Assimilating Brazilian way of life, Building friendships, Crude and ill-mannered behavior, Mathematics school teacher, The noncommittal “yes”, waiting at the bus stop
Tony Ramos (1991) – One of Brazil’s top actors and my favorite male actor
I first met Carlos while waiting at the bus stop outside the condominium where we both lived. A handsome young man with the likeness of Tony Ramos, Carlos was a soft-spoken elementary school mathematics teacher who had recently started to sell Amway products.
Carlos invited me to join what he claimed was “an incredible marketing system” where you make money at several levels. At a meeting in his apartment, he explained to me and two other female residents how the Amway multi-level marketing system worked. With neither money nor time to invest in such a business venture, I only signed up to buy two of Amway’s bath products. Three months later, after discovering that multi-level marketing requires a large client base for making money, Carlos ceased selling Amway’s products.
About a month later, when Carlos began offering private mathematics lessons at a fee I could afford, I asked him to give my ten-year-old son a lesson on equations. My son’s mathematics teacher did not accept my method of solving equations. (Even in mathematics, Brazil has its own way of expressing things.) Carlos agreed to give my son a lesson on the following Saturday morning at our apartment.
Carlos never showed up that Saturday morning. Neither did he drop by on Sunday to apologize or explain his reason(s) for failing to keep his agreement. One morning two weeks later, I finally caught up with Carlos as he boarded the bus.
“I travelled to the Interior,” Carlos said matter-of-factly, when I asked him about the mathematics lesson.
“Why didn’t you tell me? We could have arranged the lesson for another day.”
“I didn’t want to disappoint you.”
I gaped at him. “That doesn’t make any sense. You disappointed me and my son by not showing up.” I struggled to match his calm composure. “I was even worried that something serious had happened to you.”
“I travelled to the Interior,” Carlos repeated, but now visibly uncomfortable… “You don’t have to be so grosseira (crude, ill-mannered).”
His use of the word grosseira was a slap in my face. “I’m not being crude. I’m just being honest and sincere with you.”
After that encounter, Carlos disappeared again. Assuming that he was avoiding me, I rationalized that it was better that way. How could I maintain a friendship with someone who was not honest with me?
My girlfriend at the office explained that Carlos would have been impolite to tell me a direct “no.” I had also made matters worse, she added, by criticizing Carlos’ behavior.
If I wanted to develop and maintain long-term friendships, I had to learn the Brazilian way of saying “no” without saying “no.” I also had to learn to decipher the noncommittal “yes,” thereby avoiding unnecessary disappointment, frustration, or annoyance.
Assimilating the Brazilian way of life was far more challenging than learning Portuguese and participating in cultural events. I had to let go of habitual ways of thinking and behaving; I had to become a new person.
Angela M. said:
Very interesting – similar, from what I understand to Japanese expression, often making communications very difficult between Americans and Japanese on both social and political levels
Rosaliene Bacchus said:
This is the reason why I have raised this issue. It’s very important for firms doing business with Brazil to be aware of this cultural attitude which, as my experience reveals, can lead to misconceptions and failed relationships.