Communicating with Brazilians: When "Yes" Means "No"

Communicating with Brazilians: When "Yes" Means "No"

Communicating with Brazilians: When "Yes" Means "No"

Communicating with Brazilians: When "Yes" Means "No"

Excerpt

“Brazil is open to all races and all cultures and … it is located in the
most beautiful and luminous province of the earth. ”

Brazil is the land of paradox.

Jorge Amado's description of Bahia can well be used to describe Brazil as a whole: “a land where everything is intermixed and commingled, where no one can separate virtue from sin, or distinguish the certain from the absurd, or draw the line between truth and trickery, between reality and dream.” Despite the many serious problems that must be confronted just to negotiate daily living in Brazil, Brazilians exhibit happiness and zest for life.

It is easy to fall in love with Brazil, with its rich culture and its amiable people, and it is also easy to be lulled into a false understanding. The general pleasantness of daily interaction between people representing the gamut of races and hues may veil a measure of racial discrimination. More significant, however, is the social discrimination between the haves and the have-nots. The easy friendliness of Brazilians requires commitment and imposes obligations that foreigners may find unexpected, unfamiliar, or undesirable. The sometimes informal style of communication is undergirded by a hierarchical system in which everyone has a place and keeps to it, to avoid striking any note of discord in personal interactions. The social hierarchy is unforgiving of transgressions.

Language difference can impede intercultural communication, but a more difficult hurdle is “speaking” a foreign culture. Communication specialists estimate that some three-fourths of our communication takes place nonverbally, through behavior. All behavior is communication, and because we cannot stop behaving, we cannot stop communicating. During all of the waking hours that we spend with other human beings, we “speak” volumes through the behavior inculcated by our culture.

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