Brazil is a truly captivating place, yet it’s so complex it might strike many people as enigmatic. That’s why we’ve put together a list of fascinating facts about Brazilian culture. From unwritten rules of behavior, to the country’s exciting food culture, to highlights of the greatest show on Earth (i.e. Brazilian carnival),… it’s all here!
Now let’s start our journey through all things Brazil?
Brazilian Culture Facts: A Short Introduction
We’ll see if Brazil can make a good first impression on you!
1. Brazilians are indeed very informal
Personal space is literally a foreign notion. And handshakes are mostly restricted to business meetings, as informal gatherings feature mandatory kissing and hugging — doesn’t matter if the people involved are being introduced for the first time.
On a more serious note, that goes all the way to how tons of people deal with norms and institutions. Jeitinho brasileiro, or “the little Brazilian way” sums up the consolidated practice of gaming the system and bending the rules in your favor.
2. Looking good and staying fit are highly prized
Surely, the hectic pace of modern life has Brazil flirting with increasing obesity and heart attack rates. Still, the number of gyms, health food shops, vegan restaurants, and beauty salons across cities seems imposing for a middle-income country.
Also, everywhere you go there’s someone exercising, from outdoor gyms, to beaches, to large parking lots. More impressively, Brazil is second only to the United States in the number of plastic surgeries performed each year.
3. Outdoor socializing is our no. 1 hobby
Apart from Brazil’s subtropical South, temperatures hardly fall below 10°C anywhere in the country. In coastal areas, specifically, they usually average between 20-ish and low 30s. So it’s just natural everybody will linger outside over a glass of ice-cold beer (or stupid cold as we like calling it).
Of course we can’t overgeneralize, yet this habit is so widespread it had to make our list of Brazilian culture facts.
4. Music is the lifeblood of the country (together with soccer, obvs)
While samba is revered as Brazil’s national music, it’s not exactly huge outside Rio. Rather, most regions have one or more distinctive genres that match its predominant lifestyle, so to speak. Every now and then, a new hybrid emerges and turns into a countrywide fad.
Brega-funk has been the hottest sound for a little less than two years. It merges together two Brazilian fusions: Funk Carioca (Miami Bass+Gangsta Rap) and Tecnobrega (Caribbean genres+electronic music+romantic ballads).
5. There’s no such thing as a private beach
With 7,491 km (4,655 mi) of Atlantic coastline and 2,095 beaches to pick from, that’s not too bad. What’s more, a seaside gated community must let prospective beachgoers in if the only way to access a beach is passing through its land.
And in case you go on a boat ride and come upon a lovely beach on a private island, there’s nothing the owner can legally do to prevent you from enjoying the shore. (But because we all know how people are crazy, avoid doing that.)
A Few Culinary Aspects
Brazilian culture facts that don’t discuss the country’s colorful cuisine shouldn’t be taken seriously.
6. Brazil is the capital of Planet Fruit
You’re certainly familiar with Brazilian nuts like cashews (which actually grow attached to cashew apples!) and, well… Brazil nuts. But several fruits that folks across the world eat on a regular basis are indigenous to Brazil. That includes pineapples, passion fruit, and cacao. (The Mexican Olmecs invented chocolate, though.)
And on top of that, there’s a myriad of other kinds of fruit that most Brazilians would fail to tell apart, such as mangaba, pitanga, siriguela, cupuaçu, pequi,… These, combined with the ones brought over in the past 500 years, total more than 300 varieties of fruit being currently grown in the country.
7. Mixing radically different foods on a single plate is commonplace…
Most Brazilians will have rice, beans, a cut of meat, and a couple extras (farofa — meaning pan-fried cassava flour —, a simple green salad, and fries being the most common) on a daily basis.
More adventurous eaters, though, won’t think twice before adding in a different protein, pasta,… or sushi! The fact that pay-by-weight buffets are all over the place helps locals indulge in this habit.
8. …While eating with your hands is mostly frowned upon
Whether for etiquette purposes or to avoid greasy hands, Brazilians tend to use silverware even when it’s less efficient. Pizza is rarely eaten with your hands (but since it’s normally gooey and thin-crusted, I’ll let it slide). And I’ve seen folks eat burgers with a fork and knife at restaurants offering table service.
The sole exception comes in the form of the deep-fried snacks Brazilians are obsessed with, like the coxinhas (thigh-shaped fritters filled with shredded chicken and cream cheese) pictured above. Yet even then there’s typically a paper napkin protecting the hands against the food.
9. Festa Junina is our best-kept secret
Fusing together the Catholic feast honoring St. John the Baptist and European midsummer traditions, our beloved winter celebration is about putting on bumpkin costumes, lighting bonfires, dancing to the quadrille, and above all stuffing our face with delicious corn- and peanut-based foods.
Brazilian Carnival Facts
No list of Brazilian culture facts would be complete without mentioning our favorite festival: Carnival.
10. Rio’s Carnival is not so much about the samba school parades
Granted, the four-night competition that takes place in Rio’s Sambadrome is unique and spectacular. But whereas most locals will want to take part in or watch it live at least once, we’ll most often stick to the hundreds of street parties going down all around town, the so-called blocos.
