Last month I fulfilled a childhood dream of mine by releasing a book. This means I’ve now joined the ranks of Geri Halliwell, Thelma from Big Fat Gypsy Weddings and Kerry Katona as people who’ve published a memoir! What a group of people to be amongst!
Almost as soon as Trying to Understand Brazilian Culture was released it went into the Amazon chart on South American travel at number 5, and I’ve since had a very positive response to it. I’ve even got myself a weekly slot on BBC Radio York off the back of it. So for as long as the World Cup is on, I’m going to be talking about what life is like over here.
The World Cup seems to have awoken a curiosity about what life is like in Brazil, and for this reason I’ve decided to post an excerpt from my book on the culture of kissing.
During my first interview on the radio I mentioned that Brazilians like to hug and kiss a lot. “Wait, so Andrew you’re telling me that if I go to Brazil I would be expected to kiss people…on the lips?” I could hear surprise in the interviewer’s voice, and as much as I wanted to lie and tell him this is exactly what he would have to do, I came clean and told him that this wasn’t the case at all.
So what do they do?
There are certain elements of Brazilian culture that are unmissable, a good example of this being the kissing culture. Before I make myself sound incredibly old fashioned and prudish, I should point out that after four years in Japan I’d grown used to the Japanese way of greeting people. This consisted of bowing a lot and avoiding most forms of physical contact.
Just a fortnight before moving to Brazil I had been saying goodbye to the high school students I’d spent the year teaching. I was asked to give a farewell speech during the final assembly in Japanese, and I was pretty nervous about it. After a lot of practice before the big day my moment in the school hall arrived. Then I gave my well polished speech to over four hundred kids, during what seemed like the longest five minutes of my life. As it finished I was both happy people seemed to have understood what I was trying to say in Japanese, and relieved to have got it out of the way. I’d not thought too much about the sentimental content of it until a few minutes after the assembly finished, when one of my teenage students came over to see me.
“Andrew,” she said, biting on her wobbly bottom lip, “I will miss you.” I noticed a solitary tear streaming down her left cheek.
I instinctively threw my arms around her, but when they folded around her tiny frame she didn’t hug me back. Instead she simply stood there with her arms locked by her side, crying into my chest. On reflection I’m sure this moment was as awkward for me as it was for her, because neither of us knew how to respond to what the other was doing. I’d completely forgotten that hugging like this was inappropriate in Japan, and my colleague later told me that my student would have not only felt awkward that I was hugging her, but she would have also had the added embarrassment of losing her composure in such a public setting.
Over here friends think nothing of greeting each other with hugs and kisses, guys offer each other a handshake and a playful slap on the back, and couples kiss each other by twisting and sliding their tongues in and out of each other’s mouths almost everywhere. I’m really not exaggerating one bit here, I really mean everywhere! On my first ever visit to a Brazilian supermarket I was amazed to see that the couple stood in front of me in the line for the checkout were so absorbed in their own passion, they looked like they were just moments away from ripping each other’s clothes off right there and then, next to the stand of discounted Doritos.
“What is it about shopping for washing powder, milk and cereal that has awoken such passion in them both?” I asked myself, “Can’t they wait until they get home?”
If you’re coming to Brazil then get ready to see this sort of thing on a regular basis. What still gets me are the couples kissing intensely on the train, even when it is propelled down the tracks and flinging its passengers from side to side. I often see couples full-on snogging in these carriages, as if these people are oblivious to the amount of damage they could do to their teeth. One day I fully expect to see these amorous couples breaking off from their kissing marathons on the trains to spit blood and chipped teeth onto the floor; like something from an apocalypse zombie movie!
Seeing how tactile Brazilians are initially proved to be quite an eye opener. It has certainly taken some time to get used to. At first I felt quite awkward around Brazilians whenever they greeted me with a hug and a kiss, like maybe I needed to see a therapist about my intimacy issues! I knew this cold response had to change if I was to successfully integrate into Brazilian culture. So a few weeks into my new teaching role I decided to throw caution to the wind and kiss. With interesting results!
How Not To Kiss In São Paulo
I’d not been teaching at my school that long when I was assigned a morning class starting at 7am. When one of my students came up to greet me each morning, as she entered the room, I knew that when she tilted her head to the side she was expecting me to kiss her cheek. Yet more often than not, I’d notice that immediately after I’d kissed her, she would pull a bit of a face. I’d then see her trying to subtly rub her cheek where my lips had just landed. I won’t lie to you this really confused me. Why go in for a kiss if you don’t really want to be kissed in the first place?
Well after class one day I was talking to the school’s receptionist and I asked her for some advice. I wanted to know exactly what I was doing wrong. “Do you think I should stop wetting my lips before I kiss? I mean, do Brazilians usually kiss with slightly wet lips or dry lips?” I thought my question had been sincere enough, but as soon as I’d asked, the receptionist put her hand over her mouth.
“Do you really kiss people?”
“With wet lips?”
“Of course, it’s just old people in the UK who kiss with dry lips! Isn’t it the same here?”
What started off as a slight chuckle developed into a piercing cackle that was difficult for everyone around us to ignore. After eventually regaining her composure and looking at me quite sympathetically, I was told that the idea of me slobbering over my student had made her day. In São Paulo kissing is more of a theatrical air kiss and not actually a real kiss. And it is just one kiss. In Rio it is two, and in the north of the country it can be as many as three.
Kissing an immaculately-dressed, middle aged business woman with wet lips….well it was never likely to go down very well. Needless to say, I quickly stopped doing this!
How to get hold of the book
Since publishing the book I’ve had a number of people ask me how they can get a copy, as I’ve released it electronically and not as a physical copy. Well, with Amazon you can download it (the link is here) straight onto a Kindle device, or alternatively you can download a Kindle app that allows you to read it from an ipad or a phone.
If you have another reading device (like Kobo for example), you can pick up your copy of the book here.