How to Piss Off a Brazilian

Brazilian Hulk fan at Confederations Cup

The ref must have turned down a blatant penalty: thewhistle.com

A little while ago I wrote about how we are trying to get our son to say ‘please’ when he asks for things.  It seems to be more important than ever now as he often throws a tantrum at the first opportunity whenever he wants anything, but if we ask him to say please he will usually calm down.

It doesn’t mean that I am being polite when I say ‘please,’ it just means that I had it drilled into me at every opportunity when I was a child.  Most Brazilians, though, don’t have this habit drilled into them and so don’t say ‘por favor’ and if they do then they are usually being very formal.  So when they omit ‘please’ at the end of a request it doesn’t mean they are rude, it just means they seem rude to an English speaker.

When I wrote that post it got me thinking about some of the things that I have done in Brazil that might have seemed rude to a Brazilian, without me necessarily meaning to be.

Kill rude

In any culture (Wikipedia)

Asking ‘Why?’

I have this irrational desire for everything to be rational.  This means that if I have to do something I need to know why I am doing it.  And this is a big problem in a country like Brazil which excels in producing needless bureaucracy.  When I am face to face with a somebody who asks me for my mother’s maiden name just so I can get into a bar I ask them why they want it.  It usually isn’t that person’s fault because he or she has been told to ask for the information, but I still ask them.  The person now being interrogated usually mumbles something to this effect and asks the question again.  Sometimes I give in and just tell them, but mostly I give them a look of disdain and roll my eyes and mutter under my breath before giving them the information.

And then they will probably ask me for my social security number, ID number, home and mobile numbers, blood group and what I got for my 3rd birthday.

You can imagine that my mood does not improve.

More than one person has told me that it is very embarrassing to be with me when I get like this and that I shouldn’t be so rude to people who are only doing their job.

You can imagine that my mood does not improve any further.

Being Direct

I sometimes find it very difficult to read a sentence in a book or certain magazines in Portuguese.  It’s not because my Portuguese is so bad, but because Portuguese sentences can go on and on and on with sub-clause followed by sub-clause.  By the time I get half way through a sentence I have probably forgotten how it started.

It is not just in their writings that Brazilians take a while to get to the point, but also in life.  My conversations with people tend to be short and to the point.  There is some information that you have and I want to find out, I’ll say hello, how are you and then ask you the question, using ‘please’ of course.  Once I have that information I will say ‘thank you’ and ‘good bye’ and then leave.

I have sometimes fleetingly wondered what effect this has and if people think I am rude or not, but by that point I have normally left the building and am on to my next short-lived conversation.

I swear I never said a word to piss off this Brazilian goat.

Sense of Humour

When I first starting dating the woman who is now Mrs. Head of the Heard we had two big cultural problems we had to overcome.  I got very frustrated at her attitude towards time and she got quite very angry more than a couple of times at my jokes and sense of humour.

I don’t really remember jokes so I rarely tell them, but I do have a very dry, caustic sense of humour.  What is worse is that if I find something funny I am likely to let out a bark of laughter or snigger about it.  Unfortunately, a lot of the time the thing I am giggling at is not supposed to be funny at all, which is actually quite funny in itself and leads to more suppressed chuckling from yours truly.

Angry Birds

Coming up next week, Curitiba: The home of the original Angry Birds (Wikipedia)

Talking about Brazil

Nobody particularly likes foreigners coming into their country and roundly criticising everything they see.  Yet, at the same time, it often takes an outsider to see things that local people can’t.  Recently the Economist printed an article that looked at some of the problems Brazil faces, as well as the successes the country has achieved and continues to improve.  To hear some people rail against the article you would think Brazil had just been accused of the worst crimes against humanity and that every single Brazilian was responsible for it.

When I have been out and about I have been asked what I think about Brazil and, even if I offer my honest views as constructively as possible there will usually be somebody who takes offence on a big scale.  I have now learned to temper what I say because it just isn’t worth the arguments.

Religion

I am an atheist, but that is as much as I am going to say at the moment because this is almost guaranteed to offend someone.

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20 thoughts on “How to Piss Off a Brazilian

