Even though Brazil is an immense country where 210+ million people live, tons of folks abroad don’t know much about it beyond the trifecta soccer-carnival-nature. But these are far from the only stereotypes about Brazil that people bring up when they think of the South American country.
So on this post we’ll be covering the most prevalent stereotypes about Brazil in order both to debunk a bunch of common misconceptions regarding my home country and to show how a number of them actually do hold some truth.
I’ll be 100% biased, yet I promise I know my stuff!
Ready? Let’s go!
How do we handle stereotypes about Brazil?
As Chimamanda Adichie, the Nigerian writer who authored We should all be feminists, puts it, “the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete”. If we’re talking of the Global South (i.e. developing nations), this can be even more of an issue, as favoring simplistic points of view often fuels prejudice and exclusion.
Brazilians in particular are quite hung up on what foreigners think of our country and ourselves. Everywhere across the internet, throngs of passionate commenters flock to any video or controversial article to show how strongly they agree or disagree with whatever’s being stated. Foreigners who seem to know a tad more than the same tired stereotypes about Brazil are almost guaranteed to gain thousands of followers overnight.
Yet while many of us are pretty vocal about everything we think is wrong with our country, woe betide any foreigner that paints Brazil in a bad light! Chances are they’ll be promptly accused of oversimplifying and stereotyping.
Genuine curiosity is always welcome, though. And in case you are or happen to make friends with Brazilians in the future, you’ll notice how we enjoy joking about our country and (most of) the stereotypes I’ll run over next. Sometimes we’ll even let you in on it!
What is Brazil like? — Pervasive stereotypes about Brazil
“Brazil = Rio de Janeiro”
Rio is famous for its stunning beaches, striking granite cliffs, and lively culture. But it hasn’t been our biggest city (that’s São Paulo) or our capital (which is Brasilia) since the 1960s.
It’s not rare to meet Brazilians who resent the obsession of foreign (and domestic to an extent) media with Rio. That’s not unlike Middle America begrudging the world’s fascination with New York, for example.
“Brazil = Amazon rainforest”
The Amazon does cover almost half of Brazil’s territory. Yet less than 10% of Brazilians live there, and I figure not too many of us have ever visited.
The majority of Brazilians live on the coast, amid the 12% that’s left of the Atlantic rainforest, or close to the savannas and shrublands that you’ll find throughout the Brazilian countryside. Brazil’s home to the vastest wetlands on the planet as well.
“Wild animals roam the streets”
In case the tamarin below is what you think of when you picture a wild animal, then sure. Alligators and capybaras (the largest rodents on Earth) can at times be spotted along canals and mangroves. But other than that, no. Maned wolves are terrified of humans, and jaguars hardly venture out of the jungle.
“Brazil is culturally or racially homogeneous”
In a way, we’re more homogeneous than places like, say, the U.S. Immigrants have usually been quick to adopt the local language and culture, and Interracial unions have historically been routine. Consequently, over 40% of Brazilians identify as bi- or multiracial. Plus, Portuguese is the first language of around 98% of Brazilians.
As a continent-sized nation, however, Brazil has amazing regional diversity. Some areas have a considerably larger black community, while others have a majority of third- or fourth-generation Brazilians who descend from European immigrants. Accents, popular foods, and celebrations vary widely between one region and the next.
“Brazilian and ‘Latin American’ cultures are the same thing”
Brazil shares a colonial past and a turbulent history with most of its neighbors. Yet apart from soccer and dulce de leche, commonalities are relatively scarce. Oddly, countless Brazilians wouldn’t even identify as Latin American, though that’s been changing in the last few decades.
Like several countries on the Caribbean, we have a sizable black population and African heritage, but because they’re so tiny we don’t interact with them as much as we could. Like Argentina and Uruguay, we have a strong ranching culture and love our red meat, but our outlook on life seems to be more on the cheerful side.
More importantly, we’re the only Portuguese-speaking country in the Americas — language barriers regularly get in the way of cultural integration.
Oh! And if you can’t wait to stuff your face with tacos next time you come around, please don’t hold your breath.
How do we look? — Stereotypes about the physical appearance of Brazilians
“Brazilian women are attractive”
Since beauty obviously can’t really be measured objectively, this one is neither true nor false.
Helped perhaps by a skin tone that is frequently labeled abroad as “tan”, many Brazilian women have made a name for themselves as top models. This might have something to do with the fame of Brazilian women, but a wild guess is the best I can give you.
“All Brazilians are healthy and fit”
With over 20% of Brazil’s population now considered obese, the country is the 82nd-most obese nation on the planet. This is possibly the bluntest way of debunking this myth.
That said, looks are indeed crucial in Brazil. Gyms, beauty salons, and health food stores are virtually everywhere. So are people exercising outdoors.
And on top of that, we’ve invented a handful of sports.
“Plastic surgery is a national addiction”
This one is accurate, actually. Brazil is second only to the United States for the number of surgeries and procedures performed each year. Breast implants and liposuctions are notably popular.
