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Business etiquette, language & culture

Before conducting business in Brazil, you should be aware of the local customs that need to be taken into account. Brazil’s business culture is largely southern European, with considerable influence from Africa and Asia regionally.

In commercial hubs such as São Paulo you will find a sophisticated and developed commercial environment. In São Paulo and the south of Brazil there is a strong influence from the descendants of Italians and the Portuguese, Spanish and Japanese. Rio de Janeiro has a more laid-back feel and the further north you go the greater the difference to the atmosphere in the south of Brazil. 

 

Greeting etiquette

Establishing personal relationships is essential to conducting business throughout the country. First names should normally be used, but titles are important and terms like ‘Doctor’ can be used as a form of respect. When meeting and greeting expect a firm handshake, often for a long time, combined with strong eye contact. In Rio de Janairo, both men and women greet women with a kiss on each cheek, however, it is customary is São Paulo to kiss on only one cheek - this can vary in other states as well. On departure you should repeat all the handshaking and kissing and it can take ten minutes to get out of a room! Time should be included in your programme; don’t assume that you will be able to make a quick exit.

 

Meeting etiquette

Conservative European dress code is the norm for all meetings in big cities such as São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. In the tropical north and north east of Brazil, where temperatures can reach 40ºC, smart casual dress may be acceptable, or even desirable, if visiting external sites, but if in doubt you should ask beforehand.

When arranging a meeting, it is advisable to provide the Brazilian company with the subject of the meeting in advance, although only limited detail will be required at that stage.

Punctuality can sometimes be an issue in Brazil, but you should not interpret lateness as a sign of rudeness or laziness. If you will be late for a business meeting, you should call the Brazilian company to advise them. However, be aware that the Brazilians will be making jokes among themselves about the British always being punctual! Traffic in Brazil, especially in big cities like São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, can be bad. Plan your trip with plenty of time to allow for delays.

Meetings can be lengthy affairs, allowing for small talk before getting down to business. It is normal to exchange business cards at the start of meetings (although in restaurants or at business lunches they should be exchanged after the meal). It is polite to turn off your mobile (or leave it mute) during meetings and business lunches or dinners, only taking urgent calls. If you are expecting an urgent call, it is wise to inform your contact in advance.

 

Brazilian holidays

You should not expect to do any business around Carnival week (which immediately precedes Lent, seven weeks ahead of Easter). Indeed, as Carnival usually falls in February, this is not a month in which you should travel to Brazil with the intention of doing business. The same is true for the Christmas and New Year period and, to a lesser extent, the July school holidays.

 

Entertainment

Food is big in Brazil, in both its importance socially and the portions served. Formal lunches and dinners have always been a part of doing business in Brazil. Sometimes it is easier to invite a senior contact for a meal than for a meeting at the company.

Lunches and dinners are seen as an opportunity to socialise and to get to know each other in more depth and Brazilians enjoy taking this time. These are also seen as good opportunities to do business. In Brazil, there is no “grab-a-sandwich” culture.

Frequent toasts to good health are standard. You can drink alcoholic or non-alcoholic drinks for toasts. If you host a meal, soft drinks and juices should be available.

Brazilians do not arrive on time for social functions; they usually arrive 15 minutes after the agreed time. After a meal is finished they usually stay to socialise. Lunch in Brazil is served from 12.30 to 14.30 and dinner from about 20.30 to 22.30.

 

Business negotiations

In general, Brazilians tend to be very flexible and adaptable and use common sense. Due to decades of economic instability, hyperinflation and awkward government policies that influenced life and business, the Brazilian businessperson has become short-term minded, with a great ability to review plans, and improvise.

Business Deal ShakeImprovisation has a strong presence in people’s habits and business in general. Although Brazilians are concerned with quality, price is usually the key factor to determine the success of a business partnership. Brazilians tend to avoid exclusive agreements and being dependent on a single supplier. They can also be extremely careful if there are doubts or uncertainties, and a deal can take months before a final agreement is reached.

In Brazil, the understanding and concept of timing depends on many factors, including with whom and where business is being conducted. It is important to get to know as much as possible about your potential business partner – this can give you an indication as to how he/she deals with timing and deadlines.

When dealing with the public sector things can be very different. Brazil has a high level of bureaucracy and a very intricate legal system, and any deals or processes can be conducted at a very slow pace. In these cases, local expertise is necessary and always welcome.

 

Business negotiations in Brazil

  • Expect a great deal of time to be spent reviewing details, often the people you negotiate with will not have decision-making authority

  • Brazilian business is hierarchical. Decisions are made by the highest ranking person

  • Brazilians negotiate with people, not companies. Do not change your negotiating team or you may have to start over again from the beginning

Top tip: understanding the Brazilian melting pot

If you choose to do business in Brazil, try to learn a little about the country first. Brazil is vast and diverse. Many cultures from Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East have contributed to form the nation.

