The role of the family in Brazil cannot be overstated. Devotion to one’s family takes precedence over all other interests and pursuits, even football. Countries that value family above all else show a certain advantage over other countries.
For example, problems with suicide and drug addiction are higher in developed countries like Japan and the US than in India or Brazil.
While a stronger familial structure can foster healthier and more confident youth, there are some drawbacks, too. In close family cultures like Brazil’s, there is, not surprisingly, less privacy. However, as a result, it’s more difficult for adolescents to hide their problems. A 12-year-old Brazilian girl told me she isn’t allowed to be in her own bedroom with the door closed, even when she’s alone. Most American teenagers have locks on their bedroom doors and use them frequently.
Children who grow up feeling secure and included in the family more often grow up to be well-adjusted adults. Brazilian children aren’t left at home when their parents go to dinner or to the movies, as they are in the US. There are no babysitters necessary in Brazil. A Brazilian girl in college confessed to me she is afraid to stay home alone, even for a few hours.
Parties in Brazil always include adults and teens – grandparents, parents, and children. In the US, an adults’ party isn’t a real party if their children are included, and teen parties are planned for when the parents are traveling.
While the emotional support of a caring and attentive family is cited as the most valuable preventive medicine against depression and anxiety, close family ties can sometimes have adverse effects. An example would be the phenomenon known as “helicopter parenting”, whereby parents “hover” with an overwhelming presence in their children’s lives, leaving the children with no opportunity to think for themselves. These children feel “suffocated” and can harbor resentment towards their parents.
Helicoptering parents are found in every country, and they are certainly evident with children in Brazil, where domineering mothering can place a child into the role of servitude. Brazilian daughters are expected to care for their mothers their entire lives, while boys may become so spoiled they want to be treated like kings even after they are grown and married.
One evening, a woman in her early 30s came to me for private English classes. It was her first class, and she brought her 7-year-old son with her. When I asked her why she hadn’t informed me earlier of her intention to bring the boy, she replied, “Is it a problem?”
Psychologists note that spoiled, pampered children grow up with oversized egos and an inflated sense of entitlement. As a result, they may lack an adult sense of responsibility. As a result, Brazilian women often lament the challenges of dating spoiled men, who can treat their girlfriends like maids. Perhaps this explains why it’s not unusual to see Brazilian women dating men 10 or 15 years older than themselves, which is rare in the US.
While men all over the world generally have less domestic responsibilities than women, it’s particularly dramatic in male-dominated cultures like Brazil’s. For example, fathers are rarely seen with their young children without the mothers presence.
Another marital consequence of a male-dominated culture is high infidelity rates. Women everywhere complain about their husbands, but perhaps in Brazil the women have a good reason to complain.
While the young women of Brazil generally learn to accept their domestic duties – cooking and caring for children – the boys have more trouble growing up. Adult men are playing video games and living with their parents into their 30s and 40s, if they haven’t married. They are bad at long-term planning, saving money, and being on time because why would a child need to wear a watch.
Young Brazilian men drive their 1.0 liter engine cars irresponsibly, like it’s a Formula One race, which partially explains why Brazil has more traffic fatalities than the US, even though the US has more cars and people. If they’re educated and ambitious, spoiled boys can evolve into the notorious group of Brazil’s corrupt politicians and businessmen.
Many spoiled Brazilian men, having grown up blessed with the oral tradition, are so charming that they never suffer the consequences of their behavior. They continue to act like large children. Some, particularly those middle-aged and older, never ask for help and never admit they are wrong. They are emotionally and intellectually stubborn, trapped inside their own heads and unable to let go, even if proven wrong. They are terrible listeners because they aren’t really interested in others’ opinions if they contradict their own.
This custom of childish behavior also accounts for the Brazilian obsession with parties. Do children have an interest in anything besides playing with their friends? And when do children ever ask to go to bed? Even Brazilians with full-time jobs don’t usually go to bed before midnight. The Japanese and Chinese are praised for their work ethic and productivity, but not Brazilians. As one Brazilian explained his country to me, “Why would I choose to work instead of being with my family?”
The atmosphere of playful exuberance also explains why the economy in Brazil comes to a grinding halt every summer. Even the most responsible children are accustomed to having summers free from responsibilities. From the middle of December until Carnaval in February or March, everyone is on the beach. Brazilian businessmen know the economy slows down in the summer. No one begins a job search until after Carnaval.
Of course, who doesn’t prefer a party to work, especially as Brazilians bring their entire families to the party. Thus, it’s difficult to find fault in the Brazilian mindset. Brazilians see other cultures as obsessed with work and timeliness.
This is not to say that all Brazilian men are childish. In fact, in today’s rapidly changing 21st century globalized world, Brazil is changing. When compared to previous generations, there are powerful, new developments among Brazilians. For example, older Brazilian men, particularly those with money, are often compared to Middle Eastern or Turkish men, who exhibit their status by having more than one family – separate wives and children – in separate households. Among young Brazilian men today, this custom of multiple, common-law wives has disappeared.
Here’s another example of the new Brazil that is emerging. A young Brazilian sales manager told me this story: “I had a meeting scheduled with a new client, a wealthy businessman in a small town. Everyone in the town knew him because of his money, and he represented a potentially huge customer for me. When we met, I was understandably a little nervous.
The first question he asked me was, ‘Do you cheat on your wife?’ I was silent. Did he want me to say yes to verify the lifestyle he was implying? I thought for a moment, and then in respect to my religion and my wife, I told the truth, ‘No, I don’t.’ He replied, ‘Good, I don’t trust a man who cheats on his wife. How do I know you won’t cheat me?’ “
B. Michael Rubin is an American living in Curitiba, Brazil. He is the editor of the online magazine Curitiba in English (www.curitibainenglish.com.br)