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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- Please & Thank You not Necessary in Every Culture: Rachel’s Rantings – Another expat parent in Brazil learns that your kids don’t need to say ‘please’.
- “Thank you” See? Was that So Hard: From a Daddy – It isn’t only Brazil which has different attitudes to saying ‘thank you’.
- Tough Love Means Tough Talk: Why Brazilians Should Embrace Criticism as a Force for Good: Andrew Downie’s Brazil Blog – An example of ‘Brazil hater’ who has criticised Brazil in the past.
- In which I Open my Mouth Again: Ruiva no Rio – It isn’t just criticising Brazil that can bring problems.
- The Economist’s B.S. : Lost Sambista – An example of somebody going way over board at the merest hint of criticism of Brazil.