Hello and welcome for day #7 of the Blogtober Challenge here on American Wife Brazilian Kitchen. Thanks for stopping by! And don’t forget to comment here and share this post on your social media to be entered in the $50 gift card giveaway happening at the end of the month! Today I’m reflecting a little about making friends in Brazil! This post is in response to a question/writing prompt from one of my favorite and most faithful readers, MY MOM!! (Hugs and kisses!!!!).
Her comment was: “What is the best way you have found to meet new friends in your “new country?”
So here goes!
First, I’ll preface this by letting you know I’m no social scientist. So don’t take this as the one and only truth. Yes, I use declarative statements but only to share the conclusions of my personal experience. OK.
The following things grease the gears of social life in Brazil, and most relationships form and grow based on a combination of these:
- Food is sacred in Brazil. Not everyone has food, and those who have it are taught from infancy to share what they have, however little it may be. Food is one of the primary love languages of Brazil. So it shouldn’t have surprised me to discover that hiding or withholding food is one of the most profound forms of rejection, something I learned when my Husband picked up on my habit of stashing candy and junk food around the house. Food is an integral part of every social connection in Brazil, from business, to friendship, romance, and family life. Everyone eats, and they eat together. Food is the currency of social life. Much of the communication between people here is unspoken, and food not only fills the stomach; it sends messages. For a Brazilian, offering food is common courtesy, however it also signifies a bid for deeper connection. Refusing food or an invitation to eat together communicates rejection. All in all, one of the best ways to connect with Brazilians is through food. Whether its getting together to take a cooking or baking workshop, enjoying “salgados” (savory pastries) and juice at a “lanchonete” (snack shop), stopping by to share the “cafe da tarde” (afternoon coffee), spending the long weekend at a “churrasco” (barbeque) with the entire extended family, or joining colleagues at a lunch buffet, sharing food is a great way to start making friends in Brazil.
- Since the culture here is very collectivist, “the more the merrier” holds true more often than not when it comes to social life. If you want to make friends, plan on frequenting parties, churches, community events, the mall… any place where people go and do things together in groups. Many times, friendships propagate from larger-scale social events. If you’re an introvert and you feel a cold sweat coming on, don’t worry – Brazilians don’t mind if you disappear for a while to catch your breath and then return to the group. That’s one thing about group socializing that’s nice here. (From a fellow introvert/HSP – Highly Sensitive Person). People tend to come and go. There’s no expectation of constant mingling, and while some people may naturally enjoy being the “life of the party” no one will frown upon you if you’re the quiet, observing type.
- Relationships form somewhat automatically based on finding, or intentionally placing, yourself in the same social circles as someone else. For example, if your child is best friends with another child from school, your family may grow to be friends with the schoolmate’s entire family based on attending school functions together, supervising play dates between your children, hosting birthday parties, and the like. Another example may be a young adult who starts dating the child of their Mother or Father’s best friend after having grown up together and all but been matched by the parents. If, like me, you marry into a Brazilian family, you are automatically friends with your sister(s) in law, and your kid(s) will be friends with their cousins from birth. Or in my son’s case, from conception. His cousins bonded with him while he was growing in my belly, sending “abraços” and “beijos” (hugs and kisses.) This is the perfect example of a friendship born out of circumstances. These friendships begin the easiest of all, but sometimes prove the most complicated because the two people may not share much in common other than being born into the same extended family, church, or other close-knit social circle.
Celebrating common interests
- In Brazil, it’s not so much what sets you apart that attracts potential friends but what you have in common. Again, this characteristic of social life stems directly from collectivism, where group interests rank higher than those of the individual. So it’s to your advantage to search out points of commonality between you and your potential friends. The benefit in this aspect of Brazilian culture is that it alleviates that pressure one can often experience in other cultures to be the most interesting, insightful, unique, self-actualized, talented, brilliant, etc. Here, people really aren’t concerned with how awesome you may or may not be. What matters to them is that you share something in common. Commonality forms the basis for connection. In conversation, don’t feel like you need to give your whole life story or resume. Giving too much information about yourself registers as bragging, and Brazilians don’t have much patience for someone compelled to set themselves above the crowd. So stick to what you have in common with everyone else, and listen more than you talk. People here tend to reward humility. As long as you smile and display openness with your body language, you don’t need to be a brilliant conversationalist. (Again, a word of reassurance for those introverts like myself.)
Keeping the above in mind, here are some ideas to consider if you’re searching for ways to make friends in Brazil…
- Get a job and be mingle with people at work. In Brazil, colleagues often become friends. Contrary to the stigma I perceived in the United States around mixing social and professional life, Brazil seems to encourage this. I’d even speculate that a person’s social intelligence can be a make-it-or-break-it factor when being considered for a job. Since Brazilians place so much value on a positive working environment, you’ll likely enjoy your job and meet some cool people.
- Visit Parks, Squares. Since I started taking my son to the local square on a semi-regular basis, I’ve met other mothers and their kids and enjoyed some very pleasant small talk. One mother gave me some recommendations of good schools in the area, which was great. The kids enjoy playing together and sharing their snacks. It’s all around a great way to meet new people and chat a little bit.
- Go to Church. Seeing the same folks once every week forms a great foundation for making new friends, especially because Mineiros, (people from my state of Minas Gerais) prefer to observe from afar before reaching out to connect. Volunteer in a ministry program. Take your kid to the church school. Attend the mid-week vespers… you’ll soon find yourself in the midst of familiar faces and gradually growing connections with many wonderful folks.
- Frequent bakeries, cafes, and small restaurants. I can’t say I’ve made any friends yet by frequenting my favorite neighborhood bakery, but I’ve gone there often and long enough to recognize quite a few other faithful patrons… and be recognized. And that, in and of itself, contributes to my sense of becoming established in a community. So it’s all good. Plus… delicious food. So what’s not to love?!
- Participate in free public events and classes. From Saturday morning Ti Chi in the central park to pottery classes and free recital series, there’s something for everyone. These events are great for mingling and exchanging contacts.
- Get a gym membership or join a fitness class. Before my son was born, I attended Pilates classes three times a week. Had I stayed longer, I might have made friends with some of the ladies who took class at the same time. My hope is to start again once my son begins school.
- Take a language class at university. This can be a great place to meet fellow expats! Its not uncommon for language students to make friends in class and meet up afterward for some conversation practice. And perhaps a few caipirinhas. (I wasn’t there for that particular outing, but I heard plenty about it the next Monday. Hehe.)
To wrap this up…
After four years in Brazil, I’ve made countless connections and a few new friendships. I’ve yet to consider anyone here a very close friend, but it’s typical for closer friendships to develop over decades. Yes, DECADES. The culture here, particularly in the state of Minas Gerais, features a paradoxical combination of generous hospitality and reservation. The social motto might be summed up as, “Trust, untrusting.” Making friends in Brazil requires patience. I believe it’s worth the wait because the friendships that stick will be there for the rest of my life. Only through countless brief encounters and superficial exchanges does a Mineiro friendship begin to take root and open for more personal disclosure. So for the time and being, I’m honing my small talk skills and patiently investing in the friendships that have sprouted so far.