The notion of personal space in Brazil is very different from what it is in the United States or in England, for example. In Brazil, people tend to stand closer together in all sorts of social situations. And there is a lot more touching during conversations.
The Brazilian sense of personal space can be a little shocking to Americans at first. You will notice what I mean as soon as your plane lands in Brazil. All the Brazilians will jump up from their seats and scramble to get their bags on the overhead bins. This includes extending their arms in front of you or over your head and even squeezing by behind you to go where they want to go.
You will also notice that no one says “Excuse me” when they walk really close by you. They are not being rude. It is just that we Brazilians do not feel the need to apologize for passing too close to you, unless we bump into you, when it would be expected to apologize. But we usually do not even notice someone just because they walked by close to us.
Cultural differences in everyday life
Here is a situation: Say you are in a bookstore, standing by the books reading something, and someone passes by right behind you. During my first visit to the U.S. I did just that: I walked by someone who was standing checking out the books. It was no big deal in my Brazilian view as I did not touch the person. Well, this person was annoyed and said an unfriendly “Excuse me” that very much surprised me. The fact is that in Brazil I would not worry about it, unless, as I said earlier, I bumped into the person.
When in line at the supermarket or the ATM, Brazilians can stand right behind each other. You may even feel a purse or an elbow hitting you. It can be quite uncomfortable when you come from a culture where people keep their physical distance from each other.
Ah, and the joy of going to concerts in the U.S. It is so much easier to get close to the stage and actually be able to remain there. Even comfortably! Forget about it in Brazil. If you go to a rock concert and decide to get close to the stage, brace yourself, you will be joyfully squeezed. When people around you jump, you will jump even if you do not move your legs.
I suggest that you do not let these things bother you when you visit Brazil. You certainly do not have to like the lack of personal space. But if you experience the cultural differences with an open mind and a warm heart, you get to enjoy your trip to the fullest 🙂
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