Friday, April 19, 2013

Country Profile: Brazil

I hope you like my post on Brazil! Thanks to my friend Jess for suggesting the next country to profile! : )

The flag of Brazil. The words translate to "Order and Progress", 
the country's motto. 

The Land: 

Brazil is the 5th largest and 5th most populated country in the world. It occupies half of South America- almost 3.3 million square miles. Brazil is larger than the continental United States! Brazil borders every South American country but Chile and Ecuador. Forests cover about half of the country. This includes the world's largest tropical rainforest, in the Amazon river basin. Many of us are aware of the innumerable "save the rainforest" campaigns of the last few decade- this would be one of those rainforests! Even with heightened awareness and increasing conservation efforts, illegal logging and slash-and-burn forest clearing remain a problem. Brazil has five distinct regions: north, northeast, south, southeast, and central-west. The Amazon River is the longest river in South America, and travels through the rainforests in northern Brazil. Savannas and tropical grasslands cover the sparsely populated central-west region. The northeast region is particularly prone to droughts. The southeast region is the most populated and most industrialized. It is rich in natural resources and minerals. Farming and agriculture are common in the south. One of the world's largest hydroelectric dams can be found here, near Iguaçu Falls. Less than 5% of Brazil is higher than 3,000 feet above sea level. The climate is mostly tropical. High humidity is found in the forests and along the coasts, but the highlands areas (such as those around São Paulo) have a more moderate climate. January is the warmest month, and the coolest is July. Temperatures in the far southern region sometimes drop below freezing. 


Brazil has a population of almost 200 million, and that number grows by about 1.1% annually. More than 85% of the population live in cities. The two largest cities are São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. More than 2 million people live in the capital city of Brasilia. Almost every detail of the city was planned by the government, and it was completed in 1960. Children under 15 make up about a fourth of the population. Brazilians of European descent (mostly Portuguese) make up a little over half of the population. About 39% of the people are of mixed heritage, and about 6% are of African descent. The indigenous population is comprised of only a few hundred thousand people. Groups of German, Italian, Japanese and Lebanese descent maintain ethnic communities. Oddly enough, Brazil is home to the largest cohesive community of Japanese people outside of Japan. Black Brazilians descended from the slaves that were brought over from Africa before the 1880s. These people mostly live in the northeastern states of Brazil. 


The official language of Brazil is Brazilian Portuguese. The pronunciation differs slightly from the language spoken in Portugal. English is a popular second language. Spanish is becoming more popular in the cities, as Brazil establishes stronger economic ties with neighboring, Spanish-speaking countries. Though some Brazilians may understand Spanish, they may be offended if deliberately addressed in Spanish. In some areas of the south, descendants of European immigrants may also speak some Italian or German. Indigenous peoples may speak one of more than a hundred local languages. 


Traditionally, Brazil (along with much of South America) has been strongly Roman Catholic. At one point, over 95% of the population claimed to be Roman Catholic. Now that number is hovering around 75%. Other branches of Christianity are growing rapidly in Brazil. Religious freedom has been guaranteed since the founding of the republic in 1889. Most Brazilians only attend church on special occasions, though they would consider themselves very religious. Some Brazilians practice Afro-Brazilian religions that combine African religious traditions with Catholic ones. 

The "Christ the Redeemer" statue in Rio de Janeiro

The People: 

The Brazilian people are fun-loving, free-spirited, and warm. They are outgoing and enjoy socializing with others. They are also very hard-working. They take great pride in their country's diverse culture and natural resources. Most people of mixed heritage are quite proud of and identify with all their ancestral groups. Brazilians can be very opinionated and will passionately defend and argue their points. Despite some economic difficulties, most Brazilians are hopeful and optimistic about the country's future. People in most regions have a very relaxed attitude about time. Time is viewed more as a series of events rather than a sequence of hours and minutes. Brazilians in the north and northeast regions are generally more conservative in many aspects. Traditional military and religious celebrations are more common, and the folklore is stronger here. 

