Did you ever wonder if there could ever be an excess of hugs and kisses delivered to you? Probably not especially if they were given as a greeting. If you were visiting friends in Brazil or were part of a group that was known and accepted then a hug would be in order. Depending on the social connection no doubt even a kiss would be fine. But that kiss would not be on the lips but on the cheeks for the meaning is entirely different depending where the kiss landed.
We attended a language school in Brazil with many new missionaries years ago and most of us found it difficult at first to fit in with the hugs given by men—with cheeks touching. Of course those hugs were a social greeting that said something of the Brazilian’s appreciation for new workers among their churches.
I should mention this before going further. Brazilians appreciate so much a few words of greeting in Portuguese—even if you murder their language. So start with “bom dia” meaning a good day or a good morning. “Boa tarde” refers to the afternoon or evening and “boa noite” to the evening or night hours. Your group leader or a booklet will have a list of other words and sentences that will smooth your relationships in Brazil. Take the time—learn some of the most-used words. With a bit of Portuguese you will find it hard to really be lost.
Back to the hugs. Women will hug and kiss each other on the left cheek and then alternate. Hugs and kisses are normally reserved where a relationship has been established. If not then a handshake is in order allowing the Brazilian to extend their hand first. That will avoid you being considered too pushy.
When I get to talking about the closeness involved with hugs and kisses let me emphasize that the people there value cleanliness and hygiene. Leaving home without a shower is unheard of and it makes sense in a tropical climate. Appearances do matter and in that regard remember any carelessness means you will not be taken seriously. It all makes sense when it comes to hugs.
Now a little story that was humorous because our Brazilian friends were bending over backwards to be kind. Our group had spent all day in construction and were waiting in a home to get our rides to different places. One of the older persons may not have had a bath over a few days and with the heat and sweating our group and friends there repeatedly urged this person to take a shower while we waited. No way. There were knowing smiles all round.
Fitting in with the culture is so very important. In Canada most of us expect visitors and immigrants to fit in with our culture. We say, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” If you are taking gifts to boys in Brazil, forget about our favourite sports and take a gift of a soccer ball. Remember learn about Brazil and its people before you travel there. And be sensitive to their way of doing things—especially when and where hugs and kisses are fitting.
When I was leading a “work” group in Brazil I was invited to speak on a Sunday night to one of our São Paulo churches. About 300 packed out the church but most interestingly—the pastors often warned their people that if they attended worship in the morning, they ought to stay at home at night to allow space for other folks. Surprisingly the evening service is always the largest. It was a long service approaching two hours but with never a dull moment for different groups reported on their church/mission work and sang—yes, they are great at singing and playing their instruments.
The pastors invited me go with them to greet people at the door of the church as the congregants left. I was not expecting the greetings I received but I suppose the service established a good understanding of our relationship. Still I could not believe it: some 200 hugs and kisses (or more) with 100 hugs (or more). In a way we were all part of the same family blood line—followers of Jesus Christ.
Along that line I remember how two lady tourists in South America had no contact with the people they were to meet. As they walked through a market they sang a hymn—it was recognized by someone in the market. The problem was solved through a Christian relationship that no doubt ended with a hug and kiss. Remember this–don’t underestimate the value of being a follower of Jesus. The proof of that came to me just to-day. That is another story.