Minding your manners in Brazil Minding your manners in Brazil

Minding your manners in Brazil
14 Aug 2018

With almost 210 million inhabitants, Brazil is the largest country in South America. While an exciting place that is full of opportunities, it is also important to understand the country’s culture and its people in order to enjoy business success there.

Brazil’s culture is a born of the country’s rich history, which has been infused with the influence of diverse ethnic groups over many centuries. In addition to the indigenous Indians and Portuguese colonists, a number of other immigrant communities have helped to weave the colourful fabric that is modern day Brazil.

For more than 300 years, the country was part of the Portuguese Empire, a foundation that still sets the country apart from its South American neighbours. It is the largest country in the world to have Portuguese as its official language, and is the only one to speak the tongue in a region where Spanish dominates.

Brazil is known for its open hospitality and flamboyant events involving music and dance. Many of these events are rooted in the country’s Catholic tradition, which is not surprising seeing as it boasts the largest Catholic population in the world.

Family and personal relationships are of central importance in society here and these values also permeate the way business is done. Building strong personal connections with your business partners, especially before negotiations take place, is often a vital element of success.

This means if you are impatient, pushy or in a hurry, you will need to rethink your approach. It will be much more productive to simply grab a cup of Brazilian coffee - the national drink of the world’s biggest coffee producer - and take the time to get to know your associates a little better first.

The personal touch

Brazilian business relationships are built on trust, which means it is important to get to know your Brazilian partners both professionally and personally. Face-to-face meetings or calls are preferable to emails.

Brazilians love to talk and conversations are often very animated. Interrupting (as long as it is on topic) is not necessarily considered rude – instead it is often seen as a sign that you are interested and involved in the conversation. Overlapping speech, enthusiastic gestures, back slapping between men and speaking at close quarters – which people from other cultures sometimes perceive to be an ‘invasion of personal space’ - are quite common.

Good conversation starters include family, football, food, music, Brazil’s natural beauty or its growing economy – the country is regarded as one of the world’s emerging economic powers. But avoid talking about religion, politics, corruption, poverty, crime and deforestation.

It also helps if you are fluent in Portuguese, or you hire a translator, as English is not widely spoken.

Give it time

Brazilians have a more fluid notion of time than many cultures, which means they are often late to meetings – even though they expect foreigners to be on time. Activities in Brazil also frequently take longer than expected, partly due the country’s complex regulations. As a result, it is best to plan more time around your schedule than normal, both for meetings and the overall business negotiation process.

Meals are regarded as a celebration and are usually enjoyed at a relaxed pace. Patience is key at all times – visible annoyance or pushiness is not appreciated.

The formalities

It is recommended that you make appointments well in advance – usually two or three weeks - and always confirm them in writing as it is common for Brazilians to cancel or reschedule. Upon greeting, men shake hands and women generally air kiss each other on each cheek. Should a woman wish to shake hands with a man, it is usual for her to extend her hand first.

The term ‘Senhor’ is used for men and ‘Senhora’ for women, while single and younger women are greeted as ‘Senhorita’. Business cards are often exchanged during introductions and it is recommended that you have the reverse side of your business card translated into Portuguese.

Start with small talk, showing genuine interest in all participants and maintaining eye contact. If you are invited to someone’s home, it is considered polite to bring flowers or a small gift. But avoid giving handkerchiefs or anything purple or black as these colours are associated with funerals and mourning.

It is likewise important to note that organisations in Brazil are typically hierarchical in nature and the authority to make decisions usually lies with the most senior member of staff - this is another reason why business progress can be slow.

Dress to impress

Brazilians take enormous pride in their appearance and believe that people who put an effort into how they present themselves also pay attention to their work. Conservative companies prefer formal business attire, such as dark-coloured suits with a tie for men and elegant clothing for women.

More modern organisations permit more casual clothing, although wearing jeans and t-shirts would be taking it too far. Overdressing is acceptable but underdressing is seen as disrespectful. Therefore, ensure your clothing is smart, your shoes are shiny and your hair and nails are tidy.

The Brazilian emphasis on appearance also extends to your hotel of choice. It will not impress potential business partners if you choose to stay at a budget hotel.

Brazil's current labour landscape 

Brazilian employees are allowed to work up to 44 hours per week and receive a 13th salary, or bonus, for Christmas, which is paid in two parts, one in November and the other in December.

Maternity leave amounts to four months’ paid absence, although registered companies offer an additional paid 60 days, which may be deducted from corporate income tax. New fathers can take up to five days’ leave.

While traditionally men held higher-powered jobs and women were responsible for domestic matters, ongoing attempts are being made to change this situation by organisations such as the Afro-Brazilian feminist movement. Indeed Egon Zehnder’s ‘Leaders and Daughters Global Survey 2017’ ranked Brazilian women as number one globally in terms of ambition and career development.

Marco Sottovio

Marco Sottovia is TMF Group’s sub-regional director for Brazil. He has over 26 years’ experience in management and corporate strategy and has worked at Cargill, Chrysler, Origin, Tidexa and PwC. He also co-founded Apriori.

