Advice for American men dating Brazilian women
One cannot generalize and say that all Brazilians or Brazilian women for that mattter are the same. Brazilians differ in terms of socio-economic status, class, educational levels and ethnicity.
On the other hand, there are some cultural similarities in the way people are raised. Don’t be surprised if both of you have communication problems due to upbringing differences, as well as food preferences and other habits that can cause trouble.
Here are some general pointers (which I repeat may not apply to all Brazilian women):
1) There is a strong sense of family in Brazil. The extended family is also important. People tend to live close to Mom and Dad, aunts and uncles. It is also a matriarchal society (although men had the power for generations, when it comes to raising kids, mothers are considered more important than fathers). There are not many people living alone in Brazil. Almost everyone has a partner. Divorce rates unfortunately are growing, so this may change. Still, it is not a very individualistic society. Children live with their parents until they get married. That of course makes kids closer to their parents, and affects how they see their future family as well.
2)There are also different rules of conduct for couples. Married people or people in committed relationships do not go out on “Boys Night Out” or “Girls Night Out” where they can flirt with other people. Men might play soccer with their buddies in the afternoon, women might have a coffee and go shoppping with their female friends but they do not go out at night and leave their partner alone at home. No strip clubs for men in committed relationships either. If your GF finds out you go to these places you can expect a very strong reaction.
3) When it comes to engagement and weddings, Brazilian women are used to do things differently. We do not require you to spend thousands on a diamond ring. We do not have that tradition (see my post about engagement rings). We are happy with a simpler ring or just the wedding band. Some of us though, after living in America and seeing so many De Beers ads, may want a diamond ring after all. We also do not have to wait for a man to propose. These things are decided jointly by the couple. The old fashioned on your knees proposal is not heard off in real life. Americans love the whole creative proposal thing; Brazilians don’t. They decide to get married and communicate it to their families, period.
4) Do not even think of having a dalliance with hookers and strippers just because it is your bachelor’s party. We consider that cheating and don’t be surprised if your fiancé cancels the wedding if she finds out. We do not even have the bachelor party tradition. Very few men celebrate that, while the bride’s friends do get together to get her presents for her new home. Sometimes men participate as well (a tradition that is also starting here).
5) Latin people in general are more emotional and more possessive, keep that in mind when you fight with her. Tears, jealous fits, strong reactions to something you did wrong are all typical of our emotional nature.
6) Women are raised to be feminine, to do girly things (they may have piano and ballet lessons, not play baseball or rough sports, for example). Many are still raised to get married and have children as their first focus and have a career as a secondary pursuit-a necessary evil. However, that pattern is changing with the younger generations, who are now investing more in their careers.
7) Women are encouraged to spend a lot of their time on their looks-body, clothes and hair. Staying attractive is sine qua non in a culture that judges people by how they look.
8) Even though racism is not as pervasive and divisionary as in the U.S.A., lighter skinned Brazilians look down on darker skinned Brazilians. They see darker Brazilians as belonging to the lower social classes. That is typical of countries that were afflicted by the horrible thing that slavery was. Brazil had slavery just like the American South, and one of the consequences of slavery is that it can take several generations for their descendants to reach the same level of success in life that their former owners have. Therefore, Brazilians from African descent became part of the struggling poor in Brazil-they have had a harder time getting education and good jobs. Fortunately, this situation has improved, and Brazilians aren realizing how nefarious racism is.
9) BBrazil still has a subtle-or not so subtle-class system. There isn’t much social interaction between classes (unless the “lower classes” are working for the “higher” ones). Sad but still true. Fortunately, Brazil has made some steps in improving wealth distribution in the last decades.
10) Many middle class Brazilian girls from the middle to upper classes were often raised with maids. Therefore, they are not used to doing housework, which is seen as something beneath them. Working with your hands in Brazil is also associated with the lower economic classes.
11) Brazilian men and women oftentimes do not know how to fix things or are impractical due to cheap labor and being catered to all their lives. Many Brazilians when coming to the US for the first time do not even know how to pump gas-having had gas station servers all their lives. Women particularly, are sometimes not very practical when it comes to daily life and expect you to do all the dirty work for her :)
12) Brazilian women expect the man to be a gentleman. They like a man who opens doors, drives them places, changes their oil, etc. They are not very good when it comes to practical things (they eventually learn after a few years living here), but when it comes to decision making, Brazilian women are opinionated and not shrinking violets. They expect you to respect them and share your decisions with them if part of a couple.
13) Never, under any circumstances, call your GF or wife the B word. Name calling in Brazil is considered extremely offensive, and a man should never call his wife names no matter how terrible the argument is. A wife, like a mother or a daughter, is sacred. American movies show a lot of cursing (the F word seems to be the most popular). Brazilians associate cursing with gangsters and lowlifes.
14) The mother in law thing. Many older women in Brazil are in dire economical situation due to widowhood, divorce, lack of opportunities or low paid jobs. The older generation of women did not usually work outside the home. Therefore, they expect their children to take care of them. Many of these mothers interfere in their childrens’ relationships and try to control their daughters or sons. They are also often lonely and live vicariously through their offspring. They use guilt tactics to keep the children catering to their needs and see the children-in-law as the devil themselves. They take their kids’ side if they have arguments with their spouses and sometimes destroy marriages with their interference.
