Lessons from Brazil – Friendliness vs. Kindness

These posts are the opposite of Lesson to Brazil. Here, I talk about personal experiences in Brazil that have actually taught me something and express its uniqueness.

When people talk about Brazil they always say that the people here are friendly. As my idea of friendship is a little more intense than just being “nice” to people, I have always thought that Brazilians are more informal and kind than friendly.

Friendly has many definitions, such as a) related to or befitting a friend; b) favourably disposed, not antagonistic or hostile c) showing kindly interest and good will.  From the experiences I have had, Brazilians fit perfectly in the 3rd definition.

a) Brazilians are not overly friendly in this sense because they find it hard to actually build a friendship unless there is a lot of emotional connecting involved. The term “this is just business” is very hard for Brazilians to truly understand. They have to feel 100% confident you like them BEFORE they invite you anywhere or closely work with you, contrary to people of some other countries, who try to build that confidence gradually BY inviting you or working with you until they decide you can be called a friend or partner. This odd approach makes it difficult to make friends in Brazil and difficult to be hired or respected for you talent and skills rather than likeability. When confronted with a friend-seeking gringo who has not established that painstaking emotional bond, most Brazilians feel they don´t really need new friends because they have such close family connections and childhood friends or work colleagues. Making a single friend can be too tough in those circumstances.

b) They are not hostile because they are 100% non-confrontational, which is not always a benefit and sometimes leads to gossip and lots of back talking. Sometimes it´s better to just be hostile and truthful than smile and back-stab. North Americans are the other side of this coin. They are tooo confrontational.

c) Here, Brazilians are masters. There are always bad people, those nasty buggers who refuse to give up their seat when you get on the bus with a sleeping baby and the allies who say nothing but in individual situations I have experienced the most beautiful side of people in Brazil and Brazil only. It´s difficult to pinpoint but when I have needed help or even just minding my own business, people have said things or offered their help in such as way that it truly made my day. Just an unexpected smile, a helping hand, a question, a comment when you are bored or waiting or stressed makes all the difference. The help I got when I lost my son in the shopping centre, when I fell in the street, when my mother´s sugar level dropped to almost zombie levels. In Brazil I have experienced true kindness without the ties of obligation or duty (like in the UK, the other paradise I once called home).

There is a common denominator that I find really interesting. In all the “civilized” countries and in the “civilized” (self-proclaimed) South of Brazil, people are less helpful when they feel something is not their obligation or duty. They are not as kind in other situations but are more willing to respect a queue or seat for the disabled than the rest. In less “civilized” countries and other states of Brazil, where no one is particularly eager to be “civilized”, you will witness a lot more scenes of heart-felt kindness. I will never forget the day a man in a wheel chair stopped a bus and EVERYONE at the bus-stop hurried to lift his wheelchair onto the bus. On the other hand, in Florianópolis or São Paulo, where they are lifts for wheelchairs, no one rushes to help if the lift is jammed, for example. The guy in the wheel chair has to wait for another one.

So anyway. Brazilians have much to teach the world in terms of kindness. They are, by far, the kindest people I have ever met.


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