Like everywhere else on the planet, Brazil has its share of unique rules, laws and customs that make the country what it is. Brazil has over 181,000 laws and even those that work closely with them daily can find it hard to keep up. As a visitor to the country then, it’s good to have a basic knowledge of things you might do that would be frowned upon there. Some may seem rather bizarre to outsiders, while others are just quirky good-to-knows. Before you head to the Rio Olympics or other trip to Brazil, read on.
1. The Girl From Ipanema Doesn’t Go Topless
Many people mistakenly think that its okay for women to go topless on Brazilian beaches. Sorry guys, that’s not the case. Scantily clad, sure (wait til you see some of those barely-there bikinis!) but taking that top off is officially not allowed. In fact, you could be sited for public indecency or indecent exposure. There seem to be liberties taken during Carnival, however.
2. Smokin’ Not
Sorry if you thought you could puff away on a cigar while sipping a caipirinha. They’ve really cracked down on tobacco control laws in recent years. If you’re hankering for a smoke in Brazil, it’s illegal to do so in any enclosed public place, including restaurants and bars. However, there are a few spots where you can enjoy that tobacco high as often as you like, like a private home, public parks, soccer stadiums, streets, and religious buildings if it is part of the ritual. Surprisingly, you can also light up in a health care institution providing you have a doctor’s approval.
3. A Lesson in Brazilian Gestures
Fingers are pretty important, and when it comes to gesturing in Brazil, they really up the ante. For example, if you have a close friend, other people know this when the two of you rub your index fingers together. Watch out, because what Americans use as the signal for “OK” is seen as an insult, much like giving someone the finger. In Australia, Europe, North America, and South Africa, it’s rude to stick your thumb between your middle and index finger, but in Brazil you can let loose and use the figa as much as you like, as it’s a gesture meaning good luck. Lastly, suck on your tongue if you’re feeling left out, and the customary thumbs up or down mean approval or disapproval respectively.
4. The Art Of The Kiss
Kissing is more than an art in Brazil, it’s a way of life. Only most of the time the air’s catching them all, as lips don’t actually touch cheeks, but rather the cheeks do as individuals kiss the air. Residents across states have different ways of greeting each other, but many include some kind of cheek beso. In Rio Grande do Sul and Minas Gerais, three kisses is commonplace, in Sao Paulo you can dial it back to one, while in Bahia and Rio, they fall somewhere in the middle with two. Extra tip: Start your air kissing with the right cheek.
5. Brazil Has an Interesting Way With Prisoners
On the (hopefully) off-chance you ever get sent to a Brazilian prison, they have some innovative programs for inmates to reduce their sentences there. One such program allows them to get decreased time for pedaling a special bicycle that generates electricity for the town plaza. Another program allows inmates to shave four days off their sentence for each book they read, up to a maximum of 48 days. This “Redemption Through Reading” helps prisoners be better educated when they rejoin the outside world.
6. All About Coupling
If you’re in a traditional Brazilian family, a boy is expected to ask for his love interest’s dad’s approval to be her boyfriend and then group dating begins around fifteen or sixteen. As that’s the case, traditional Brazilian families must be in a constant state of shock when watching American teen shows! Note, also, that kissing isn’t considered to be that intimate, so don’t read too much into things if someone puckers up on you.
7. Keeping It Fresh
Don’t be offended if a Brazilian asks you if you’d like to take a shower the moment you enter their home, as it’s not meant to reference your hygiene. It’s hot in the South American country and taking two, three, or more showers during the hottest times of the year is not uncommon. So if you’re visiting someone and they ask, look at it as them being considerate of your comfort level. At the same time, giving the pits a sniff just to be sure can’t hurt.
8. No Dice
Now listen up Vegas warriors: As the Brazilian government is unable to monitor the winnings made during physical gambling games, they came up with a simple solution—ban physical gambling. They banned casinos back in 1946 and outlawed bingo halls in 2007. Federal lotteries, some online gaming and horse racing are your best bets if you can’t resist a wager.
9. No Hunting Allowed
All ready and packed for your hunting vacation? Well hopefully you’re not thinking of going to Brazil to do so. While hunting for survival is legal, it was banned in 1967 (bravo!). Depending on which state you’re in, you may be able to take part in sport hunting (ugh), but generally, unless you’re one of Brazil’s indigenous peoples and it’s your way of life, this is not the place to take aim at animals.
10. Look Into My Eyes
It might be strange to consider not making eye contact with someone just because of their higher rank in society, but Brazilians in the service industry such as nurses, housekeepers, construction workers, etc, tend to do so. On the other hand, it’s not out of the ordinary to make brief eye contact with strangers. Family, friends and colleagues will also maintain eye contact, so don’t fret about this rule too much.
11. Banking Without Benefits
If you’re planning to visit a Brazilian bank, leave your cell phone out of it. The majority of the country’s cities and towns prohibit cell phone use in banking institutions, and penalize those agencies that do not comply with the law by fining them. It’s understandable, as this law was enforced to protect bank patrons from theft on exiting the banks.
12. Proper Title
Sometimes you meet someone for the first time and you may just go, “Hi there Mrs or Mr—insert name here.” However in Brazil, you don’t want to label a doctor “Mr” or a married woman “Miss.” Try to find out the title or academic standing of the person you’re speaking to, otherwise simply take a listen to how they have greeted you and respond to them in-kind. Gender appropriately of course.
13. Show Us Your Face
In order to cut down on “theft by biker,” it’s illegal in most Brazilian states to wear helmets or any other face covering when entering private or public premises. Yes, the scarf you bought at the market is absolutely lovely, but you might want to wear it only while hiding from the sun outdoors, or you could find yourself in violation of the law.
14. Show Up Late, Leave Later
If you’ve been invited to a Brazilian home, put your thoughts about arriving there early behind you. Guests are expected to arrive up to fifteen minutes late, and if you’re thinking of skipping out early scratch that too, as you’ll be expected to stay for at least two hours. Bring some kind of gift for your hosts while you’re at it, staying in the safe lane with customary items like wine, or candy.
15. A Rice And Bean Story
You’re looking into your fridge or pantry trying to decide what to eat. The selection is huge and still you feel like you want something different—you’re bored with just about everything there is in your cupboards. If you’re traveling or moving to Brazil, this way of thinking is kind of amusing, as many Brazilians eat rice and beans every single day. This is a perfectly healthy dish, so nothing to knock about it, but those who need more variety would probably struggle just a bit trying to keep up with this regular diet.