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Saving Face in Brazil

Saving face generally refers to the act of avoiding embarrassment and disrespect to others.  While most relate saving face to cultures in Asia, this phenomenon is also true in Brazil.

Brazilians are a very proud people.  They love being Brazilian and are proud of where they come from.  They are also a fun-loving people, warm, open and easy to socialize with.  When amongst each other, or in groups of friends, Brazilians tease each other just like many other cultures do.  The issue of saving face comes into play when Brazilians interact with those outside their close-knit group.  Family and friends, for example, are part of their ingroup, while strangers and acquaintances are part of their outgroup.

In Brazil, teasing someone from your ingroup is acceptable, and, in fact, very common.  On the other hand, teasing someone from your outgroup is frowned upon.  If a Brazilian gets made fun of in public by someone he does not know well anger can set in.  This is because the Brazilian is trying to save face.  He does not want to be humiliated in front of strangers.  He always wants to promote a positive image and retain his self-respect.  Any challenge to either of these can result in loss of  face and embarrassment. 

While in Brazil, be careful not to tease or challenge acquaintances too harshly in front of others.  It is a good rule to follow what your colleague is doing.  Let him do the teasing first.  This shows he is comfortable with it and will most likely be fine with a little teasing in return.

Last update on 25 February 2010 06:24:27


  • jenniefr1
    jenniefr1 24 September 2012 00:24:07

    I think it is always a good thing to be a little reserved when first meeting people. I see that there are some Brazilians who are very open, warm and funny, and others who are more reserved, just as in all cultures. I think this article could pretty much be applied to anyone from any country. It is nice to be reminded of it, however!

  • wjwoodward
    wjwoodward 21 March 2012 12:40:16

    Gosh, I find it rather strange that Mallory chose one small and insignificant line of your text to pick apart... "the Brazilian". Obiously it was intended as THE PERSON which is easily understood. How that comes across in any way as animal-esque or treating Brazilians as a specie I fail to grasp.

    I was born and raised in Canada. In many ways we are a people very much like Brazilians and we share with them this trait of teasing only those who are closest to us. As you point out so rightly it is a sign that we are comfortable enough with the person to let our hair down. The big difference is that we (Canadians) tend to be much more conservative by nature and therefore if teased by the 'wrong' person we can really get hurt.

    Many cultures share this trait of joking with and teasing their best friends and family. It is far from being something new or exclusively Brazilian or of any other culture for that matter.

    Mallory clearly discounted the glowing and well deserved comments you made about Brazilians in the beginning of the article, which clearly demonstrate your love and respect of the Brazilian people. As I see it she is just being overly sensitive about the whole thing.

    One thing that I have found out in my ten years living in Brazil is that many individuals are extremely sensitive for some reason, they see criticism where it does not exist and become quite offended by perceived criticism of the country, the people or culture and they become extremely defensive.

    On the whole I found the article spot on and give it two thumbs up.

    William James Woodward

  • malloryelise
    malloryelise 26 February 2010 13:31:26

    sorry, but isn't it a universal human trait that no one likes to be teased or humiliated in front of others? And though you probably didn't mean it, worded phrases such as "This is because the Brazilian is trying to save face." make "the Brazilian" (the??) seem like a species in a Nat Geo document you are narrating. As i am part of a large Brazilian family now, i'm not sure i agree with the animal-esque "phenomenon" you are pinning on Brazilians in general(how is this a phenomenon? family is close and strangers are not? is this simply a Brazilian thing?). If you go out in the street and make a slur at anyone anywhere trouble is bound to happen. Haven't you seen Jersey Shore? Brazilians are indeed proud, but i'd say more than anything they are extremely humble and ashamed at the same time. I would say that the "Brazilian Phenomenon" is the love-hate relationship Brazilians have with their homeland. In cultural analysis, generalizations are the most dangerous of observances.

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