Meeting someone for the first time is always going to be a potential minefield cultural faux pas (and that’s a word I don’t use often) and kind of like a bad one night stand, it usually ends up a jumble of embarrassed kisses/hugs/embraces and handshakes with both sides worried about offending the other one and neither ending up quite satisfied with the encounter….
Over our many adventures I think we have seen almost every possible combination of initial meetings from:
Simple handshake (England)
Bone crusher handshake (Germany)
Jive handshake (Turkey)
No handshake (India)
Nose Press (tourists in NZ)
Single Cheek Kiss and hug (Brazil – Sao Paulo)
Double cheek kiss (France)
Double cheek kiss and hug (Brazil – Rio De Jinero)
Triple cheek kiss (Poland)
Man kiss (Argentina)
So coming to Brazil we had no idea what the standard protocol would be, but we soon worked out that like most things over here, it’s a case of just throw yourself at it 110%. So here in Sao Paulo upon meeting someone for the first time it’s a single kiss (right cheek always) then a full embrace – in Rio it was two kisses (first right cheek, then left cheek) then a full embrace. This then carries on for every subsequent meeting you have with a person.
One of our new Brazilian friends had worked in London for a couple of years and when we were discussing initial meetings it was she that mentioned the phrase “embracing like tyrannosaurus rex” – cue images of English people with extremely short arms trying to hug each other without getting too “intimate”. Now I am not saying that any one cultures version is better than another, or that anyone has got the initial meeting protocols sorted, but having become used to the more formal greeting style of the English, meeting people in Brazil was initially a bit of an adjustment for us to make, but its quickly become very comfortable and in a lot of ways it feels very natural. Like Brazilian culture, the kiss and hug is very straightforward, very warm, very friendly and very very welcoming.
Last night we went along to a friend of a friends birthday party, this in itself is a bit of an odd experience, going to a party where you don’t know anyone at all is always a bit intimidating, but over here its apparently a very common thing.
We arrived at a large skewer restaurant – this place was awesome, a meatlovers paradise, and like most restaurants over here it was massive – maybe 400 people seated in a large outdoor garden setting, the place didn’t have any menu – just hordes of waiters wandering around with wooden platters of freshly barbecued skewers of meat, seafood, cheese, and fruit. No starters, no mains, no salads or vegetables at all, if wasn’t able to be skewered and barbecued – it wasn’t served – my kind of place.
So as I said it was a friend of a friend’s birthday party, there were about 40 people in the group and when we were introduced to the hostess she greeted us with a quick cheek kiss and a real hug and then when she worked out we didn’t speak Portuguese, she (like everyone else we meet) apologised to us for her terrible English (which of course was almost perfect) and then chatted to us at length in English about our experiences in Brazil and what our plans were.
We keep getting this over and over again in Brazil – local people apologising to us for them not being able to speak English, not the other way around, I just can’t imagine this happening back in England or downunder – somehow I can’t see a waiter in a restaurant in New Zealand apologising to a Brazilian (or Japanese) tourist for not being able to speak their language, but again it illustrates the Brazilian culture very well, these guys definitely are the warmest and friendliest people we have encountered.
A great illustration is also the Brazilian love of sharing, be it just a drink, or a whole meal when at someone’s home, the host will often make just one large caiparanha for two to share, or at the pub the host will buy a bottle of beer and get two glasses, sure you could buy two bottles but by sharing a bottle you are somehow making the person feel more special than if you just had a bottle each.
Within days of arriving in SP we had been invited out for numerous dinners and beers nights, weekends away with workmates, even invited out on shopping trips to help us get to know the local food and veggies, and helping us settle into our new home.
All in all it has been amazing display of genuine hospitality.