1 Aug 2016

Going for etiquette gold: travel tips for Olympic spectators

As Rio de Janeiro prepares to host the world’s best athletes at the 2016 Olympic Games, spectators, tourists and business professionals are excitedly packing their bags, checking their tickets and getting ready to descend on one of the world’s most beautiful countries. Like most of South America, Brazil enjoys incredible scenery and landscapes, from the long, sprawling beaches of Copacabana to its rugged mountain ranges.

Olympics fans lucky enough to be heading to Brazil to support their team can enjoy Rio's rich culture and traditions to the full with a few simple etiquette tips:

General greeting and conversation:

Much of Brazil’s social etiquette is based on a strong level of trust and sense of family. Families tend to be quite large and very close, especially the extended family. Unlike some other countries and cultures, the practice of favouring relatives or friends suggests that trust is the main focus and of primary importance.

Meeting and Greeting:

Brazil illustration-02

When meeting someone for the first time in Brazil, the greeting depends on how well you know the person.

  • Men tend to shake hands firmly upon meeting, maintaining steady eye contact to demonstrate confidence and reassurance. It is normal for women to kiss on the cheek, starting with the left and moving to the right.
  • Between friends, hugging and backslapping is common.
  • If you're meeting new contacts for work, business cards should be printed in both English and Portuguese if possible. Cards should then be presented to colleagues with the Portuguese side facing upwards.


Conversation and communication across Brazil is usually relaxed and quite informal.

  • It is common for locals to stand close together while in conversation, even a man and a woman. Don’t mistake this for behaviour that's flirtatious or inappropriate.
  • Unlike in the UK, it is not considered rude to interrupt someone during a conversation or business pitch. As trust is a major factor in Brazil, individuals want to know more about something or someone, so conversational tone can be quite direct. When speaking, particularly about business matters, expect questions and don't mistake this for somebody being nosy.

Invitations and gift-giving:

Brazil illustration-03

Whether you’re visiting Brazil as a tourist or for business, you may be invited to an event or party. Although gift-giving in Brazil is not as ritualistic as for some Eastern cultures, there is still an level of etiquette that those being hosted should observe.


Unlike in the UK, punctuality is not strictly adhered to in social situations in Brazil.

  • It is usual for guests to arrive up to 30 minutes late when invited for dinner.
  • If the invitation is for a party or large gathering, an hour’s lateness is not uncommon.

Dress Codes:

If a dress code is not stated on the invitation, it is always better to err on the side of formality than under-dressing. Although Brazilians tend to dress casually, they will do so with elegance and with flair, and judgment is often passed on others’ appearance. Visitors, therefore, should take note and dress accordingly.

Giving gifts:

Brazil illustration-04

If invited to a social occasion, you should present the hostess with a small gift, usually flowers.

  • For lunch invitations, beverages are a very common gift and a bottle of soda or juice will be appreciated. Even a bottle of cachaça, Brazil’s most popular alcoholic sprit and known locally as pinga, will help your host make a Caipirinha – the country’s national cocktail. You can also show your appreciation for the invitation by bringing a dessert such as a mousse or an ice cream, which work well because of Brazil’s very hot weather.
  • Although savoury dishes are also appropriate, you should avoid those that are hot or may need to be reheated in the host’s house. A cold dish, such as a salad, is a safe alternative.
  • Guests should avoid any gifts in black or purple as these are mourning colours. Likewise, handkerchiefs are associated with funerals so should be avoided.
  • Be advised that gifts are opened upon receipt and if you did not bring a gift for the host, it is usually appropriate and appreciated to send flowers the next day.

James Brookes, illustrations by Wing Po


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