This week, Brazilian Portuguese translator Paula takes a look at some of the customs people hoping to do business in her home country should be aware of.

Over the last decade, Brazil has featured more prominently in the global market. Self-sufficient in fuel, a strong user of bio-fuel, rich in natural resources, with a young population and booming agriculture sector, as well as one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, the country has become a magnet for investors and international businesses, as well as travellers wanting to explore the Latin lifestyle.

When travelling, it’s good custom to respect your host country’s traditions and culture. This concept is even more important in business, especially if you want someone to part with their money and invest in you. So, how can you ensure you’re a safe bet for Brazilian investors? As they say, ‘when in Rome’… or, more appropriately, when in Brazil!


  • Brazilians learn English in school from a young age, just like the British learn French. They are also very keen to practice their English, but if you can say a couple of words in Portuguese, it will take you a long way. A Brazilian will appreciate the idea that you have tried to speak their language. Then they’ll let you off and use you to practice their English on instead!
  • Never ask a Brazilian person if they speak Spanish, or try to speak Spanish to them before telling them you don’t speak Portuguese. They will not get offended, but will simply tell you (in Portuguese) that they don’t speak Spanish. They might also inform you that you’re not in Spain.
  • Brazil is the biggest Portuguese-speaking country in the world. However, there are no dialects there, which is quite fascinating bearing in mind the country is so huge. There are only moderate regional accents (which means you won’t get lost in translation when you travel around, unlike in the UK – Ed.).
  • Brazilian Portuguese is the rounded version of European Portuguese, a little bit like what American English is to British English. So, when you buy a dictionary make sure it’s Brazilian Portuguese and not European Portuguese. If you need a reason why, here is a good example: ‘queue’ translates in European Portuguese to ‘bicha’ and ‘the end’ of anything translates to ‘cú’. However, in Brazilian Portuguese ‘bicha’ is a slang term for a homoesexual man and ‘cú’ means ‘backside’. Now you can imagine the confusion caused by using a European Portuguese dictionary to ask a Brazilian person how to get to the end of the queue.


  • Brazilians are part of what the Oxford Reference Dictionary calls a high-contact culture. In other words, we like to stand very close to people, give a lot of eye contact and over-use hand gestures. It is also normal to touch shoulders, hands or arms while talking to someone and we double kiss, hug or back slap when greeting people. The way you greet someone all depends on how well you know them. Women always double kiss other women and men always double kiss women unless she extends her hand first, letting them know she will only allow a handshake. If someone is single and finds you particularly attractive, they might even kiss you a third time. Men usually shake hands, hug or back slap, depending on how close there are.
  • Brazilian culture is very family and group-orientated. If the person you are visiting has children, they will appreciate you bringing a gift for their child more than bringing them flowers. Children are very important in Brazilian culture. While they are expected to behave, being rude to a child or making comments about how you don’t like children would cause considerable upset to the whole group. Brazilian children go everywhere and don’t always go to bed early, so be prepared to be at a party, gathering, restaurant or even bar and see them out. This will sometimes apply to the office or corporate days. If you work in Brazil, you will eventually meet your colleagues’ children or hear about them.
  • Brazilians are particularly protective of their families. Men, especially, are protective of their wives, daughters, cousins and sometimes even female friends. The culture is overall good-natured and friendly so people would rather dance than fight. However, upsetting someone’s female relative would definitely qualify as a reason to defend her honour – and this feeling even extends to female work colleagues.
  • On that note, in Brazil women are the ones who stipulate how close a man can get to them. Women in Brazil are proud of being women and they are encouraged from an early age to be as feminine as possible in their clothing, use of jewellery and beauty routine. A manicure and well-groomed long hair, for example, is a standard among Brazilian women. However, in terms of wardrobe choices they can pretty much wear whatever takes their fancy. The idea is to highlight their non-masculine features. Their clothes tend to emphasise curves and femininity. In the UK this might be perceived of as “sexy”, but in Brazil it is simply regarded as feminine. Brazilian women can also be very forward in showing someone they are interested in them. However, if a man initiates more physical contact with her than a traditional greeting allows, this is considered rude and may incur a telling off from her brother, cousin or a work colleague.

I hope this has provided you with an insight to the way people work in Brazil. By learning a bit about the local customs, you can use this knowledge to build up a rapport with your would-be investors – and get the end result you want.

Keep an eye out for the second part of our feature on Brazilian culture and customs – and how to use them to your advantage in business.