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The Brazilians Who Reflect Their Country

A few weeks ago I decided to do something a little different in my English classes. I selected pictures of the ten Brazilians I felt were best known outside of Brazil, and then I asked my students to choose the five that they thought reflected their country.

I was surprised with some of the responses; so much so, I ended up asking my Brazilian friends for their opinions on these Brazilians too. After picking their five, many of my friends were quite interested to discover who other people had selected. So I thought I’d throw this out there on my blog.

A lot of people were quite positive about their fellow country men and women, and chose them because they felt their success is a testament to what Brazil is capable of. Yet interestingly I found that some also selected those they felt encapsulated the worst aspects of life here.

I’ve ranked these Brazilians in order of how frequently they were selected by the thirty-ish Brazilians I talked to. I’m certain this order would be different if I’d asked Brazilians living in different cities, of different ages and of different social classes….so feel free to let me know what you think about the order!

10. Paulo Coelho

Paulo-Coelho-010Who is he? Coelho is the author of The Alchemist, and is the biggest selling Portuguese writer of all time. He also looks like an extra from the Godfather trilogy.

Why he reflects Brazil: Coelho’s career as a writer is impressive. He has sold over 150 million copies of his books worldwide and his work has been translated into 80 languages. Yet from those I’ve spoken to, Coelho isn’t particularly popular.

Actually, most turned their nose up at the mere mention of his name. “Andrew, he writes self help books. Well I don’t need his help” said one of my friends. I also heard, “His style of writing is so basic, he is definitely not the best writer that Brazil has ever produced.” When I looked online to try and make sense of why he wasn’t as popular as I’d have expected, I came across numerous blogs trashing him. One even went as far as to say, “He is the Britney Spears of modern fiction writers.” Ouch!

9. Rodrigo Santoro


This guy is the best known Brazilian actor to have made a name for himself in Hollywood (With Wagner Moura currently nipping at his heels for this title).

Why he reflects Brazil:  After acting in Brazilian soap operas, Rodrigo broke the mold and became an international success. He hasn’t yet hit the heights and made it onto the A list though, which is perhaps why some were hesitant to place him inside their top 5s.

If (like me before moving here) you recognise the face but can’t place it, let me tell you where you might have seen him. He’s been in Love Actually, 300 and Charlie’s Angels and he was also in the TV show Lost (He was the guy who was buried alive, along with his wife).


8. DIlma Rousseff

Who is she? Arguably the most controversial Brazilian figure in this run down, Dilma is the current president of Brazil…and lover of colourful blazers

Why she reflects Brazil: Whilst many might not appreciate her politics, she is the country’s first female president. Recently she was also ranked 4th in Forbes list of the most powerful women in the world right now. Many of those I talked to were quick to point out this is where their admiration for her as a Brazilian ends. “She is only president today because she was endorsed by the popular Lula (the former president)” quipped one of my friends. “She doesn’t seem to have much bite when it comes to politics, and is controlled by her government instead of it being the other way round” added another.

Unsurprisingly though, not one person trashed her lovely wardrobe!

7. Neymar


Who is he? Neymar is the man of the moment, Brazil’s most marketable footballer and the guy many hope will follow in the footsteps of Pelé.

Why does he reflect Brazil? Perhaps it is too soon for many to consider Neymar a reflection of Brazil, he is still a young player with a lot to prove. Yet just like in the UK, Brazilians are partial to idolising their star football players, so it isn’t really surprising he is so well liked over here.




Who is he? This guy is considered one of the greatest footballers of all time.

Why he reflects Brazil: Ronaldo played in three World Cups and helped the Brazilian team win two of them. Although Brazil didn’t win the Cup when it was played in France, Ronaldo still won the Golden Ball at this tournament. Many people told me that they were impressed with his fighting spirit (he was plagued by injury during his time as a player), and since retiring, he has gone on to become a successful businessman too. Add to this he is undeniably charismatic, and you have a figure people here are very find of.

5. Ayrton Senna


Who is he? Ayrton was a F1 winning driver, who tragically passed away in a driving accident in 1994.

Why he reflects Brazil: You will be hard pushed to find a Brazilian talked of as fondly as Ayrton Senna in Brazil. Most of the people I talked to were keen to reminisce about the times they woke up early to watch him race on Sunday mornings, and their affection for him is still clearly very much alive today.

As well as being a champion driver, Senna raised a lot of money through his charity work too.


4. Gisele

Who is she? This woman almost needs no introduction, but let me give you one anyway. At the age of 14, Gisele moved from her home city in the south of Brazil to São Paulo. From here she pursued a career in modeling, and has since gone on to become the highest paid supermodel in the world.

Why she reflects Brazil: Gisele is a very driven individual, whose desire to succeed is admired by those I’ve talked to. She is a good role model in so far as she leads a healthy lifestyle (she doesn’t starve herself to stay thin like a number of models), and family is very important to her (as it is to most Brazilians).

To add to her glowing CV, she supports many charities, is a hugely successful business woman and she is a UN goodwill ambassador too.

3. Pelépele

Who is he? Pelé is regarded by many experts, football critics, former players, current players and football fans in general as the best player of all time.

Why he reflects Brazil: Pelé was born into poverty and he worked as a servant before his big break came as a footballer. His is an inspirational rags to riches story. The guy is quite simply an icon, and many of those I talked to about Pelé appreciate the fact he is Brazilian.

2.Oscar Niemeyer

oscarWho is he? Oscar is considered a key figure in the development of modern architecture. He was the brains behind buildings in Brazil such as the Escola Nacional De Belas Artes in Rio, Brasilia’s Roman Catholic Cathedral.and the Edificio Copan in São Paulo. He is also famous for his work on the UN headquarters in New York.

Why he is a good reflection of Brazil:  To many in Brazil his work is incredibly respected…which surprised me. I mean, I couldn’t tell you one single architect hailing from the UK, let alone be able to talk so highly of one. However, a lot of people here are proud of Oscar and everything he achieved in his professional career.


1. Lula

lulaWho is he? He is the former president of Brazil who was succeeded by Dilma four years ago. He also has a fairly luxurious beard.

Why he reflects Brazil:  This guy was in all but one top 5 list, although he appeared on many lists for different reasons.

Lula is someone with an almost fairy tale rise to power. He was born into humble beginnings and he only learned to read at the age of 10. Before taking the reins of the country he worked as a shoe shiner and factory worker.

However, his position on this list isn’t really an indication of how well loved he is. Some included him because they argued he reflects some of the less desirable aspects of Brazil, namely greed and corruption. Whilst many of those I talked to might not have liked him as a politician, they recognise that he certainly left his mark on modern Brazil.

In 2010, Time Magazine named Lula one of the most influential leaders of the world, and social programs like Bolsa Familia and Forme Zero are both hallmarks of his time in office.

What do you think of this list?

Which order would you have ranked these guys in terms of how they reflect Brazil?


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