Not every mother in law is like that: the ones with careers, the ones in happy relationships and the ones with a life of their own. So beware of the dependant MIL! Anyhow, don’t be surprised if your GF/wife tells you that her mother is coming to spend one month with her-and you. Some Brazilian women never grow up and are very dependant on their mothers. Conversely, Brazilian relatives from the upper middle class will stay in hotels-they want privacy and comfort.
15) You and her (or him, in case of an American woman with a Brazilian man) might have differences when it comes to how to use your time. Brazilians consider Sunday sacred. It is not a day to work, but a day to lounge around, go to the beach, have a barbecue by the pool, go to church (for those still brainwashed by religion or just traditional), watch soccer or Formula One races, visit with friends, go sightseeing, nap or watch movies and other leisure actitivities. Saturday is a day to run errands, but not Sundays! It is not only the Catholic influence but also the fact that in their minds, the work week is for work, while the weekend is for pleasure and rest. So if you like to tinker with your car, wash it, rebuild the roof of your house, clean the garage or mow the lawn on a Sunday you will find resistance. She will feel abandoned. In her mind, you should be with her and not ignoring her with “chores”. Not only that, she was raised seeing her Dad pay someone to do those things. The help works, the middle class and the upper middle class rests and plays.
16) Once you marry and have children with a Brazilian, you have to understand some cultural differences when it comes to being a couple. In Brazil, the focus is on the COUPLE. The children come second. You and your wife are the main unit, not you and your kids. Many American men and women turn their focus to the children after they are born, spending little alone time with their spouse. Not spending enough alone time with your spouse, not romancing them and spending too much time on the kids can create resentment. Brazil does not have the “Daddy and Daughter” culture. Children spend time with their parents together, not with only one parent. Telling your kids how much you love them, hugging and kissing them all the time and not doing the same with your spouse can create resentment. Brazilians want the romance to continue, no matter how long you have been married. They want to walk hand in hand, they want some PDA and they want to know they come first.
17) If you have a more logical and scientific mind and do not tolerate religious myths or fundamentalism, be aware that most Brazilian women are still brainwashed by a Catholic upbringing, Spiritism (a new fad that believes in reincarnation) and the new Evangelical churches that have taken hold of the less educated and fortunate. She will want to attend Church on Sundays, pray to god to make things happen and invoke the Daddy in the sky all the time. She may think your disdain for religion makes you a “bad” person. Either you get into the religion bandwagon with her, ignore her delusional religiosity or try to make her see the light. It’s your call :)
18) Hitting a woman in Brazil is seen with even more disgust than in America. There is a famous saying in Brazil: “You don’t hit a woman even with a flower”. Men who hit their wives are seen as total cowards, since normally men are stronger than women. Hitting someone who’s physically weaker than you is cowardice.
19) In the Brazilian culture, saying you love someone is mostly reserved for romantic love. Men and women in relationships say that to each other. Understand that if your Brazilian girlfriend or wife hears you say “I love you” to random friends it will sound strange. Just the other day I heard a married “Dancing with the stars” contestant telling her dance partner “I love you”. Love in America is basically anyone you like. Parents tell their kids “I love you” automatically, just like saying “bye bye”. In Brazil, one can say “I love my mother”, or “I love soccer”, but “I love you” is reserved for romantic love, straight or gay.
20) Because of the strong sense of family in Brazil, Brazilian women do not like marriages with separate finances. She expects both of you to pull your resources together and save, invest and build for the future. Brazilians are big believers in saving money every month. They do not like to have huge debts and bank owned assets. They have the “casa propria” dream, that is, they like want to own the house they live in. Brazilian women do have the bag lady syndrome, and want to feel financally secure for the future. Your American prenup mentality is not going to go down well with her. She considers marriage a partnership, and as such, whether she works or not, she will contribute by taking care of the household and the children. She likes to make financial decisions as a couple. Again, Brazilian women really see marriage is a team effort and partnership. If that’s not your idea of marriage, she will resent it forever.
21) Finally the good stuff: because of the strong sense of family and their natural warmth, Brazilian women are very loyal, family oriented, feminine looking and affectionate companions!
I know many intercultural/international couples, specially Brazilian women with American spouses. From my experience, the ones that have the best chances of surviving are the ones where the American spouse is very much aware of the Brazilian culture. That is, someone who understands and probably has lived, in Brazil. Someone who learned the language and likes foreign cultures. The very typical American with little curiosity about other cultures has a harder time adapting to the Brazilian personality. It also helps if the American side of the couple is open minded about different issues. Liberal Americans do better than Conservative Americans. Americans who have travelled extensively or lived in other countries also do better, as well as very educated Americans.
The same principle applies to the Brazilian side of the couple: if they live in America, it helps when the Brazilian spouse learns to speak English well, is not too emotionally dependant on their mothers/relatives and has some international experience BEFORE marrying an American. A more cosmopolitan Brazilian who doesn’t need to be surrounded by Brazilians all the time, who is not missing their typical Brazilian foods every day and who is able to make friends from different nationalities.