Monday, December 5, 2011

Five Facts For Foreigners - Vol. I

Here are 5 things this estrangeira [pronounced: "eh-strahn-zhay-duh" (fem.)] (foreigner) would have liked to have known before I arrived, so I wouldn't have seemed so... strange. Make a note of these cultural differences, and you'll benefit from blending in a lot easier – or at least, people will think this isn't your first time around the block.
  1. You may have seen the traditional Brazilian Beijos [pronounced: Bay-zhoo/zhoh-z] (Kisses) when greeting others in Brazil. Please note that they are not actually planting one on the other person (unless they really, really like them – yes, like THAT)…

    They are supposed to be “kissing the air” next to the cheek of the person they are greeting. Men, please note that you are not to try this with other men here. Go for a handshake, unless you have the strong desire to reenact a scene from The Godfather. The customary greeting is one cheek-to-cheek kiss-in-the-air for each side (m+w, w+w, w+m). However, some states such as Goiás employ not two, but three, kisses. It varies region to region.

    This can also be an indicator as to just how much somebody may like you (or your spouse) if they indeed decide to plant one on you... or how much they may despise you, as I found out after being kissed repeatedly on the cheek with bright red lipstick, every time I ran into a certain woman at various parties around town. I finally asked her to kiss a napkin for me so that I could treasure it longer, and not have to lose her token of affection when I washed my face. She stopped.

  2. There are no finger foods in Brazil. There are fork-&-knife foods and napkin-on-your-hand foods, but *finger foods as we know them (french fries, pizza slices, chicken nuggets) are frowned upon – and a dead giveaway that 'you're not from around here, are you?!'

    * Frogs' legs & chicken wings may be the exception – still, try to use a napkin (without ingesting any of it).

  3. Restaurant tables have Salt & Toothpicks, not Salt & Pepper. Don't draw attention to yourself by shooting toothpicks all over your plate in the middle of the restaurant. All parties at the table will have a heart attack – especially you.

  4. Not exactly what I was going for...

  5. When doing anything where your name will be called out, do not be surprised when they call out your first & middle name, instead of your first & last name. If you've been hiding some fossilized familial 10th-generation middle moniker, you're busted. The upside is that it will be completely unrecognizable by any English-speaking pals (as it will be pronounced in accordance with Portuguese pronunciation). To keep the mystery alive, just tell your English-speaking buddies it's an alias you use when traveling.

  6. You did not arrive mid-pandemic. "But people everywhere are sucking on Halls!” This is because Halls is sold as candy and/or breath freshener in Brazil. My only explanation is that there are no Starburst, Hot Tamales, Jolly Ranchers or Skittles in Brazil. All of you yummy candy manufacturers, this is an official plea to get that stuff to Brazil – Stat!

Marketed in the U.S. as soothing relief for coughs, sore throats & cooling nasal passages...


Marketed in Brazil as 3 out of 5 on the freshness scale.

Stay tuned for more tips for tourists in Brazil...

All images found on Google.


  1. Yeah, I hate when I go to the doctor and they call me by my first and middle name. Of course they butcher my first name and I don't know why they use my middle; I think maybe they think it's my last name? They should just use my last name - it's Portuguese!

  2. Meredith ~

    I don't think it's something I'll ever get used to. They butcher my entire name (even when I give them alternate spelling tips so that it sounds close in Portuguese).

    Someone told me that they don't use first & last names here, since there are so many of the same. There's supposedly less of a chance in someone having the same first & middle names. I dunno... I've met about a hundred Marco Aurelio Something-or-others. :D

  3. Loved your blog and you know what? This post and the others on the same subject will be used as a conversation activity for my students!
    We always discuss cultural differences from the point of view of Brazilians, now it's time to see the other side of the coin.
    Really interesting post, thank you very much!
    And if I can help you understand a little more of these crazy Brazilians, let me know, hehehe...

  4. Thanks, Pat!

    I'm glad you like it. I hope it is useful for foreigners trying to make a smooth transition, and for Brazilians in understanding why some of us seem to have 2 left feet! :D

    There's more where that came from, believe me! :))


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