The top five clichés about Brazilians

Oh, the joys of being Brazilian – we are all so warm, vibrant and easy (in every sense of the word)!

As positive and well-intentioned as these views may sound, they are also deeply condescending and patronising. The majority of us Brazilians want to shed the exotic layer and show our true colours to the UK and the world, devoid of old clichés.

So read on and find out more about the myths, the fallacies and the most irritating untruths that Brazilians living abroad have to fend off every day, and what it actually means to be Brazilian in the 21st century.

 

1) Life is a beach

We Brazilians wake up every morning, promptly wear our havaianas flip-flops and head to the beach, where scantly-clad, jolly and young females dance samba. Meanwhile, the males exercise their artistic skills by playing football. The sun shines, the waves break and the tropical birds sing incessantly, reminding us of our unrelenting energy and eternal joviality – this is more or less what life in Brazil is like.

The most shallow, short-sighted and vexing question that a foreigner can ask a Brazilian living abroad is: “oh my God, what are you doing here?” (with a stress on “what” and “here”), as if Brazil was an exquisite and unblemished paradise, entirely devoid of problems and afflictions, and which should never be abandoned. This question is normally combined with a raised eyebrow, a look of perplexity and a desire to show their (extremely scarce) knowledge of Brazil, and thereby to strike an instant friendship.

Dear foreigner, you are not displaying your interest and admiration for Brazil by asking such stupid and tiresome question. Instead, you are demonstrating your ignorance and lack of discernment.

Brazil is a developing nation with profound social, economic and politic wounds. Lower and middle-class Brazilians have to work very long hours and often take up multiple jobs in order to secure a remotely decent standard of living. There is hardly time to go to the beach and play football. Havaianas are now so expensive in Brazil that most people have to buy them in installments. And it rains there, too – heavy tropical torments!

Some foreigners still view Brazil through thick colonial glasses. They indulge in the escapist fantasies portrayed in films like Hitchcock’s Notorious (where the criminals escape to Brazil in search of an idyllic life), or lived out by Ronnie Biggs (the great train robber fled to Brazil after running away from prison). The result is a bizarrely twisted and preposterous image of Brazil, if positive and celebratory in intention.

 

2) Brazilians are sluts

Brazilian women are floozies, while men are vigorous stallions. Our females are readily available, even if they in a committed relationship. Sex in Brazil (or with Brazilians abroad) is as certain as dawn. A lot of Europeans view Brazil as a hedonistic paradise, and thence sex tourism is widespread in many parts of the country.

In reality, Brazilians are more prudish and sexually conservative than most Europeans. In Brazil, it is acceptable to be sensual but not to be sexual, particularly for women. Female promiscuity is invariably frowned upon.

I have written more extensively about the misconceptions surrounding Brazilian sexuality in my piece entitled “The Wild and rapturous Sex Life of Brazilians – or Not” (click here in order to read it).

 

3) Football is mandatory

A few months ago, a friendly and chatty Jamaican cab driver tried to engage in a conversation about football upon finding out that I was from Brazil. He exposed his views on the most famous players, their salaries and clubs in minute detail – despite my complete failure to interact. He was indifferent to my non-intelligible, hardly audible utterances of disinterest and carried on undaunted. I even put my earphones on, to no avail. He continued to show off his knowledge, convinced that I shared his devotion and excitement. After all, I am Brazilian.

I have never kicked a football, not even when the small kids from next door accidentally shot it my way. I don’t support any teams, neither in Brazil nor in Europe. And I think that the World Cup is a waste of time and money, in a country that has its priorities all wrong.

I am not alone in my thinking. In June this year, millions of Brazilians took to the streets in order to protest against our failed education, healthcare, justice and police systems. They expressed their indignation at the billions squandered on capricious whims like the World Cup and the Olympics. The nation slammed Pelé and Fat Ronaldo for suggesting that we should stop protesting and unite behind our football team instead.

 

4) Brazil is synonymous with Rio

While most people recognise that Brazil is a very big country, they do not distinguish between the 1,260km2 comprising the city of Rio de Janeiro and remaining 8,514,507km2 forming the rest of Brazil, in all of its richness and diversity.

Rio de Janeiro is neither the largest nor the richest city of Brazil. It is not the capital, either. It does not even host the largest street party in the country (and the world) – the Guinness Book bestowed the accolade on Salvador’s Carnival instead.

Yet most foreigners are unable to place Salvador on the map, or they mix it up with the Central American country (El Salvador). Few realise that Salvador (and the state of Bahia as a whole) has been the breeding ground for Brazilian music for at least 100 years. It was home to the likes of Dorival Caymmi, João Gilberto, Vinicius de Moraes, Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil and Gal Costa.

