I´m currently teaching the same English course to three different groups, so my lessons are pretty much running on auto-pilot right now. This week the topic for discussion was stereotypes about different countries, and as a lead-in I asked my students how they felt Brazilians were perceived by foreigners. All the groups mentioned similar things like being very attractive, playing football all day, speaking Spanish, living on the beach and finally being very `warm` people. I wasn’t surprised by the last one. ´Brazilians are so warm and British people are so cold’ is something I hear from Brazilians on an almost daily basis in one situation or another, and after almost two years here I can’t help but question how true this actually is.
Yes, in some ways Brazilians are very warm. Regardless of the context: a party, the workplace, the doctor´s surgery or the hair salon, Brazilians (in São Paulo) will almost always greet you with a kiss on the cheek (the protocol varies in other regions). Having lived in Japan previously where people usually just greet each other with a bow at a distance (if anything), this was certainly something that took some getting used to when I arrived. However, despite the increased number of colds and sore throats I´ve contracted (which I put down to being kissed by so many strangers), I do think it’s a genuinely warm and welcoming way to greet people. Ten out of ten for greeting, Brazil! British people tend not to kiss every stranger they meet, they will probably just shake hands or even just say hello (especially in the workplace, where it would be completely inappropriate to do anything else). I can definitely see why this might be perceived as ´cold´ by Brazilians, but it’s just culture, it doesn´t mean we aren’t interested in the person or that we aren’t pleased to meet them. We just usually only hug or kiss family members or actual friends when it really means something.
Although Brazilians almost always greet people in a very `warm` and welcoming manner, the way people interact with each other more generally is something I find much `colder` than in the UK. People definitely don`t acknowledge each other as much here in Brazil. For example, when I`m on the train in the UK and I accidentally catch someone`s eye, I will usually give the person a bit of a half-smile of acknowledgement and they will most likely give me one back. Here in Brazil that almost never happens and the person will usually just stare back at me. Similarly, if I walk into a room at work where colleagues are working, they often won`t feel the need to look up and say hello to me unless I initiate the acknowledgement (and sometimes they don`t even respond if I do). Another example is when I`m setting up my classroom to teach and two or three adult students arrive early and sit down. I`m sure in the UK people would feel obliged to make a bit of small talk or at the very least say hello to each other, but here in Brazil nine times out of ten the students will just sit in silence, staring at their phones rather than `warmly` acknowledging each other. Equally, when I try to `warmly` greet my class with a cheery `Hello… How are you all?…How was everyone`s weekend?`, my response is usually nothing more than a miserable few grunts and never a question asked in return.
I have never been told that I`m loved, that I`ve been missed, that I`m beautiful or that an item of my clothing is nice as many times as I have in Brazil. This definitely wouldn`t happen anywhere near as much in the UK, which may be another reason why we`re perceived as `cold` by Brazilians. British people only really make big statements about loving and missing people when they actually mean it, rather than to near strangers and we also don`t comment on people`s physical appearance anywhere near as much. Although it`s always a pleasure to hear nice things from people, I would say that what Brazilians have in `warmth`, they often lose in sincerity. This is compounded by the fact that I`ve never lived in a place where people bitch about each other so much. Of course everyone needs to vent and let off steam from time to time (I’m doing it right now, wahey!), but here in Brazil the two-facedness and back-stabbing is on another level. I frequently witness these massive declarations of love and excessive complimenting to a person`s face, followed by a bitch to high heaven the minute they walk out the room. I`m not suggesting that people don`t bitch in my own country. Of course we do, it`s a national sport! However, just being civil to the person`s face would be enough, without the extreme fakery that I`ve seen on display here in Brazil.
I`m really not Brazil bashing. I`ve been lucky enough to meet a lot of absolutely lovely people here, many of whom really are what I would consider to be genuinely `warm`. For me that means, friendly, decent, kind and welcoming. However, I do get sick of so many people telling me `Brazilians are so warm`, when in my opinion many of those people need to get on with actually trying to be ‘warm’, rather than constantly telling me they are.