It’s 3 a.m. in Brazil, and birds are singing outside my window. In the US, birds sleep at night. These nighttime songbirds symbolize the uniqueness of this country. I’m so excited living here that sometimes I start singing for no reason whatsoever. I do this when I’m sober, and my Brazilian wife gratefully takes no notice of this behavior.
Could it be that, like me, the birds can’t control themselves and must burst into song? Are they are so filled with wonderment at the joys of Brazil that they need to tell us day and night?
Everyone in Brazil, including the birds, is having too much fun to sleep. Like other Latin American cultures, Brazil breathes an ancient mythology: the living customs of the oral tradition. Simply perceived from my tired brain, this tradition is – Brazilians love to talk.
Brazilians will strike up conversations anywhere, at any time, with anyone – attendants, strangers, cashiers. It’s considered rude for a Brazilian to enter a room without speaking. For example, the waiting room in a doctor’s office or an occupied elevator requires a hello to all the strangers. In the US, it’s not polite to talk to anyone you don’t know, including the people next to you on a line.
Learning to wait on long lines is an acknowledged rite of passage for anyone who lives in Brazil. I’m not saying there are no long lines in the US. Even there, teens will spend seven hours waiting for AC/DC concert tickets. However, while standing on line at the post office in the US, it’s not common to begin a conversation.
Brazilian tourists who visit the US have been known to return home and describe to their astonished friends how they’ve seen Americans standing on line reading rather than talking. When I mentioned this to a Brazilian woman, she replied, “Why wouldn’t you talk to people in line? It helps to pass the time.”
It makes perfect sense to me now. What an excellent technique for persisting through adversity – talk your way through it.
Talking is so helpful in Brazil that it’s not rude to repeat yourself in a conversation. Even talking (or singing) to oneself is acceptable. And not only do Brazilians like to talk, they enjoy listening as well. Thus the tremendous popularity of “telenovelas.” Visit any store or office and you will hear the employees talking about last night’s soap opera episode.
Because I am in a position to listen to Portuguese spoken as a foreign language, I wonder if Brazilians talk more than Americans because it takes longer to express an idea in Portuguese. For example, in English I can say “John’s hat” but not in Portuguese because there is no possessive apostrophe. It takes three words, “dedo do pé,” (finger of the foot) to say “toe” in English. Also, English contains more total words than Portuguese, making it a more technical language. It can take more time to describe something accurately in Portuguese.
Now that I am learning to live in a country full of abundant conversation, I smile when I stand on line. I listen to the loving talkers and observe another valuable lesson from Brazilians: patience. If no one on line is in a hurry, why should I be? With patience, there is more time for everything. I think if people in the US were to slow down, they might have more time for talking and singing.
In the US, history demonstrates that international disagreements are often resolved with guns and combat. In September, when Brazilians celebrated their Independence Day, I was reminded that no war was fought for Brazil to win independence from Portugal.
To achieve its own independence, the US required an 8-year war with its European colonizer. For Brazil, freedom was granted through peaceful negotiations, in other words, a lot of talking.
Michael Rubin is an American living in Curitiba, Brazil. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.