“Oh, you lived in Japan before coming to Brazil?” asked a student in response to me telling her I lived in Japan before coming over to Brazil. Then, without really allowing her first question to dry she fired another at me, “Brazilian culture is just so different to Japanese culture, isn’t it?”
I nodded and confirmed that I thought the two are completely different, but then thought some more about it afterwards.
‘Are they really?’
That’s when I started to consider that there are actually aspects of Brazilian and Japanese culture that are more similar than they are to British culture. I’ll use this post to give you a tongue-in-cheek rundown of three that have left an impression on me.
#1 Saying No
“Hey, let’s go to the beach this weekend?” I enthusiastically asked my Japanese friend over beers one Wednesday evening. “Yea, maybe” he replied without much conviction. As soon as he’d muttered the ‘M word’ alarm bells started to ring. I’d become fairly well versed in what this meant, so I asked him quite firmly: “Do you mean yes-maybe or no-maybe?”
Just as I’d expected, my friend looked uncomfortable for a while before revealing that he had in fact already committed to something else on this day. “Well just say no if you can’t go!” I told him. But I knew that I was unlikely to hear a ‘no’ come rolling of a Japanese tongue. It is generally considered a little too assertive.
Making plans with Brazilians too can be a bit of a challenge. The word ‘no’ also seems to be their Achillie’s heel so don’t be surprised if they say ‘yes’, when they really mean ‘no’. If you’ve made plans with a Brazilian you should also check a number of times with them to see if they intend to follow through with doing whatever you’ve agreed. Just like over in Japan; when it comes to making plans they just don’t really do ‘no’s’ over here in Brazil.
#2 Parasite Singles
Each family is different, but meeting anyone over the age of 25 in the UK who hasn’t so much as considered leaving home is likely to be met with a few raised eyebrows (unless you’re living somewhere notoriously expensive like London). This is something that didn’t seem to be the case when I was living in Japan. I read here that ‘it is estimated among all unmarried adults, the share living with their parents there is about 80%’.
For daughters in particular, the family home is a place where they can wait under their parents’ wing until an ideal marriage partner comes along. Instead of having to get hooked up with a man whose income is unstable, they can adopt a strategy of remaining at home in the expectation that sooner or later they will meet a man with sufficient income for a marriage partner.
Well Brazil is actually similar to Japan in that unless you’re leaving home to attend a university in the city (because your city doesn’t offer the course you want) or to get married, the chances are you’re going to be living at home with Mom and Dad. However if you’re a woman, you are probably not just doing this because you want to wait for a husband.
According to this blogger: The sense of family is so strong that some young Brazilians like the comfort of home cooked meals and laundry by Mom or the maid…living with roommates is considered less desirable than living with Mom and Dad.
“Around thirty is the age you should be thinking about leaving home if you haven’t already done so” explained one of my Brazilian students.
I’m pretty sure I’d have been shown the front door long before 30 back home if I hadn’t moved out on my own accord!
#3 Pointless Jobs
In Japan I used to be confused each time I saw a guy stood on the roadside near construction work, signaling to cars to merge into one lane. This job seemed so pointless because a sign could easily have done the same.
Japan also employs people to perform another pointless job that is found over here in Brazil too, having people press buttons in elevators. In Japan, women in shopping centres stand in elevators to bow at you, ask you what floor you’d like and they then press the button for you…just in case you are incapable of doing this yourself. In Brazil they also do this, but instead of standing in the elevators these Brazilian women park their backsides down on a chair to do this job. Sometimes the seats they sit on will hog almost a quarter of the space available inside the elevator; so busy periods can feel quite cramped in there. Unless of course you’re the woman with nifty finger skills sat on that cushioned throne!
As a foreigner this means you need to be spot on with your ordinal numbers. I used to give a class here in Brazil on the fourteenth floor of a building, and for a full three weeks my mind would go blank whenever I stepped into the elevator. Of course, button number 14 was right there, laughing at me. But with the button-presser in front of me, and a lift full of people who I didn’t want to embarrass myself in front of, I’d end up asking for the 13th floor and walking up that extra flight of stairs.
But it wasn’t all that bad; I now have ‘décimo quarto’ permanently etched into my brain all thanks to this woman’s job!
Is the word ‘no’ also considered too direct in the country you live too?
Do young Brits leave the family home too early?
Have you ever lived in a country with people performing pointless jobs?