A few years ago Naomi Campbell attended Salvador’s Carnival. Nearly every newspaper in the UK published pictures with captions saying “Naomi goes to Salvador’s Carnival in Rio” or something to that effect, as if the old capital of Brazil was a district or a building complex in city of Rio de Janeiro. It’s more or less the equivalent to describing Edinburgh’s Fringe Festival as a Soho event.

São Paulo – the largest city of Brazil, the financial heart and probably the most cosmopolitan metropolis of South America – suffers a similar fate. Most people can’t even spell it. Nevermind the tilde (the funny accent on top of the first “a”). I have lost count of the number of times I have come across “Sao Paolo” and “San Paulo” in the British media, even in the more serious newspapers such as the Guardian and the Times.

Brazilians also have to put up with the power of Rio de Janeiro, as the largest TV network Globo and most of the soap operas are made in the “marvellous city” (Rio’s self-proclaimed title). They are forced to endure the sleazy, highly nasalised, meowy accent and the hedonistic, showy and celebrity ways of Cariocas (people from Rio) every day on national television.

 

5) We are bloodsuckers

“Foreigners are parasites sucking off the rich victuals and shaking off the firm virtues and foundations of British society. They’ve come here to spread prostitution, crime and disease, as well as to take away our invaluable jobs and to milk the benefit system. In short, they are the cause of all of our woes” – this is more or less the image that the Sun and the Daily Mail openly paint of immigrants in the UK.

The ultra-xenophobic vitriol distilled by the scum media has a very powerful grip on the British. While not specifically aimed at Brazilians, their unrelenting tirade against foreign workers has an impact on our reputation and morale.

There is a widespread belief that most Brazilians are illegal aliens, reinforcing the already prejudiced views against us. We are all lazy, opportunistic and underqualified workers, or gold diggers who aptly use our seduction skills in order to swoop down on the right prey (grab a rich spouse with a British passport).

The reality is quite different. The number of Brazilians in the UK has declined in the past five years or so (since the British economy crashed and Brazil began to take off). Most illegal immigrants have now returned to Brazil. Those left here are mostly qualified workers with a EU passport and the right to abide in the UK. Plus, the illegal immigrants tend to be very hard-working people performing tasks rejected by the British – they are your cleaners and couriers.

 

Brazil is neither hell nor paradise, and Brazilians are neither devils nor saints. We are a people rich with culture and resolute spirit, but also bogged down in profound socio-economic woes and individual conflicts.

Can you now separate the wheat from the chaff, and avoid the sycophantic “WHAT are you doing HERE?” and other exhausting clichés? We want to be seen as a multi-faceted nation in all of its complexity – not a one-dimensional stereotype.

22 Comments

  1. Everything is very open with a really clear clarification of the issues.
    It was truly informative. Your site is very useful. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Bill Mottinger

    Our twelve years working in Brasil, com vistas permanente, were the most wonderful, rewarding years of our lives. Whether in Rio das Antas, Campinas, Belem or Santeram, Brasilians never failed to be openly friendly and helpful. The wonderful Brasilian friends we earned were anything but the stereotypes portrayed in most English-speaking countries and publications. As difficult as life is for many, Brasilians, as a whole, are the most friendly, loving, people in the world, bar none. Viva o Brasil!!!

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  4. Paulo

    Guto Jimenez,
    Well, I’ve been to Rio and there’s hardly anything beautiful about it. The heat feels like hell on earth. It’s full of slums, criminals, homeless people, and dirt. People are extremely rude, arrogant and ugly. Your ‘music’ is torture to a decent person’s ears. There’s barely any infrastructure and the streets smell of a mixture of piss and air conditioner fluid. And what the hell is a ‘special breed’ supposed to mean? Maybe you are if that means a natural tendency for crime and corruption. No wonder everyone hates cariocas.

    As for the foreigners here saying that Brazil is great and what not, sorry but who cares about joie de vivre? I want a decent job with a decent wage, education, and infrastructure. It’s easy enough to say Brazil is a marvellous country when you have a bank account full of a strong foreign currency and can leave any old time you like. Try being born to a lower middle-class family in this sh*thole and living to pay taxes and bills for a government that sucks you dry but couldn’t care less about you and then come tell me about how marvellous Brazil is.

  5. Rogerio Andrade

    Well… some of those clichés were created by Brazilians themselves, specially those terrible Embratur marketing campaigns that depicts Brazil as a country of, essencially, beaches, forests and remote villages.. Embratur could show some sophistication, modernity, and cultural diversity on its advertsiments.

