Communicating with Brazilians

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by Hans Durrer

Returning from an extended stay in Brazil, I started to read Tracy Novinger’s Communicating with Brazilians: When „Yes“ means „No“ (University of Texas Press, Austin, 2003) with great interest. Already after the first few pages I decided to like this book. Because of sentences like these:

„Beyond focusing attention on a nation’s characteristics that seem exotic and foreign to outsiders, to communicate successfully across cultures it is sometimes important to just rely on common sense. Small towns in both the United States and Brazil, for example, are more conservative than are large cities, as is generally true throughout the world.“

„Most of us think that we act through our own free will. But think again. For the most part, we do not.“

„Culture is the logic by which we give order to the world … Put simply, culture is the way we do things around here.“
Given that, in 1952, Alfred Kroeber and Clyde Kluckhohn compiled a list of 164 definitions of “culture” (in Culture: A Critical Review of Concepts and Definitions) this is a refreshingly succinct and useful statement.

Now let’s have a look at the Brazilians who Darcy Ribeiro characterises as „better than others because bathed in black and Indian blood, a people whose role from here on will be less a matter of absorbing European things than of teaching the world how to live with more joy and more happiness.“ I think Darcy Ribeiro is right, I do indeed believe that Brazilians live with more joy and happiness than others. All others? No idea, really, but definitely with more joy and happiness than the Swiss. Needless to say I can already hear some protests so let me hasten to add: save for one or two exceptions.

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