When it comes to per capita numbers, though, Brazil is the absolute winner, which is even more impressive given it’s a middle-income country. But that appears to be a South American deal, as Argentina and Colombia rank second and third, respectively.
How bad is it? — Negative stereotypes about Brazil
“Corruption is widespread”
Some experts argue Brazilians have a hard time distinguishing what’s public from what’s private. While the causes are not easy to pin down, Brazil loses out on several billions of dollars every year to tax havens and money laundering schemes that involve both government officials and companies.
Many other nations do too, yet they’re apparently stricter when punishing offenders.
“Gun violence is rampant”
To put it simply, it is in inner cities and slums, where police are brutal, and the rule of law is weak. But you’ll be quite safe in tourist areas, where police presence is substantial and efficient. Just don’t flash your diamond necklace around as you wouldn’t in any major city.
“Brazilians are always late”
Important meetings normally start on time. Planes and buses are rarely more than 10 minutes behind schedule. I guess we’re punctual whenever we have to be, then.
Meeting up with friends is another story, though. People show up at parties about an hour late, and nobody acts like that’s a crime. So if you ever plan to hang out with a Brazilian or attend a party here, be advised.
“Brazilians are not exactly hard-working”
Sadly, we are!
On average, Brazilians work 39.5 hours a week, which is longer than the work week of Americans, Germans, and the French (duh).
Latin Americans in general work hard: five out of ten countries with the longest work weeks are in the region. Brazil is tenth, after Colombia, Mexico, Costa Rica, and Chile.
“Brazil has no industries”
Aside from specific sectors, namely agriculture and the oil industry, we’re not leading technology exporters. Our economy is moderately diversified (49th among all nations) and dominated by services, but Brazil produces machines, cars, steel, and a myriad of other industrial items.
What’s more, it’s home to the third-largest aircraft builder in the world, Embraer.
“Brazilians don’t care about politics”
We’ve never been a nation of violent revolutions — just bloodless coups for the mos part. And traditionally people would avoid talking politics with strangers.
Like plenty of countries, though, we’ve become increasingly polarized over the past decade. So protests take place on the reg, heated arguments are now commonplace, and friends and relatives have been drifting apart. Of course social media plays a big role in it.
What fun is it? — Stereotypes about Brazilian culture
“Physical touching is the unofficial language of Brazilians”
This is kind of accurate, after all. Handshakes are restricted to business meetings and formal occasions, and even these might end with hugging and cheek kissing if they turn out fine.
One exception applies, though: (straight) men will never hold hands or kiss as it’s common in many countries. An awkward hug is the closest they’ll get to one another. Talk about macho culture!
“Brazilians are friendly and polite”
Foreigners may get this impression because sometimes we go to great lengths to avoid conflict and disappointing people we care for.
A classic Brazilian move is agreeing to meet up, only to stand you up if you haven’t called or texted on the very day of (or a couple hours before, even) the thing you’d planned together.
That said, we also typically do our best to include everyone in a convo, particularly when it’s someone who’s just been introduced.
“Brazilians are extremely liberal”
This is sort of a double-edged sword, honestly. Granted, the warm weather naturally makes people show more skin. PDA is normally not frowned upon, unless it gets too steamy. But going topless, for instance, is a no-no.
São Paulo hosts the largest LGBT pride in the world, yet folks from within the community still have to deal with a lot of prejudice and even violence, especially in smaller towns. The fact remains that Brazil is a predominantly religious country, where challenging tradition is usually not welcome.
“Everyone listens to Samba and Bossa Nova”
Samba is our classical music, as it were. Most folks are familiar with the standards, but few artists record new Samba songs today. That means you won’t hear Samba very often on commercial radio.
Pop fusions such as Sertanejo and Funk Carioca are far more widespread now, depending on where you are in the country. Brazilians will listen to Samba during Carnival or at specific concerts called Rodas de Samba. Also, outside Rio it’s not too much of a thing anyway.
“Everyone loves and plays soccer”
I don’t, but I won’t speak for myself here. Soccer is indeed a national passion. Boys — and increasingly, girls — play at dirt fields from an early age, dreaming of becoming soccer stars.
Although volleyball, swimming, and more or less organized beach sports are huge as well, they have nothing on soccer when it comes down to it.
So this is one of the truthful stereotypes about Brazil, I guess!
“Brazilians eat meat at all meals”
The everyday meal of Brazilians is some variation of rice, beans, green salad, and meat. Breakfast often includes ham and eggs (but not bacon). And since most folks eat a full lunch and dinner, I’d say this is accurate. That’s not surprising given that Brazil has the second-largest livestock population on Earth after India.
Ironically, though, red meat has been getting more and more expensive in the last couple of years. So people have been replacing it with chicken, fish, or eggs.
See how discovering a few stereotypes about Brazil you weren’t familiar with before is an awesome way of learning a bit more about Brazil? Hopefully it’ll also prompt you to want to draw your own conclusions at first hand!
And in case you feel like reading more about my country and its unique culture, check out this cool list of books we’ve put together. These titles will get you fluent in all things Brazil!