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What to think about when setting up shop in Brazil

Brazil reintroduces unpopular payroll tax

Brazil: Living with some of the most complex tax regulation in the world

 

With almost 210 million inhabitants, Brazil is the largest country in South America. While an exciting place that is full of opportunities, it is also important to understand the country’s culture and its people in order to enjoy business success there.

Brazil’s culture is a born of the country’s rich history, which has been infused with the influence of diverse ethnic groups over many centuries. In addition to the indigenous Indians and Portuguese colonists, a number of other immigrant communities have helped to weave the colourful fabric that is modern day Brazil.

For more than 300 years, the country was part of the Portuguese Empire, a foundation that still sets the country apart from its South American neighbours. It is the largest country in the world to have Portuguese as its official language, and is the only one to speak the tongue in a region where Spanish dominates.

Brazil is known for its open hospitality and flamboyant events involving music and dance. Many of these events are rooted in the country’s Catholic tradition, which is not surprising seeing as it boasts the largest Catholic population in the world.

Family and personal relationships are of central importance in society here and these values also permeate the way business is done. Building strong personal connections with your business partners, especially before negotiations take place, is often a vital element of success.

This means if you are impatient, pushy or in a hurry, you will need to rethink your approach. It will be much more productive to simply grab a cup of Brazilian coffee - the national drink of the world’s biggest coffee producer - and take the time to get to know your associates a little better first.

The personal touch

Brazilian business relationships are built on trust, which means it is important to get to know your Brazilian partners both professionally and personally. Face-to-face meetings or calls are preferable to emails.

Brazilians love to talk and conversations are often very animated. Interrupting (as long as it is on topic) is not necessarily considered rude – instead it is often seen as a sign that you are interested and involved in the conversation. Overlapping speech, enthusiastic gestures, back slapping between men and speaking at close quarters – which people from other cultures sometimes perceive to be an ‘invasion of personal space’ - are quite common.

Good conversation starters include family, football, food, music, Brazil’s natural beauty or its growing economy – the country is regarded as one of the world’s emerging economic powers. But avoid talking about religion, politics, corruption, poverty, crime and deforestation.

It also helps if you are fluent in Portuguese, or you hire a translator, as English is not widely spoken.

Give it time

Brazilians have a more fluid notion of time than many cultures, which means they are often late to meetings – even though they expect foreigners to be on time. Activities in Brazil also frequently take longer than expected, partly due the country’s complex regulations. As a result, it is best to plan more time around your schedule than normal, both for meetings and the overall business negotiation process.

Meals are regarded as a celebration and are usually enjoyed at a relaxed pace. Patience is key at all times – visible annoyance or pushiness is not appreciated.

The formalities

It is recommended that you make appointments well in advance – usually two or three weeks - and always confirm them in writing as it is common for Brazilians to cancel or reschedule. Upon greeting, men shake hands and women generally air kiss each other on each cheek. Should a woman wish to shake hands with a man, it is usual for her to extend her hand first.

The term ‘Senhor’ is used for men and ‘Senhora’ for women, while single and younger women are greeted as ‘Senhorita’. Business cards are often exchanged during introductions and it is recommended that you have the reverse side of your business card translated into Portuguese.

Start with small talk, showing genuine interest in all participants and maintaining eye contact. If you are invited to someone’s home, it is considered polite to bring flowers or a small gift. But avoid giving handkerchiefs or anything purple or black as these colours are associated with funerals and mourning.

It is likewise important to note that organisations in Brazil are typically hierarchical in nature and the authority to make decisions usually lies with the most senior member of staff - this is another reason why business progress can be slow.

Dress to impress

Brazilians take enormous pride in their appearance and believe that people who put an effort into how they present themselves also pay attention to their work. Conservative companies prefer formal business attire, such as dark-coloured suits with a tie for men and elegant clothing for women.

More modern organisations permit more casual clothing, although wearing jeans and t-shirts would be taking it too far. Overdressing is acceptable but underdressing is seen as disrespectful. Therefore, ensure your clothing is smart, your shoes are shiny and your hair and nails are tidy.

The Brazilian emphasis on appearance also extends to your hotel of choice. It will not impress potential business partners if you choose to stay at a budget hotel.

Brazil's current labour landscape 

Brazilian employees are allowed to work up to 44 hours per week and receive a 13th salary, or bonus, for Christmas, which is paid in two parts, one in November and the other in December.

Maternity leave amounts to four months’ paid absence, although registered companies offer an additional paid 60 days, which may be deducted from corporate income tax. New fathers can take up to five days’ leave.

While traditionally men held higher-powered jobs and women were responsible for domestic matters, ongoing attempts are being made to change this situation by organisations such as the Afro-Brazilian feminist movement. Indeed Egon Zehnder’s ‘Leaders and Daughters Global Survey 2017’ ranked Brazilian women as number one globally in terms of ambition and career development.

Marco Sottovio

Marco Sottovia is TMF Group’s sub-regional director for Brazil. He has over 26 years’ experience in management and corporate strategy and has worked at Cargill, Chrysler, Origin, Tidexa and PwC. He also co-founded Apriori.

OTHER ARTICLES THAT MAY INTEREST YOU

What to think about when setting up shop in Brazil

Brazil reintroduces unpopular payroll tax

Brazil: Living with some of the most complex tax regulation in the world