American organizations are doing an increasing amount of business in Brazil. As with planning meetings in any foreign country, differences in language, monetary currency, and time zones present enough of a challenge--but throw in differences in the norms, expectations, and behaviors of the local people you will work with, and things really get tough.
The following tips have been gathered by Dan Cormany, a former meeting planner and currently a doctoral student at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
- Conduct business only through personal connections and with an implicit understanding that the relationship will be long-term.
- Lack of punctuality is common, but you should be on time for a business meal or meeting at a restaurant.
- Begin a meeting with good-natured small talk, rather than delving immediately into business. Emphasize that you value people and relationships over business.
- Brazilians generally are analytical, abstract thinkers. They often look at the particulars of each situation rather than seek guidance from a set of laws or rules. However, they are not methodical and generally not given to going "point by point."
- Subjective feelings almost always prevail in problem-solving and decision-making.
- Good visuals are considered an important part of any presentation.
- Avoid confrontations and mask frustrations of any kind.
- Emphasis on increased power and status, rather than money, is sometimes an effective negotiating strategy.
- Information that may seem irrelevant will often be reviewed over and over again.
- Never leave as soon as a meeting is over, as it implies other things are more important.
- Business culture is intensely hierarchical; only the highest person in authority makes the final decision.
- Usually, documents aren't signed immediately after an agreement is reached; a handshake and a person's word are considered sufficient. In the various subcultures of Brazil, a written agreement may not be considered binding and, consequently, can be subject to change.
- Many people in Brazil--the only South American country whose language is Portuguese--will take offense if addressed in Spanish.
- The exchange of business cards is considered important.
Names and Titles
- People move quickly to a first-name basis. Do not, however, use first names until invited to do so.
- Always use titles. "Doctor" is a well-used title, even for someone without a doctoral degree; it's a sign of respect. A lawyer whose first name is Carlos may be "Dr. Carlos" to his juniors and "Carlos" to his equals. For those without professional titles, the term "Senhor" ("Mister") or "Senhora" ("Mrs.") is used to precede the surname.
- Often, before handing you a business card, a Brazilian will underline one name (indicating "call me this") and/or cross off a title ("Don't call me that").
- Shake hands with everyone in your company, upon both arrival and departure.
- Women often will kiss each other by alternating cheeks--twice if they are married and three times if single.
- Frequent touching of the arms, hands, or shoulders will occur during the course of a conversation. Communication is done in very close quarters.
- Brazilians often snap their fingers while flailing their hands up and down to add emphasis to a statement or indicate that something occurred "long ago."
- Pulling at one's earlobe is a sign of appreciation.
- Flicking the fingertips underneath the chin indicates that they don't know or understand the answer to a question.
- The "OK" sign (using your first finger and thumb to form a circle) is considered vulgar. It's acceptable to use the "thumbs up" sign.
- Yawning or stretching in public is frowned upon.
- To invoke good luck, place thumb between index and middle fingers while making a fist. Another good luck gesture is the "hook 'em horns" sign, with index and little finger raised.
- Brazilians consider themselves Americans, so don't use the phrase "in America" when referring to the United States.
- Maintain steady eye contact at all times; it is considered impolite not to.
- People stand close to one another, even when talking.
- Brazilians tend to be very fast talkers; expect any conversation to be fast-paced.
- It's normal for conversation to be highly animated, with frequent interruptions, exclamations of "no!", and a tremendous amount of physical contact.
- Some interjections may sound confrontational, but are simply a good-natured way of expressing interest in what is being discussed.
- Although very reticent about their own personal lives, Brazilians may ask intrusive questions about income, religion, and marital status; just give a vague answer.
- Good topics of conversation: travels; food; positive aspects of Brazilian industry; Brazilian dance and other arts; and sports (soccer, basketball, fishing, horse racing, tennis, volleyball).
- Topics to avoid: ethnic and/or class differences; politics; Argentina (Brazil's traditional rival); criticizing any aspect of Brazil that is not constructive; and personal questions--particularly those regarding family, income, and status in the workplace.
- Say "oi" for "hello" and "tchau" for goodbye.
- Giving a gift is not necessary during first meeting.
- Relaxed social situation is the best time to present a gift.
- Do not give anything that is obviously expensive; it will cause embarrassment or be misinterpreted as a bribe.
- Good gift ideas: small electronic items (scientific calculators, electronic address books and day-timers, pocket CD players, and pocket radios); tapes and CDs of popular U.S. entertainers; inexpensive cameras; name-brand pens; candy, a fine wine, champagne, or Scotch; U.S. university and sports team T-shirts.
- Gifts to avoid: any items in black or purple (including purple flowers); handkerchiefs; knives, scissors, or letter openers; practical gifts (may be perceived as too personal); wallets; key chains; ties; jewelry; and perfume.
- Business entertaining is conducted over lunch or dinner. Breakfast meetings are also becoming popular.
- Lunch is at least two hours for a business meeting; dinner is at least three hours.
- Brazilian dinners take place any time between 7 and 10 p.m. Dinner parties often continue past 2 a.m.--sometimes until 7 a.m.
- Most restaurants will add 10 percent service charge to the bill; customarily an additional 5 percent is left for the tip.
- Frequently a snack of cookies, cake and beverages is served around 4 or 5 p.m.
- If toasted, be sure to propose a toast in return. Be sure to drink after the toast is made.
- Never touch food with fingers. Cut all foods, including fruit and sandwiches, with a knife; don't use your fork to cut, even if food item is exceptionally tender.
- After cutting food, position the knife so the tip of the blade is resting on the plate and the handle is lying on the table. Then use the fork to eat.
- To indicate you have finished the meal, place the fork horizontally across plate with the fork tines up.
- Discussing business during a meal is considered rude.
- There are more fashion trends in business attire, and a wider array of acceptable dress, than in the United States.
- Makeup is not a strong feature among Brazilian women, who lean toward the natural look.
- Colors of the Brazilian flag are green and yellow. Wearing this color combination is generally not done.
- Use periods to punctuate thousands; commas are used to delineate fractions.
- Standard practice is to knock on an office door, then stand back and wait for the door to be answered.