Most of the time, we think that we act through our free will. But think again, and we will see for most part, we do not. We all communicate. Communication is a deliberate or accidental transfer of meaning. It is a system of behavior. Moreover, we cannot stop communicating because all behavior is communication, and we cannot stop behaving in one way or another. Even if we maintain absolute silence and attempt not to move a muscle, our lack of response is itself a response.
Thus, living in a "global village" as Marshall McLuhan said many years ago, whether one likes it or not, we are linked physically and electronically to people around the globe. Of this fact, how should we interact in communication with others in this "global village" where everyone possesses his or her own culture? To become more adept at communication with a person who is culturally different from ourselves, we need to learn not only about their culture, but also about our own. A culture is a system of knowledge, beliefs, value, customs, and behaviors that are acquired, shared, and used by members during daily living.
Thus, our behavior is taught to us from birth. We learn when we may speak, and when we may not. We learn which gestures are acceptable, and which are not. We learn whether we can eat food with our hands, which utensils to use at the table, and what purpose. We learn when to shake hands, who we should kiss, and what manner. We learn what tone of voice we should use, how close we should stand to people to converse, whether and where we should touch them, when and how to make eye contact, and for how long. We learn all those behaviors in order to be incorporated into the environment, and be accepted by others.
Thus, when we interact with others who belong to different culture, for us to understand each other, we need to consider their own culture. I was born in Haiti and now I live in Pennsylvania. Things become more difficult for me to be integrate in this new society. I thought the problem came from me. But I met with a friend from Brazil, things are changed. I learn about her culture and how communication works in her culture. I was impressed to see how our cultures were similar. I also could understand it was because I did not know how to communicate with others of different culture. First of all, with nearly 190 million inhabitants, Brazil represents the largest country with the largest population in South America. It is also the only Portuguese-speaking country in the America. The capital is Brasilia, and about three quarters of all Brazilians belong to the Roman Catholic Church. Language is one of the strongest elements of Brazil's nation unity. Portuguese is spoken by nearly 100 percent of the population. The only exceptions are some members of Amerindian groups and immigrants, who have not yet learned Portuguese.
However, there is much difference between the Portuguese spoken in Brazil and that spoken in Portugal. After all, Brazilians are gracious people, with plenty sense of humor. Actually, the primary rule for personal interaction for Brazilian is to remain courteous, pleasant and cordial in all circumstances. They don't care where you are from, if you speak the language or not, and they are more open to everyone. However, aggressiveness, confrontations, loss of face, hostility, overt competition, and individual goals are to be avoided at all costs.
For Americans, we always said "Time is Money", but for Brazilians, it seems "Time is Communication. " Communication is the most important element in Brazil, in any domain. In the world of trade for example, Brazilians take time to know who they are doing business with before they can work effectively. They prefer face-to-face meetings to written communication, as it allows them to know the person with whom they are doing business. At the same time, when it comes to business agreements, Brazilians insist on drawing up detailed legal contract. Thus, the individual they deal with is more important than the company.
In addition, communication is often informal and does nor rely to strict rules of protocol. Anyone who feels they have something to say will generally add their opinion, because it is considered acceptable to interrupt someone who is speaking. For most people, family is the foundation of the social structure and forms the basis of stability. In Brazil, although things have changed, families tend to be large, and the extended family is quite close. They live together until children get married, but they are still connected in a way. For example, they don't live far away from their parents' home.
Cousins are like brothers and sisters. They eat and spend great of their time together. Moreover, if a woman has children, and she is single, the family usually helps her. They also have school for little children that are affordable, which is a kind of "daycare". Parents raise their children with strict rules. The respect of elders is important. You will never see a child or a teenager barking an unacceptable word, such as cursing word. Brazilians kids learn table manners and etiquette at an early age because of the traditional Sunday lunches.
At home or in a restaurant, meals are still sacred: a time to eat, but also to share precious moments with family and friends. Breakfast at home is a simple affair in Brazil: coffee, milk, bread and jam, sometimes cheese and ham, with fresh fruit. Also, sitting at your desk or in your cubicle, eating lunch while you work is incomprehensible to most Brazilians, who leave their offices to eat with their colleagues and friends in restaurants and cafes. Brazilians have good principles in general. They stand relatively close when conversing or waiting in line.
Men usually shake hands when greeting one another, while maintaining steady eye contact. Women generally kiss each other, starting with the left and alternating cheeks. Hugging and backslapping are common greetings among Brazilian friends. If a woman wishes to shake hands with a man, she would extend her hand first. When one first learns to speak a second language, we use to associate our words with gestures. When you are communicating with a Brazilian, avoid associating "OK" with a gesture of the hand (which means "OK" for you). This gesture is translated as an insult.
Concerning clothing, Brazilians pride them on dressing well. Men should wear conservative, dark colored business suits. Women usually wear suits or dresses that are elegant and feminine with good quality accessories. When you are invited to a Brazilian's house, for dinner or for a party, dress elegantly, and try to bring the hostess flowers or a small present. Orchids are considered a very nice gift, but avoid purple ones. Avoid giving anything purple or black as these are mourning colors. Moreover, gifts are open when received, and delays are accepted.
Despite the mixing of ethnicity, resulting from the many original Portuguese settlers who were married with native women or had children with African slaves, there is a class system in Brazil. Class is determined by economic status, and skin color. Few Brazilians could be described as racist, although social discrimination on the basis of skin is a daily occurrence. In general, people with darker brown skin are economically and socially disadvantaged. The middle and upper classes often have only brief interaction with the lower classes - usually maids, drivers, etc.
Lifestyle and social aspiration also show the differentials between different classes. Although women make up to 40 percent of the Brazilian workforce, they are typically found in lower paid jobs, such as teaching, administrative support, and nursing. Although the 1988 constitution prohibits discrimination against woman, inequities still exist. The one place where women are achieving equality is in the government. So therefore, as in most countries, Brazilians possesses their own behavior, and communicate in different ways than other people do.
They may not look, think or act as we do, but we still enhance in communication with them, in one way or another. Therefore, in order to avoid any cultural confusion, it is important for us to become more open with others from different cultures and spend some time to know more about their culture. You will also learn more about yourself and your own culture. Furthermore, in the age of globalization, people we once considered strangers are now friends and co-workers, creating the need for us to be "multiculturalists".