What We Learned about Communication in Brazil

My beautiful picture

Our secretary preparing a cable back to Canada

Would you know what I mean when I write, “We sent a cable to our family in Canada”? The use of a “cable” to communicate seems to go back to children playing at talking over a tight string and couple of pieces of tinfoil. A cable is similar, for when we sent a cable it referred to the message sent on a wire connecting continents under the sea.

Why send a cable? Well, few Brazilians had phones back in 1955-60 though if we had one there was some doubt about international connections. I would have no idea what such a call would have cost back then. But I do recall that the one cable—yes, the only one we ever sent from Brazil was in the range of $40.00. At that time the cost of a few words on a cable was almost half of our family’s monthly salary. We were not so hard done by for salary since the mission covered rent and utilities. Just imagine what the cost of a cable would be in currency today?

You might ask why we would send a cable that cost so much? Was it because we arrived safely in Brazil and settled into language school? No! Did we send a cable home when Vernon was born way out in Rio Preto. No, though that was an important occasion. So what was it about?

Just this. When we arrived in the interior we found public transportation difficult. We could not get to where we wanted to go—for example, out to the huge coffee farms or area villages to hold services—and get back the same day. But then the Canadian dollar exchange strengthened and I thought it would be a good time to get a vehicle. So the cable was asking for both money and permission to buy.

My beautiful picture

Our secretary will use mail instead of a cable.


Talk about communication problems! The cable sent noted that $10,000 was needed—a big sum then. However! When the cable arrived it read, $1,000 so permission was granted. We were purchasing the car from a Christian dealer who only asked us to make a down payment. Ouch! Both the board and my dad broke their banks to get us out of that bind.

And something else! This wonderful Christian car dealer always did his best to help missionaries get the best car possible for the money. The principle of friendship is so important in Brazil for communication. A friend will do all he or she can to give aid. In this case he was a friend of a friend but the big help was that we were both followers of Jesus.

When in Brazil for a mission’s tour, for business or just tourism, a person must remember that all contacts are influenced by personal relationships. For example when a company from another continent loses their personal contact through transfer, business may come to a screeching halt till a new cordial contact is built. Good relationships are so important in Brazil for communication. We from Norte-América tend to push for action and are impatient when it does not happen. No doubt I am one of those who needed to learn some Brazilian ways.

In Brazil men greet each other with a firm handshake unless they are trusted friends. When we were in a language school for missionaries we in general were trusted right from the first contact. That meant hugs were in order for greetings. Back in 1955 hugs were unknown among most men in our Norte-Americano culture. So the hugs in Brazil took some getting use to—well, I guess a lot more than “some getting used to.”

Brazilians are such a remarkably hospitable people. Their custom is to offer a cafezinho—a drink of a small demi-tasse of strong sweet coffee to visitors or those in a gathering. Communication may depend on drinking um cafezinho but for some missionaries that meant a good bit of hacking and coughing


This is our set plus a few extras, still intact from the year 1955 in Brazil.

We were taught in our orientação classes that in Brazil we should do as the Brazilians do. So one of our first purchases was a small set of china to serve coffee. It did not take long till Doris and I began to like their coffee but Doris found at times it was too much for her system. I’ve heard that some of our friends there might say, “In your country, you have to drink a gallon of water to get a cup of coffee.”

I am not sure espresso coffee will be served in the Eternal kingdom of our Lord. But the promise to his followers is that we shall there feast together with good conversation.



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