This weekend is Carnival in Brazil, but I will share my experiences during Brazil’s four-day extravaganza next Sunday. Today, I salute the calor humano brasileiro I enjoyed while working in a small family-owned firm in Fortaleza, Northeast Brazil.
At first, it felt strange to address my two bosses by their first names only. The formal manner of address is Senhor or Senhora followed by the first name and not the surname as is the British and American custom. Thank goodness surnames are not generally used! Brazilians have two or more family names. The first one is usually their mother’s family name, followed by their father’s family name. A married woman receives her husband’s last surname, giving her three surnames.
When some of the firm’s male business associates addressed me as querida (darling), I assumed that they were flirting with me. I learned that this was simply the Brazilian’s laid-back, friendly way of doing business.
Women over fifty are addressed as Dona instead of Senhora. In later years as an import/export manager, I felt old when the staff began calling me Dona Rosely.
People held in high regard – due to wealth, social status or profession, government officials – gained the title of Doutor or Doutora, even though they were not medical doctors or held a PhD. So if you wanted to establish a good rapport with the customs officer at the seaport, addressing him as Doutor would be a good start.
Two brothers managed the small import/export consultancy firm. The considerate and respectful manner in which they treated their employees impressed me. In this way, they set the tone for a harmonious workplace. Absent were the political and other intrigues and back-stabbing common in my former workplaces.
Whenever one of the brothers celebrated his children’s birthdays, he and his wife invited the staff and our families. (The staff reached a maximum of six during my stay.) My two sons have their own tales about these events. On one occasion, my seven-year-old fell into the swimming pool while trying to retrieve his balloon. My boss jumped in to rescue him.
Spouses and children were also invited to the firm’s end-of-year staff party. This also occurred in another family-owned firm where I later worked. Such practices fostered friendships among staff members beyond the workplace.
The sense of being part of a larger family played an important role in helping me to bounce back after my husband returned to Guyana, leaving me and my sons alone in Brazil.
My friendship with the two brothers and the rest of their large family grew over the years; even after I left the firm. Two years before I left Brazil, my sons and I joined the family for their Mother’s Day celebration at their mother’s home. What an honor to have shared such a celebration! That day also reminded me how much I had lost when I lost my own family.
It makes such a difference in our lives when there are people who care.