September 21, 2007

This is our regular column called Ask a Brazilian”, the idea being that you can quite literally ask a question of a Brazilian for those issues you aren’t sure about but perhaps dare not ask. It is meant as a bit of fun and answers should not be construed as expert opinion or the definitive reply on the matter. For that reason we ask you to please send comments and experiences in order to add to our replies.


Why are Brazilians particularly tolerant of problems, such as neighbours playing loud music, and long queues at the bank? Is it just Paulistanos that are like this, or the same across Brazil?


Ol Marcus,

I like your question, but I ask you: Are Brazilians tolerant or did Brazilians learned how to deal with so many unfavorable conditions?

Have you ever called the police at 4am and asked them to stop the favela’s loud party? If you didn’t, don’t. The police won’t go to the favela at all. They can’t step in there, can you imagine shutting their party off? Impossible.

You say we tolerate, I would say we can’t count on the police so there is no much to do but put your best CD on and make a party yourself.

And that goes on and on. There is a tax we pay, the CPMF, implemented in 1993. It was supposed to be provisory, for public health, but it was now prorrogated for more 4 years! Will Brazilians tolerate that? Yes, we will.

Examples could never end for how Brazilians tolerate, accept, swallow, endure, digest, you choose the name, from corruption to 4am parties.

Why? I wish I had an answer for you. I wonder how so many things are so wrong that Brazilian’s might think: Who am I to change that? And how?

Brazilians aren’t warriors, although there is a lot to fight for most people here feel like being around with their friends with some cold beer and a footbal game is good enough.

Talking about football, there is this one thing Brazilians won’t tolerate: Losing to Argentina.


Vanessa T. Bauer

Readers Comments:

In Brazilian culture, people are first and foremost defined by their relationships to other people. While the average American, Australian or European sees himself or herself mostly as an individual endowed with universal rights that may not be trod upon, Brazilians see themselves as nodes in a social network, in which each person is defined by who knows them and whom they know. Being seen as a nagging neighbor would damage their social relationships, leading them to think twice before complaining about anything. Thus, in a situation where a gringo would undoubtedly act to see his or her rights (to nightly silence, to a swift service at the bank, whatever) respected, a Brazilian will try instead to establish a good (i.e., enduring and mutually profitable) social relationship with his or her neighbors. He will endure the loud music, and in doing so the people responsible for it will become more or less connected to him and he will be able to expect them to endure his or her own unpleasantness, doing him small favors when requested, etc.

It is not a straight exchange, as, ideally, the relationship will never end. He will not be bartering his endurance of a single night of loud music for one given favor, but, for instance, he will expect a discount at the entrance fee if he ever decides to join the ball. In other words, he will endure the loud music in exchange for a permanent relationship in which he can expect a special treatment, just as he is giving the party people a special treatment.

At the same time, a strong notion of hierarchy comes into play: Brazilians do not see themselves as the equal of every other man, as there are people who are much more powerfully connected in the same networks he inhabits. Let us not forget that the Brazilian equivalent of “money talks and BS walks” is “mais vale ter amigos na praa que dinheiro em caixa” (“friends in the marketplace are worth more than cash”). Thus, in the bank (or if the loud party is thrown by someone powerful), to disturb the social order by complaining loudly would be seen as a social blunder, unless the complainer is more powerful than the bothersome party. If that is the case, the blunder will be the bank’s, for not giving him his due respect.

Thus, if the bank manager is a friend, the average Brazilian will expect his or her friend to fish him out of the queue and take personal care of his or her business: the bank manager’s power becomes his own because they are connected. If he knows nobody at the bank, he is powerless and will not at all see a swift service (perceived as a kind of special treatment, as, looking around, he notices nobody has it!) as his right. On the other hand, he will more often than not chat with the people in the queue, complaining about the service as he would complain about the weather, establishing thus a relationship with them, “fellow underdog”. Then, if he arrives the next day in a store and the store manager is the guy whom he met at the bank line, he will expect some kind of special treatment from him (anything from a smile to a good suggestion of what is the best buy), as they are already connected. Needless to say, if you want a good life in Brazil, don’t forget your Dale Carnegie!

For further reading, I would recommend a book by the famous anthropologist Roberto daMatta, called Carnivals, Rogues, and Heroes: An Interpretation of the Brazilian Dilemma (ND Kellogg Inst Int’l Studies).

— Carlos

In the two examples Marcus mentions, it seems he’s confusing tolerance with despair. It is a fact that many people will have no scruples at all to play loud music at inconvenient hours, but it being your neighbour inhibits a direct protest, as you’d be reluctant to start a conflict, and calling the police is useless. In the case of bank queues, they are a nuisance you can do nothing about (although I heard about a law imposing penalties on banks if you have to wait for more than X-minutes) – and provided you’re not one of the lucky class of elderly or carrying a baby who enjoy the privilege of a special cue (fila preferencial). Or even better, if you belong to the elite customers who are received by a personal bank manager (Itau Personnalit etc).

As for the second part of your question, it certainly is not the Paulistanos who would qualify as the most tolerant (just drive in our crazy traffic to be convinced!). In general terms, Brazilians tend to be more patient and relaxed the further north you move, and the further you go to the ‘interior’ as opposed to big cities. If that’s not exactly the same as tolerance, it helps.

— Jacques Allain

I assure you the loud music is in operation everywhere! Not just in São Paulo! Since coming to Brasil 6 years ago, I have lived in several cities, large and small, in the North East, SP and RJ… the noise is still my biggest stress point. It isn’t limited to the favelas and morros either!

In my city, one of the worst offenders is a club frequented by upper and upper-middle class people; many weekends the ‘party’ begins at around 11.30pm and continues until 5 – 6am. When I have asked Brazilians why they accept what in the UK would be considered antisocial, I am usually told, ‘It is Saturday night’.

— Tamara

Are there any burning questions you have about Brazil, or other issues that you’re curious about, such as Brazilian culture? If so, send your questions to with “Ask a Brazilian” in the subject. We will forward to our Brazilian experts, and publish the best questions (and replies) on the site.

Previous questions in this article series:

Ask a Brazilian: Screens
Ask a Brazilian: Brazilian Wax
Ask a Brazilian: Flashing Lights
Ask a Brazilian: Lemon and Limes
Ask a Brazilian: Shocking Showers

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