Brazil hosts some of the world’s largest immigrant populations of Lebanese, Japanese, Germans, Italians and Portuguese, and large African and Jewish communities, as well as many other minorities, such as Polish, Hungarians, Palestinians, native Indians and many others. These groups have generally intermarried and mixed their cultures under the same language and general understanding of nationality. In some areas of the country, however, a dominant influence of one original culture can still be evident. This naturally creates variations in the behaviours of the people with regard to relationships, business and the way of life.

This melting pot of different cultures makes it difficult to define a standard behaviour throughout the country or to establish a general cultural trait that defines a Brazilian.

Sophisticated presentations with multiple illustrations are the norm for many forward-looking Brazilian companies, and it is advisable to take the same approach to create a good impression. Handouts and brochures in Brazilian Portuguese are recommended.

Never start a presentation apologetically. During presentations avoid slang and jokes specific to British culture and geography. Your Brazilian audience may not understand. There is no need to be extremely formal. Do not speak too quickly, loudly, or in a monotonous tone.

At the beginning of the presentation make it clear to the audience whether you prefer to take questions during or after the talk. Often, audiences are happier writing down their questions rather than asking them in front of others. If there is not enough time to take all written questions, tell the audience that you will reply to them by email – and do so.

 

Interpreters

A good interpreter is the key to successful communication. If your audience has not understood what you have said, your message will be lost on them. A growing number of Brazilian executives and government officials speak some English. However, on setting up an appointment, you should always ask if your contact speaks English or would feel more comfortable with an interpreter.

There are two forms of interpreting. Consecutive interpreting means you speak and then your interpreter interprets; this is the usual form for meetings, discussions and negotiations. Simultaneous interpreting is when you speak while the interpreter interprets simultaneously – but special equipment is required which is expensive to hire. Simultaneous interpreting is generally used only for large seminars and conferences.

If you are giving a speech or presentation, remember that the need to interpret everything will cut your available speaking time approximately in half (unless using simultaneous interpreting). It is essential to make sure that the interpreter can cope with any technical or specialist terms in the presentation. It is better to be slightly restricted and speak close to a script than to fail to be understood because your interpreter cannot follow you. If you are giving a speech, give the interpreter the text well in advance and forewarn them of any changes.

Below are a number of recommendations for getting the best out of your interpreter:

  • Though expensive, a well-briefed professional interpreter is best.

  • Try to involve your interpreter at every stage of your pre-meeting arrangements. The quality of interpretation will improve greatly if you provide adequate briefing on the subject matter. Ensure your interpreter understands what you are aiming to achieve.

  • Speak clearly and evenly, without rambling on for several paragraphs without pause.

  • Your interpreter will find it hard to remember everything you have said, let alone interpret all your points if you speak at length.

  • Conversely, do not speak in short phrases and unfinished sentences. Your interpreter may find it impossible to translate the meaning if you have left a sentence hanging.

  • Avoid jargon, unless you know your interpreter is familiar with the terminology.

  • Take into account that some interpreters may be more familiar with American English and have a little difficulty at first with British accents.

  • Listen to how your interpreter interprets what you have just said. If you have given a lengthy explanation but the interpreter translates into only a few Portuguese words, it may be that they have not fully understood. Or they may be wary of passing on a message that is too blunt and will not be well received by the audience.

  • Avoid jokes. They will fall flat, embarrass you, and leave the audience puzzled.

and remember: in Brazil, the official language is Portuguese, not “Brazilian”!

 

Language

The language spoken in Brazil is Portuguese. The differences between Brazilian and European Portuguese are slight and are similar to those between British and American English (i.e. differing accents and some different words). Making the effort demonstrates a seriousness about entering the Brazilian market and any attempt to communicate in Portuguese will be met with a positive response.

Where a visitor possesses no Portuguese language skills, Spanish or Italian can be useful to communicate basic messages, and Brazilians will find it fairly easy to understand “Portuñol”, the mixture of Spanish and Portuguese spoken by many Spanish-speaking Latin American visitors to Brazil. However, do not assume that Spanish will always be welcome.

The best advice is to offer a “disclaimer” i.e. “I’m sorry I don’t speak much Portuguese, but I do speak English and some Spanish”. If you start speaking Spanish directly, Brazilians might think that you don’t know that their first language is Portuguese and this will give a bad impression.

While an increasing number of Brazilian companies, particularly those with an international outlook, have English speakers on their staff, do not assume that everyone speaks English. It is advisable to engage a local interpreter to accompany you to your first meeting with a potential partner until you have established whether your partner is confident doing business in English. Your interpreter will be one of your key assets and should be selected with care.

