Ten Differences between Britain and Brazil

I am posting this text about my personal experience of diferences between Brazil and the UK in response to the WordPress day 7 Writing 101 Challenge

With the World Cup starting this week, I thought people might be interested in reading my thoughts on the differences between Britain, where I was born, and Brazil, where I have lived for the past 19 years. I can of course only speak from my own experience, which may diverge substantially from that of others and is largely restricted to the Northeast region of the country.

1. Poverty and Inequality
Although abject poverty has largely been eradicated in the past twelve years and it would be wrong to describe Brazil as a poor or underdeveloped country, there is still a yawning gulf between rich and poor. Britain is one of the most unequal of so-called developed nations, but the extent and everyday visibility of casually accepted inequality in Brazil will probably still shock a UK visitor.

2. The Cost of Living
The problem of inequality in Brazil is exacerbated by the relatively high cost of living. International visitors should not expect food, drink and accommodation to come cheap. Neither is the fact that something is expensive any guarantee of good quality. For good or ill, there is no real equivalent in Brazil of the kind of low-budget, but relatively high quality, supermarkets that are common in the UK. There is no single explanation for the phenomenon that economists and journalists call the custo Brasil, but one cause is certainly the high taxation and stringent labor laws, which hit businesses especially hard, without necessarily providing the benefits they should for the neediest members of society.

3. Corruption
Although Brazilians complain about it incessantly and there have been a number of high-profile cases recently, I do not think that Brazil is especially corrupt compared to other countries, even those that rank highly on transparency ratings. In many political systems, corruption has simply been institutionalized—and is thus subject to regulation—rather than eradicated. Think of MPs’ expenses in the UK or the extent of lobbying in the US political system. Likewise bribery, which is much rarer in today’s Brazil, tends to be institutionalized in the UK, where the police and civil servants are paid disproportionately high wages compared to, say, teachers and nurses. Influence-peddling is largely unnecessary in the UK, where the old boys network is still the norm: of the ten post-war UK Prime Ministers who attended university, only one (Gordon Brown—and what became of him?) did not go to Oxford.

4. Football
It is a cliché that Brazilians are football crazy and enthusiasm for the national team certainly runs high, especially during the World Cup. However, interest in football in general has recently been on the wane. I would say that football is much more of a national obsession in England. In Brazil, you will find none of the ill-tempered mass outpouring of grief that occurs among England fans when their team is knocked out of international competitions. When the Seleção loses, Brazilian fans quietly take down the bunting and go to bed…

5. Sexual Promiscuity
Contrary to the images of skimpily-clad sambistas that appear in the international media, Brazil is not an especially sexually permissive country. Carnival has traditionally provided some officially-sanctioned and brief outlet for the libido but, for the most part, Brazilians are a fairly socially-conservative people. Sex tourists will be mostly disappointed and are definitely not welcome.

6. Drugs and Alcohol
The kind of binge drinking that blights the weekends in the UK is severely frowned on in Brazil. Although there has been some relaxation in recent years, the possession and distribution of illegal drugs are still considered serious crimes. International guests would be well-advised to control themselves.

7. Punctuality
Every culture has a different idea of punctuality. In Brazil, a leeway of 45 minutes is totally acceptable in most circumstances…. Up to two hours for a social occasion…. And even longer for politicians or people who think they are important… However, the impression, widespread in Brazil, that the British are especially punctual, is largely a myth… In my experience, there is a leeway of about 15 minutes for business, a bit longer for pleasure, in the UK. Politicians and VIPs everywhere in the world seem to think that they are entitled to keep people waiting.

8. Work
Brazilians work extremely hard and take great pride in this. It is not uncommon for people to wake up at 5 in the morning to start work at 7 and stay at the office until 8 or 9 in the evening. You often hear men bragging about how little they sleep. In the UK, although austerity and growing inequality have taken their toll, a 9-5 working day is still regarded as the ideal norm and everyone complains about having to wake up early in the cold, dark, damp mornings…

9. Noise
Anyone coming to Brazil for a bit of peace and quiet should stay at home or try Finland. Brazilians abhor silence and are suspicious of anyone who is taciturn or reserved. People are expected to talk a lot and to talk loudly… and children are coached to do so from a very early age. Every minute of the day is filled with a comfort-blanket of music or the sound of the TV… Britons, by contrast, while not averse to a noisy pub, now and again, tend to value the silence of a rapidly receding natural environment and strive to recreate this in their homes. Voices are lowered and the volume of the television turned down, for fear of bothering the neighbors. Music is a private experience fed directly into the ear via an ipod.

10. Diversity
Brazil likes to portray itself as a ‘rainbow nation’ and its history of immigration and much greater tolerance of the melting pot even than the United States certainly justifies this. Brazil has received and welcomed a constant stream of immigrants, from Ashkenazi Jews fleeing persecution in 16th century Portugal to German and Italian dissidents seeking refuge from Hitler and Mussolini, and economic exiles from Lebanon and Japan. These individuals have contributed enormously to Brazil’s history. The current President, whose family hailed originally from Bulgaria, is one of them.

There is still, however, a certain coyness about asserting divergent racial and cultural identities. Only recently has the longstanding Jewish presence in Brazil begun proudly to declare itself as such rather than attempt to blend in. Although African culture has permeated Brazil to a far greater degree than in any other South American country, African-Brazilians still make up a hugely disproportionate portion of the poor and go almost entirely unrepresented in the higher echelons of society. Despite rising numbers and growing recognition of their rights, indigenous Brazilians are routinely ignored and abused.

Brazilians who visit the UK are surprised by the many languages that are now spoken on the streets of London… UK visitors to Brazil should not expect to hear anything but Portuguese and would be strongly advised to brush up a bit on the basics of the local language, before setting foot in the country, since few Brazilians speak English or any other foreign language or even aspire to.

Brazil is a vibrant melting-pot still dominated by a Lusophone monoculture… Britain is a newly (and thankfully) diversified nation, whose passion for multiculturalism is still driven and resisted, in equal measure, by an overwhelming sense of guilt.

Wherever we may be in the world, we are still a long way away from the kind of genuine tolerance and celebration of diversity that the vast majority desire. Let us all strive for that!


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