  1. Vai com deus! Fica com deus! People say this when i know that they aren’t even religious. It’s just to cover their bases to make sure they don’t offend someone who is religious by not saying it….but it makes me grind my teeth a little every time. I hear you on pretty much everything you wrote here. Spot on. Never comment about Brazil, especially when in a group of Brazilians who are already negatively commenting about Brazil. The rule is they can comment about the problems but you can’t. I blogged once about how i “missed picking blackberries on my mom’s street in late august” and received an angry comment from a brazilian reader scolding me for “complaining about stupid berries when i live in a country with such an abundance of fruit.” I’ve been told way too often that i am too blunt. I’ve even been told in a business transaction that i am too direct and business like and that if i ever want to “make it professionally in brazil” i need to sugar coat things. That one actually made me giggle. “Please” isnt really used here, but i never really noticed it because i don’t have kids. Only you parent bloggers seemed to notice it. Only time i noticed the lack was at restaurants–waiters don’t deserve pleases. Concerning WHY? Be careful though, sometimes asking “why?” to the wrong person can get you into trouble. Three years ago i was at a DETRAN office in the tiny countryside city i used to live in trying to change the city listed on my license plate and the clerk was giving me a hard time (he sent me on multiple goose chases for three days straight) and when i finally realized he was intentionally bullying me I went on a crazy rant, pushed through the line, and called him (in a VERY loud voice) something along the lines of a rude “jerk chicken” and accused him of bullying me because im foreign and didnt hire the despachante from whom he would get a private cut.The room exploded in laughter long enough for me to get out before getting arrested by security guards. Not my brightest move. Thanks for the laughs though while reading, only too relatable… an American friend who used to live in Campinas wrote on her blog once: “I’m sick of being attacked for writing about realistic things in Brazil, not everything here is puppy dogs, rainbows and daisies!” Or samba, coconut water and all the meat you can eat.

    Reply
    • Hi Mallory. I am still trying to think of an appropriate response to people who tell me to go with God that will be funny and smart but not get me in a fight with the many people that do actually believe it.

      I wish had seen you telling the man from DETRAN that he was a jerk chicken. I bet people still talk about that.

      I hope to see you around here again.

      Reply
  2. Total agree on some of your points there–especially the being direct, and finding some things funny which apparently are not supposed to be funny. The other thing that I used to always mistake and offend Brazilians was in the way you address people older than you. Such as my husband’s grandmother, age 94, is addressed as “a Senhora” and not “voce”. Third person referral is hard for me…sounds too Donald Trump. Great post.

    Reply
    • I hadn’t thought about the way I address my wife’s grandparents. Everyone else says ‘o/a senhor/a’ but I don’t because I have far too many other things to worry about when I am talking to them and it sounds way to formal. I assumed they just accepted it from me because I am Johnny Foreigner, but maybe not.

      Reply
  3. Stephen,

    One thing might help you understand Brazilians, we are “people pleasers” by nature, one of the most important social rules in Brazil is to actually please people, (be nice, even if not being honest), and the “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all rule” applies in a very subtle way here.
    Brazilians are very social animals, being social is very important, making friends and knowing people who like you and respect you is very important, so even when that is not in play, let’s say, when you are at the grocery store or at a restaurant, the “people pleasing” rules must be observed, or you will be seen as a rogue member of society, (like I am, most of the time, I say it as it is, all the freaking time) when I loose my cool with slow cashiers at the grocery store or with people working in public offices… ay, ay, ay, don’t even get me started with public workers, not different than public workers in other countries, where in the US for example, they are as inefficient and slow, but here, we must all be super nice and patient all the time… UGH!
    We are Brazilians, have lived in the US for 15 years, and are now going through the painful process of re adaptation.
    I hope my observations help put a light on the subject.

    Abracos

    Ray

    Reply
    • It sounds like you are having more problems than me!

      I understand exactly what you are saying, and I often find I am telling myself something similar while trying to control myself. Sometimes it works, and other times it doesn’t.

      And yes, I know that these problems are not unique to Brazil, it’s just that when you are a foreigner living here they seem to be more obvious.

      Thanks a lot for your comment.

      Abracos

      Reply
  4. I too had my P’s and Q’s SHOVED down my throat as a child, and now living here in Croatia I find a similar thing where very few say ‘molim’ or ‘hvala’ to be polite. As a result I stand out, and as much as a want to I can not stop!!

    Reply
    • I have learned to embrace it and revel in the fact that I am this weird Gringo. I often get comments about how polite I am just because I say ‘please’, which is of course nonsense because I am usually anything but polite.

      Reply
  5. It is not that we do not say please, it is the the politeness marker gets built into the verbal tense. You never ask for something directly in the simple present tense, even of a subordinate. On the other hand, I am with you on the endless subordinate clause thing. I am less tolerant than you on that though, as it often hides sheer lack of substance in what the person is trying to write.

    Reply
    • I have had similar conversations with many people, especially my students. I am often told that the British are so polite, and it usually comes down to the fact that we say ‘please’ and ‘sorry’ practically all the time, even when we don’t actually mean it. You are right that there is a lot more to being polite that just using one little word.

      And I am glad to hear of your intolerance for all those bloody subordinate clauses.

      Reply
  6. Oh, and I usually give fake information whenever they ask me for a phone number, DOB, mother’s maiden name or anything I don’t think I should give. It is seldom checked anyway.

    Reply
  7. A truly enlightening post – I had no idea Brazil was like this! It’s interesting to read ‘from the other side’ – as an Englishman living in Holland I find the Dutch very direct, and I crave for a bit of ‘fluffiness’ around the language…now perhaps I’m sounding a little Brazilian in their attitude to the English!

    Thanks for the link to my article! 🙂

    Reply
    • I reckon that no matter what we encounter as expats we will find, at some point, that is pisses us off. Too much ‘fluff’ will definitely do that to me when I am not in the mood for it.

      Reply

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