How to Impress Brazilians

Cross-cultural awareness and training are not American-only concepts. They also exist in Brazil, as happened to find out this week. I received an invitation for a cross-cultural workshop on living and working in Brazil, which will be administered upon my arrival there. I have the feeling that some smart American entrepreneur has his hands in this…

I was asked to fill a questionnaire aimed at assessing my pre-existing cross-cultural skills. Some of the questions included:

  1. Have you worked with Brazilians before?
  2. What are some characteristics (ways of being and behaving) of Brazilians that may not please you or that you may have some difficulty in understanding?
  3. What are some characteristics (ways of being and behaving) of Brazilians that are different and that seem nice to you?
  4. Based on your experience, what are the main challenges in adapting to a different culture?What should be done to overcome them?
  5. In your opinion, which are the five most important characteristics / abilities one should have to interact well with people from different cultures?

Questions 2&3 kind of reminded me of those most hated behavioral interview questions, about one’s strengths and weaknesses. And my answers were drafted according to my prior experience in devising non-negative answers previously.

I especially like questions 4&5 as I feel like I can now do a PhD on those at this point. I really look forward to taking notes in this training session. I think it will provide good material for my future posts.

I must also share an incredible insight that can provide a single solution to the success of my stay in Brazil. I’ve found out through consistent trial (and no error), that Brazilians are easily impressed, with the right approach. As illustrated by my phone conversation with the future big boss this morning. We’ve talked about my prospects in the team, future projects, readiness to move to Rio, etc. I then said to him that I am excited, only I did this in Portuguese (“Estou animada”). Boy, he was IMPRESSED. He was overjoyed with the fact that I made the effort and said that this is the most important thing for succeeding at the firm. I was pretty happy with this as well. Studying Portuguese is way more fun for me than reading market updates or reviewing my accounting or finance notes, in a pathetic attempt to pretend something has stuck from those two years of ivy league MBA. I am now considering getting a book of proverbs in Portuguese, and memorizing those. This should get me through at least a year of work, no? Maybe I can even get promoted.. just like in the movie, Office Space.

I post here my answer to question 3.

Brazilians are very nice and welcoming, also very easy going.They also seem to care more about personal relationships and not just formality. They are direct and not politically correct. They know when to be serious and when to enjoy life a little.

My Brazilian friend was pretty happy with these responses and immediately forwarded them to her non-Brazilian boyfriend (maybe for some  re-education :)). She also thinks that Brazilians’ over-joy with foreigners attempting to say anything in Portuguese can be attributed to a complex with being previously colonized. But I honestly think is that with any language that is not as widely spoken, native speakers appreciate others who make an effort learning it, especially when the option to speak in English instead exists. So this is my 50 cents on building cross-cultural bonds. Learn people’s languages.