Saturday, November 27, 2010

How to talk on the Phone in Rio de Janeiro

I learned the hard way about super socially polite Brazilian ways. I was 18 years old and dating the Brazilian exchange student at my little High school in Coronado, California. Oh yes, I was cool like that.

I used to call his place, where he lived with his older sister (10 years older so much older to an 18 year old).  I used to call, per all American fashion, like so: Her "Hello?"  Me "Hi, is So-and-so home?" 

One day I was asked why I didn't like his sister. For the record, I didn't but of course I didn't say that to him.  I asked him what on Earth he meant! Apparently, I was supposed to ask how she is, what's been going on, and so on and so forth each and every time I called.  For an 18 year old girlfriend that is like 4 to 5 times a day! 

Well, that was going to make calling a whole new story. Obviously I was calling to talk to him so I would only be asking to be polite. What's the point?

In Brazil, that is the point. You should want to know.  You should want to chat with anyone who is willing to chat. 

Fast forward many years and 5 years of living in Brazil later.

I do it. I can't help myself. It doesn't matter if the person who answers in senile. I will ask how things in her world are. I will marvel at the pink elephants she's seeing. I will agree that they too should eat their bananas and that even pink elephants should go to time out if they refuse. 

What I didn't get in my young, inexperienced traveler mindset of 18 years was that a phone call isn't just to talk to a person. You are calling to touch base, converse, and stay a part of their world. Whomever answers is also a part of that world. 

So when you call someone in Brazil and they ask who is speaking, you say who you are, ask who they are, and you chat. Chat like that little drunk girl at a bar hitting on a waiter... ok, maybe not so enthusiastic but you get where I'm going.  Just because there is a phone line between you, it does not excuse you. Even your husband's secretary deserves a 'Hello, how are the kids?".  I don't care if they are sleeping together. It's about respecting the culture.

That being said, "Hello, How are you this evening?"


  1. Sooooo true! Everytime my boyfriend gets off the phone with his mom and says "minha mãe mandou beijos", I kick myself for forgetting to send her kisses before he hung up.

    I'll get the hang of it sooner or later.

    p.s. How are things Rachel? The kids?

  2. We're good. Thanks for asking :) But today will be a big day for Rio

  3. I get it now! Every time one of my husband's friends calls, his mom answers and spends forever talking to them. I thought it was pretty weird, like, why would a 50 year old woman want to chat it up with a 30 year old guy? And when I asked my husband about it, he just shrugged it off (yeah, not getting a lot of my cultural education from HIM). Now I see why! I'm not used to it yet- still like the more direct way of getting to the point that we use!

  4. Ach, sometimes it is too much. (And I have heard from a friend of a friend of a Brazilian friend that I had become "too Dutch".)

  5. i like it...when people dont do that i think they are too direct and consequently cold.

  6. The really funny thing is that this takes place even with people who have dialed a wrong number!

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