I thought it was about time for me to do something a little bit different with this blog post, and instead of giving my interpretation of Brazilian culture, I’ve instead decided to turn the tables and write a post on what Brazilians seem to think about British culture. If you’re British and think you can guess what Brazilians think about us, make yourself comfortable….because you might just be in for a bit of a surprise when you read this!
So over the years I have been asked some fairly predictable questions about what it’s like to be British, yet there have also been a fair few questions that have well and truly baffled me. So let me give you a run down on some of these right now, starting with how the Brazilians I’ve met respond to the one aspect of our culture that is undeniably British, our love of a good cup of tea.
“Oh look, it’s 5pm” one of my students once pointed out as our class was starting. As if to emphasise his
point he began tapping his finger on the face of his watch as he was saying this.
“Well yes, it is” I replied, after an awkward few seconds of wondering why the time was of such interest to him. I definitely wasn’t late for class.
“Yea, 5 o’ clock” he repeated enthusiastically. “It’s 5 o’ clock”.
As soon as he said this he looked at his watch again, which also prompted me to look at it. Then I noticed him look back up at me, so I felt obliged to look at him in the hope he might elaborate on what he was saying. He didn’t.
And when nothing more was said my eyes began to narrow, and I started to look at him suspiciously.
Perhaps sensing that this conversation was becoming a whole lot more awkward than it needed to be, he added “don’t you miss your country right now?”
I was confused by how I was supposed to answer this, but could see from the look in his eyes he was trying to encourage me to acknowledge something. I felt like an actor in a play who’d just forgotten my lines and was stood opposite someone willing me to remember them!
“Eeeerm” I began, “well I don’t miss it any more than I did five minutes ago. Why do you ask?”
I was baffled, and by the look on his face so was he; I could sense his enthusiasm was beginning to wane too. He then asked me quite hopefully, “well don’t people in England usually have a cup of tea in the UK at five o’ clock?”
“Erm…no!” I responded, wondering why in God’s name he thought this.
Well as it turns out, since this conversation I’ve actually been asked about this tea at 5 o’ clock think on a number of occasions. I still have no idea where it has come from, but I know that many Brazilians believe it to be true.
Some people back home will enjoy a brew at 5pm, but it’s definitely not a tradition or a custom. People drink tea whenever they fancy a cup, which can be at any time of the day (especially whenever someone else offers to make it!)
Thinking about it now though, maybe this thing with the time has come from Brazilians assuming British people are incredibly punctual. “Oh Andrew, you’re so British!” said one of my friends as he arrived 15 minutes late at the bar we’d arranged to meet at. “I forgot you work on British time!”
This quip was made with a mocking laugh and it did little to ease my annoyance, he knows I hate waiting. And I’ve even had a student walk into class ten minutes late and remark gleefully without even a hint of sarcasm, “oh look, I’m on time!”
No love, you’re not!
But then over here Brazilians are notorious for working on a different concept of time. It’s as if they wear watches, but don’t seem to know how to read them…hence why they’re always late. And interestingly I’ve found that being punctual can be a great source of amusement for my Brazilian friends.
The first time I heard Brazilians talking about ‘British time’ I was quite surprised. Back home it’s the Germans we tend to associate with having great time keeping, not us Brits. So how we’ve got a bit of a reputation for being masters of punctuality I’m not quite sure.
Back to Tea Drinking
So I’ve already mentioned the question I’ve been asked about WHEN we drink tea, now let me tell you about another random question I was asked on HOW we drink it.
I was giving class in a student’s house one afternoon when right in the middle of our lesson my student’s mother knocked on the door. To my delight she came in holding a tray with not just a cup of Earl Gray tea on it, but also a plate of biscuits too. AMAZING! I did everything in my power not to bear hug the life out of this woman in appreciation. A brew was exactly what I needed at this moment.
“Thank you so much” I said politely as I looked down at the generous treats on offer. However noticing that there was no milk in my tea I couldn’t help but ask if it was OK for me to have a little to go with it.
My student’s mother only started to veil her surprise at my request midway through asking; “erm, so you would like some…some milk?”
She looked over at her daughter suspiciously, as if she might have been complicit in this sick ‘milk with tea’ joke. “Would you like hot or cold milk in your tea?” she asked, clearly looking like she was stepping on new hosting ground with this question.
“Cold” I answered quite tenderly, before thinking how strange it is to see someone looking so bewildered at something that is so normal to me. After almost eight years as an expat, moments like this never grow old.
But then if my student’s mother believed everything she’d heard about foreigners, she’d have probably expected me to have asked for hot milk. The reason I suspect this is because ‘hot’ is how many Brazilians assume I enjoy my beer. I’ve had many people ask me how I could possibly drink ‘hot’ beer when we’re in a bar; as if in the UK we stick a can of lager in the microwave to heat it up before drinking it.
But when a Brazilian talks about a ‘hot’ beer they’re talking about beer that isn’t ice cold, which in a country as hot as Brazil is a bit of a necessity. But with the UK not getting too hot, ice cold beer isn’t really as important. Whilst I’m on the subject of temperatures though I’ll tell you guys about another question I’ve been asked a lot recently, one related to the weather.
You’re Hot Then You’re Cold
So before I explain, let me tell you something you may or may not be aware of….Sao Paulo gets quite cold during the winter months. And when I say cold I’m talking about five or ten degrees. I’m sure this is being met with a few eye rolls right now from those reading in countries where it actually gets properly cold. Yet over here because the buildings are not prepared for Sao Paulo’s relatively short winter, this city can genuinely feel pretty cold at this time.
There seem to be no heating systems over here, no radiators, no nothing. In fact, despite living here for a few years now, every year I somehow manage to successfully block from my mind just how cold it gets.
Needless to say winter here in Sao Paulo is definitely not my favourite time of the year. Which I know will surprise a few Brazilians who assume I bloody love the cold.
“You must be used to this cold weather Andrew” many have told me, “because you’re British!”
And this really makes me question how tough they think my skin really is. I remember once (after being asked this question for the third time in the space of a morning) wondering if Brazilians actually think that during the summer I’m constantly sleeping in a huge freezer, because as a Brit genetically my body must need the cold! Well true, I seem to be able to tolerate the cold better than some Brazilians do, but after three years here I’m not really ‘used to the cold’ of the UK anymore. And besides, there I survive the winter months by wearing a lot of clothes, sitting by radiators and drinking plenty of tea….I don’t survive it because my skin is like some sort of reptiles, the type of skin that gets off on the cold!
So I’ll wrap up part one of this post now. In part two, I’ll be discussing just what Brazilians seem to think about our Royal Family, crime, music, and our rather beautiful (cough!) British accent.
Are you an expat living abroad who has been asked some seemingly random questions about your own culture? Are you a Brit living in Brazil who can identify with some of these questions And can anybody shed some light on this five o clock tea drinking thing?