Why is that? Well, they’re free, and in most cases you can get really close to the band. Plus, there’s a bloco for every taste, from the huge one covering Beatles’ songs to the unofficial one that runs for 12+ hours and can be located by word of mouth only.
11. And there’s a lot more to Brazilian Carnival too
Salvador da Bahia (seen below) and Recife, two big cities in Northeastern Brasil, are famous nationwide for their Carnival. Historic Ouro Preto, located about 400 km (249 mi) from Rio, is particularly popular with twenty-somethings.
Even São Paulo, which would traditionally be deserted for the entire Carnival week, has witnessed a bloco boom in recent years. In 2020, it went on to become the top Carnival destination for domestic tourists.
12. Carnival is political in a typically Brazilian way
While humor in Brazil is overall less subtle than, say, in the Anglosphere, cheerful satire has plenty of currency. Carnival provides the perfect occasion for going after powerful figures.
Whether a sassy costume, a name for a bloco that is just a little off-color, or a chant taking aim at a disliked politician, anything goes.
13. Singers scramble to record the one song that everybody will learn by heart
You don’t measure Carnival hits by how much airplay they get, but by how often crowds will sing them a cappella. Because the event requires a lot of walking around and riding public transportation to go from one street party to the next, people will burst into song all the time.
They’ll normally intersperse classic ones from decades past with a couple songs released in the preceding weeks. While this peculiarity has produced many one-hit wonders, several staples of the Brazilian pop music scene have built their careers on their Carnival triumphs.
14. Ash Wednesday is the national day of hangover
Technically, Ash Wednesday is not a public holiday, but most nonessential workers will either get the day off or start their shifts after noon. Yet after four to five days of alcohol-fueled partying, only the strongest (or most stubborn) will go out on Wednesday.
The rest of us will spend the day housebound, sighing over the long year that separates us from the next Carnival.
Thought-Provoking Facts about Brazilian Culture
We can’t ignore a few consequential Brazilian culture facts if we’re to do a deep dive on the nation’s major cultural traits.
15. This is a country of stark contrasts
Some of them are good, like our vastly diverse landscapes and ecosystems and the very distinct regional cuisines that make up our food culture. Some are disheartening, though. Brazil ranks among the ten most unequal countries income-wise and the twenty least peaceful.
That, however, shouldn’t deter your visit: tourist areas are generally safe, while community-based tourism in Rio’s favelas (the poorer, unplanned neighborhoods) has been thriving for 10+ years.
16. Brazil will teach you the meaning of syncretism
Wearing white on New Year’s Eve originated within an Afro-Brazilian religion called Candomblé. So did throwing flower bouquets into the sea as a gift to Yemọja, the patron spirit of oceans. But both traditions have become widespread across Brazil and are followed even by folks who go to mass every Sunday. (In the past few decades, white clothing lost its religious connotations altogether.)
This phenomenon attests to an all-Brazilian brand of syncretism, i.e. adopting elements of (at least in theory) conflicting creeds.
17. Yet it’s not as liberal as it seems
Readers who follow global politics might be aware that, in 2018, Brazilians elected a highly conservative President defending a radical downsizing of the federal government. Despite the fact that the absolute majority want to keep our (weak) welfare state, his (purported) anti-corruption stance and staunch rejection of identity politics convinced millions of voters.
The election results are closely related to the moralistic view of society that many Brazilians hold. This is, after all, a deeply religious country. Some things remain ironic, however: going topless is a no-no, but near-nudity is ubiquitous during Carnival.
18. Brazil + the rest of Latin America… it’s complicated
While this has somewhat changed in the last two decades, historically Brazil was neither culturally nor economically integrated with the other nations in the region. Tons of Brazilians wouldn’t even identify as Latin Americans.
Argentina is the only Latin American country Brazil has always had a rather pretty relationship with. For longer than a century, both nations vied for supremacy over South America. From the 1980s onwards, though, they have turned into economic and geopolitical partners. But on the soccer pitch, the rivalry lives on.
19. Brazilians + our own country… still more complicated
The “Mongrel Complex” has become a cliché used to describe how countless Brazilians look up to richer nations as they make little of their homeland. Brazilian soccer and the pride in our exuberant nature and diverse culture act as mild national unifiers, yet demeaning the country seems almost fashionable in some circles. As if that wasn’t enough, the political divide is at an all-time high.
That said, we do love to hear foreigners sing Brazil’s praises. A bunch have got the memo and created YouTube channels now boasting millions of followers. Turns out speaking about Brazil to Brazilians is quite profitable!
The word saudade is key to understanding the psyche of native Portuguese speakers, including Brazilians. It describes a feeling associated with both nostalgia and yearning — far from a sad one, though. Hopefully that’s precisely the effect our post has had on you, making you long for something you’ve yet to experience! Brazil is that overwhelming.
Are you ready to lose (and then find) yourself in such a mesmerizing place? For more interesting curiosities about Brazilian culture, history, and geography, check out this article on fun facts about the South American giant. I’m sure you’ll be amazed!