  6. I agree with Herman,in the article you make some good points but the tone is defensive. Ignorance is universal and unfotunately rife in the British tabloids who specialise in it thats why we also have the broadsheet papers to balance that.

    Brazil is a marvellous country and with great people. This decade Brazil has the world’s eyes on it. How Brazil communicates and interacts will be key to the world updating its view of Brazil – just like London has done with the London 2012 Olympics.

  7. Cindy A

    As a Brazilian you may wonder why foreigners marvel at Brazil with its many socio-economic and political problems. I just know that every time I go (and I go often), I feel better in Brazil.. Strangers aren’t as rude to each other as they are in the United States or in other nations. Among the people (I am not talking government), there is more respect for each other. Also, no matter where I have traveled in the world, Brazilians are the ones who seem to be the most content. (I know that Brazilian who travel abroad on vacation are mostly from the upper economic groups, but compared to those from other cultures even of the same socio-economic group, Brazilians appear to be happier and warmer in general, than those in most other cultures. There is a Brazilian “joie de vivre” that I enjoy. There are problems everywhere. However, for the most part, I’d rather be in Brazil.

  8. Guto Jimenez

    Rio de Janeiro = no similar.
    We cariocas are only “hedonistic, showy and celebrity ways” because we really are of a special breed regardless of what the author says.
    We’re born and live in one the world’s top 10 most beutiful cities, period.
    It’s a fact, so simply live with it…

  9. Jen

    Wow! As we Brits would say, don’t get your knickers in a twist! You seem to have a lot of anger there! I totally agree with number 4 though and you’re right, foreigners have a very narrow-minded view of Brazil and its people. However it works both ways. The world thinks us Brits eat fish & chips (we don’t) and that it always rains (erm, ok it does haha). As a Brit living in Brazil, I’m still learning all the wonderful things this country has to offer, and the less wonderful things too. Try to be patient with people who don’t know any better, it’s really not their fault if they are fed that rubbish in the newspapers.

  10. Herman Santiago

    The article is interesting yet a bit defensive. I think there are issues with stereotyping but Brazilians are also guilty of the same as is just about every ethnicity that has ever existed. If you want the world to know your country, get out there and let them know about it. Most of the Brazilian history and culture has only been recently made readily available, if more write about it I am sure many would be more than interested to read on it. All culture history of every land in the world is interesting but it needs to be made available.

  11. JOW3

    I’m sorry, but your argument is not valid. I heard countless times people bitching about how they don’t know anything about Brazil and how they should get it right. As if people SHOULD know it. Think about yourself for a second: do you know EVERYTHING there is to know about the country you are at? Do you hold a deep knowledge of every single place you ever visited? If I tell you the name of some random city in Russia, would you be able to point it out on a map? Cliches are created to make complex interactions simple. I don’t know anything about the culture of Tuvalu and if the only think I knew was that they enjoy football, yeah, I’d try to be FRIENDLY and go with it. Lighten up, man.

  12. Tiago

    I don’t think Rio’s thing is a stereotype, it’s just that Rio is the symbol of Brazil, like London is the symbol of UK and Buenos Aires, Argentina’s

  13. Guilherme

    Ta loco! E o pessoal ainda se puxa pra deixar seus comantários em inglês. PelamordiDeus: os caras chamam a todos nós d “sanguesugas” e “promíscuos” e ainda temos q comentar inteligentemente?? Os EUA estão dentro d um barril d pólvora, cheio de racistas …uma cambada d e NERDS com medinho do mundo…achando q são a nova ROMA. Pensam q os brasileiro falam espanhol, e q a capital brasileira é o Rio de Janeiro. Tentaram sabotar a Petrobras, explodindo uma das colunas da plataforma P-36 em 15 de março de 2001. Sem falar nas bases militares na Amazônia. Estadosudidenses: chupem uma rola latina!

  14. Marcelo

    They are not cliches. The prove of that is most of the posts on this page, is about “cariocas and paulistas”, but none mention to the brazillian woman being caled sluts, sometimes we deserve the cliches…!

  15. Juliano

    Dear Lara,

    Sao Vicente, which is part of Metropolitan Sao Paulo, is the oldest city in Brazil.

    This makes Sao Paulo the oldest city in Brazil, by extension.

    Regards,

    Victor

  16. Lara Thomazini

    São Paulo is not the oldest city in Brazil. Not by far.

    You are really an exception for not liking football. Most of brazilians, even if they don’t follow teams nor anything, would talk about football with a smile on.

  17. pedro drabe

    i find it amusing that you talk about Rio de Janeiro pretty much with the same accuracy the same way gringos talk about Brazil.

  18. Marina

    Some of this information are incorrect, but the text is enlightening.

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