve been to a lot of different places and I can say that Brazil is truly a unique country, and there are things that are special about Brazil that you won’t find anywhere else.
Differences Between Brazilian Culture and American Culture
There are some differences between the cultures in the US and Brazil that end up being a big deal when you look at the daily life in both of these places.
In general, Americans are obsessed with getting somewhere, with achieving a goal and of doing something to the point where they forget to enjoy the process.
Brazilians have a more relaxed approach for achieving their goals, and they aren’t so preoccupied with the destination as they are with the journey.
I’ll give you a few examples, comparing common situations in Brazil and the US to show you what I mean.
Walking Down the Street: Brazil vs the US
You can see how Brazilians care more about the journey than the destination in the way that they walk down the street. They walk at a brisk pace, in a horizontal line so that everyone is at the same level, occasionally stopping to admire the scenery and talk with people that they pass by. They are not in any apparent hurry to get to where they are going and are more concerned with having a good conversation with the people they are walking with.
In the US however, you will rarely see people walking since everybody drives. If there are 5 people meeting up somewhere, they will likely take 5 cars. In the rare case that you do see a group of people walking they will probably be marching in a straight line towards their destination at a pace that borders on running. They don’t make eye contact with anyone along the way because they are focused on getting to where they are going.
Having Lunch: Brazil vs the US
Now this imaginary group of stereotyped Brazilians have arrived at a restaurant where they will be eating lunch. They’re looking at at least a 2 hour commitment and might even spend as much as 4 hours having lunch. They are there to have good conversation with their lunch mates and will take their time eating their food. Even though they’ve got to get back to work after lunch they don’t show any signs that they are stressed out about that because they’re too busy enjoying the moment.
Our stereotypical group of Americans each took their own cars to get to the restaurant for lunch. Once they get there they are going to pull out their phones and get on Facebook to check in. They quickly order their food because they are in a hurry to get back to work. They might not have even stopped working and will have their phone in their hand as they are eating to keep up with the barrage of emails that they received, or they will be catching up on the latest articles from Buzzfeed. If someone wants to have conversation with their lunchmates they will have to compete with the cell phones for attention. Likely they will give up trying and will pull out their own cell phone so that they have something to do.
Socializing in Brazil vs the US
Now its after work and this group of Brazilian friends have decided to meet up somewhere to have a beer and continue the conversation from lunch. They’re there to have a good time and to enjoy each other’s company. If someone invites another friend, s/he will be received with open arms by the group, because in Brazil friends of friends are your friends too.
In the US, after work everyone goes home and does their own thing. Maybe they have some productive activity to do, but just as likely they are going to sit in front of the computer or go watch TV. If they did manage to find some friends who weren’t doing something with, it wouldn’t be so easy to bring someone from outside that social circle along with them. They certainly wouldn’t be received as warmly and unconditionally as they would’ve in Brazil.
Conversing Like a Brazilian
There is an art to conversation that is uniquely Brazilian.
It starts from the first moment you meet someone. You pat them on the back or on the stomach, or if they are a girl you kiss them on the cheek (two cheeks if you’re in Rio).
Once you get into the conversation, Brazilians take special care to make sure that the conversation keeps rolling and that everyone feels included. It’s almost like a crime to let a conversation die in Brazil.
You don’t have to try super hard to get Brazilians hooked in a conversation. You can say just about anything and they’ll find something interesting in there to keep the conversation going.
Sometimes in the US it feels like you have to be the most interesting wo/man in the world in order to get people to engage in conversation. Some Americans act like they’ve done everything, seen everything and know everything and that there isn’t anything you can say to hook them.
Brazilians are a lot more generous with their attention and they don’t make you fight in order to get their attention. It makes life more simple when you know that you can say something and that the people around you will hear you and give you feedback on what you said.
Brazil isn’t perfect and neither is the US. While Brazil might not have the same material abundance that the US has, at the end of the day what matters most in life is people. What good does it do you to have 40 different options for lunch if you’re going to be seated at a table with people who are more focused on the devices in their hands than the people around them?
I prefer living in Brazil because the Brazilian people value relationships above everything else. Its for that reason that they are often regarded as the coolest people in the world.
There is something really special in the air in Brazil and it’s not good enough for me to just tell you about it. You really have to come here and experience Brazil to really know what I mean.
The next best thing that you can do if you can’t come to Brazil is to connect with Brazilian culture in other ways. Listen to Brazilian music, watch Brazilian movies, learn Brazilian Portuguese.