Initial written approaches to Brazilian companies should always be in Brazilian Portuguese and company literature (including a basic company profile and product descriptions/profiles) should also be translated into Portuguese. It is courteous to have your business card translated into Portuguese too.

The Export Communications Review provides companies with impartial and objective advice on language and cultural issues, in order to help them develop an effective communications strategy, thus improving their competitiveness in existing and future export markets. Subsidies are available for eligible companies.

The Export Communications Review is administered by the British Chambers of Commerce on behalf of UK Trade & Investment. For more detailed information, please contact:

The British Chambers of Commerce
Tel: +44 (0)24 7669 4484
Email: ecr@britishchambers.org.uk

 

Top tip

It is essential that you request Brazilian Portuguese translation of your literature. A very common mistake is to request a translation into Portuguese without stressing that it should be Brazilian Portuguese. The resulting literature will be seen by Brazilian businesses as demonstrating both a lack of knowledge of the country and a degree of rudeness.

 

Useful Portuguese phrases

Brazilian Portuguese

English

Bom dia/boa tarde/boa noite 

good morning/afternoon/evening or night

muito prazer

nice to meet you

tudo bem, sem problema 

it’s OK, no problem

ontem/hoje/amanhã 

yesterday/today/tomorrow

Oi!

Hi!/hello!

como vai/como está? 

how are you?

por favor 

please

obrigado (for men)/obrigada (for women)

thank you

de nada 

you're welcome

me desculpe 

I'm sorry

com licença 

excuse me

café 

coffee

leite

milk

chá 

tea

água

water

tchau, até logo 

bye, see you soon

um, dois, três, quatro, cinco 

one, two, three, four, five

banheiro

toilet

 

Building relationships

Relationships in Brazil are important, but again this can vary between regions and backgrounds. For some businesspeople, it is vital to develop a strong relationship to allow business to flow better. For others, it is not so important. In general, it is usually more productive to start by creating a relaxed, transparent and friendly atmosphere.

An overly professional and direct way of negotiating for the European business person would not usually go down well with most Brazilians. Stiff and aggressive negotiating attitudes generally do not help to bring about the best results.

Learning Portuguese is obviously of benefit. If you don’t have time to become conversant, making the effort to learn basic pleasantries can go down well. The differences between Brazilian and European Portuguese are similar to those between British and American English (i.e. with differing accents and some different words). Any attempt to speak a little will be well received, even if incorrect.

Brazilians tend to speak quite loudly, especially in casual situations. This can appear strange at first to the UK ear. Long, animated conversation is a favourite Brazilian habit. When conversing, interruptions are viewed as enthusiasm. Brazilians enjoy joking, informality, and friendships.

  • Good conversation topics include football, family, children and music.

  • Bad conversation topics include Argentina, politics, poverty, religion and the rainforest. Don’t worry too much about this though as Brazilians are gracious, forgiving and not easily offended.

If this is your first visit to Brazil, you should expect to be asked if you like it. Brazilians are universally keen to know that visitors have a positive impression of their country, as they are intensely patriotic.

 

Body language

• Brazilians speak in very close proximity, with lots of physical contact.

• Touching arms and elbows is the norm.

• Back slapping is very common between men.

• Eye contact is expected.

• The ‘OK’ hand signal is a rude gesture in Brazil.

 

Return visits

Brazilians will want to reinforce their business relationship with you by visiting the UK, once a deal has been or is likely to be done, so be sure to invite them at the end of your first meeting if appropriate. Indeed, they will probably be delighted to visit the UK, especially if it is for the first time.

At the time of writing, there is no visa regime for Brazilians visiting the UK for short periods (less than 30 days), either on business or for pleasure. However, visitors will need to follow the normal rules of valid documents: a return air ticket, sufficient funds, plus an introduction letter from their hosts can be useful. Visa requirements can be checked on the UK Visas website: www.gov.uk/government/organisations/uk-visas-and-immigration or the British Embassy’s website in Brazil: www.gov.uk/government/world/brazil

UK Immigration officials regard Brazilians as a fairly high-risk group due to a historical tendency to overstay student or tourist visas. It is therefore essential that your Brazilian partners take every step possible to avoid problems at entry. They should be directed to UK government websites in Brazil, such as: www.gov.uk/government/world/brazil

Brazilians tend to leave arrangements late, so remind your contacts frequently to follow the correct procedure. They may need help with translation of personal material such as CVs and presentations.

You should make clear that the UK is expensive compared to Brazil, and suggest a rough budget for spending money. If your Brazilian partner is bringing exhibition items, make sure that they apply for the correct temporary entry documentation well in advance. Requirements can be checked on the HM Revenue & Customs website: www.hmrc.gov.uk

 

Source - UKTI


 

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