Written by: Bill Feest
Just two weeks into my internship, I have already had to quickly adjust to the subtle differences of working and doing business in another country than my own. Brazilians, at least everyone that I’ve met, are very friendly people, hardworking, and fun-loving. Just as you or I. But there are a few specific differences in the Brazilian culture that are different from what I am used to and I have had to quickly adapt.
One of the more obvious and probably well-known is the Brazilian concept of time. “I’ll give you a call back in 15 minutes,” usually does not mean anything close to 15 minutes. This can be frustrating at first. But once you understand and accept that that’s just how it works, you learn to go about whatever you were doing and hope for a call back later that day. If not, just try the guy back tomorrow.
Which brings me to the other little Brazilian quirk: following up. Everything, and I mean everything, that is important must be followed up on. Back at my old job in the states, if I email someone requesting something, then send two follow ups making sure they’re getting it for me, by the third request I’m probably going to get myself smacked upside the head with whatever it was I was asking for. Here in Brazil, if you don’t bother to send that second, third, even forth email, that person is probably going to assume it wasn’t that important after all. This behavior was difficult for me to change at first, and I’m still working on it. The mouse still hovers over the send button for quite some time on that third email, imagining the huffs and eye rolls that the recipient will undoubtedly respond with. But in the end I have to remind myself that things simply work differently here.
The last example I have is not really a Brazilian culture things, but a company culture thing. The company that I am working for, Votorantim Cimentos, has an office in the crowded city of São Paulo. Their office is not quite big enough for everyone to have their own desk, so they work on almost a first-come first-serve basis. By that I mean you grab a desk wherever there’s space when you get in. It works because everyone is in and out of meetings all day, so there’s always enough room. But for me, it was extremely uncomfortable to be commandeering the desk of someone much higher in the ranks. This may be one that I don’t ever really get used to.