Many Brazilians prefer to be highly fashionable and wear the latest styles. Name-brand clothing is hugely popular in the cities. Residents of the most humid and warmest regions dress more casually, often in bright or light colored clothing. People in São Paulo and southern parts of the country tend to wear black, white, and neutral colors. Suits and jacket/skirt combos are popular business wear. Traditional clothing is more often seen in rural regions. 

Brazilian women wearing traditional dresses

Brazilians greet each other with a handshake in formal situations, but a common greeting among friends is a kiss on each cheek. They enjoy visiting friends and family. The warm climate allows for lots of time spent outdoors. Friends may spend time chatting outdoors, well into the late evening. If a guest arrives while a meal or snack is in progress, it is considered rude to not invite them to eat, but most people will politely decline the invitation. In rural areas, not accepting refreshments might be considered rude. If you are invited to dinner in Brazil, you might take candy or another small gift to your hosts. Invited guests often arrive up to half an hour late to dinner, except in São Paulo, where punctuality is considered a higher priority. Brazilians enjoy conversation, but sensitive topics such as religion and politics are avoided. Asking personal questions, like about salaries or age, is considered inappropriate. 


Brazilian families are very close and tightly knit. Extended family forms a kind of safety net in times of need. Families gather together at various holidays throughout the year. Spending time together is very important. Family size is determined by a number of factors: economic status, location, and education level. Families in middle and upper classes are usually smaller, with one or two children, but poorer, rural families may have as eight children. Children in poorer families may not finish their schooling because they have to help their families. The government helps the people with short term income issues, but extreme poverty remains a big problem, both in urban and rural areas. Brazil is largely a patriarchal society. Usually, the men are responsible for working and earning income, and the women maintain the home and take care of the family. Changing ideas about gender roles mean that more women are entering the workforce, though. More women are seeking education, and more workplaces are offering childcare for working women with families. In rural areas, men usually remain minimally involved with child-rearing and household chores. 

Brazilian children rarely leave home before they're married. Unmarried men may leave their homes to seek out better economic opportunities, but often they live at home until they are about 30. Most young couples move into their own home after they are married. The Brazilian economy, like much of the world, is a bit weak right now. Because of this, some couples may live with one set of parents while they save up money to buy or rent their own home. Elderly parents who can't take care for themselves often live with their children, which is preferable to staying in a nursing home. 


In the cities, Brazilians live in homes or apartments similar to townhouses seen in the US. Typical homes have a half-bathroom, a kitchen and a living room on the ground floor, with two bedrooms and a full bathroom on the second floor. Homes are usually made of brick and concrete with tiled roofs. Families like to decorate and redecorate every few years. The style of decoration depends on the family's income. Floors are usually cement, tile, marble, or wood. Indoor plumbing may be common in the cities, but due to water shortages, Brazilian families often buy their own water tanks, which are kept on the roof. There is an emphasis on home security in high-crime urban areas. Guard dogs may be purchased, alarm systems may be installed, and homeowners may even put broken glass on their roofs to deter burglars. High walls and security gates are often built at the front of the house. Many people who can't own their own homes live in shantytowns outside the cities. These people struggle with poverty, and are unable to obtain many necessities. Brazilians are determined and creative, though, and they find a way to make use of whatever they have to improve their homes. 

A shantytown in Brazil

Attitudes about dating have changed a lot in recent years, but socioeconomic status, geographic location, and personal values still affect those attitudes greatly. In less traditional families, kids may start dating around 12 or 13. Parents often encourage group dating. Traditional families expect boys to ask permission from a girl's parents before taking her out. Most couples date 2 or 3 years before getting married. It used to be common for Brazilian couples to marry young, but now couples may wait longer, even into their 30s, to get married. Couples may wait until they have obtained a degree, found a house, or obtained a good job before getting married. Brides-to-be usually have a bridal shower attended by close friends and family. Weddings usually consist of two ceremonies- civil and religious. The civil ceremony has to be held before the church ceremony. Couples appear before a judge, obtain their marriage certificate, and exchange rings. The church ceremony is expected to start a little late (up to 15 minutes) while the bride finishes getting ready. The bride's father and the groom stand at the front of the church, near the altar. The bride is escorted into the church by her father or another close relative, and the bride and groom stand together at the altar to be married by the priest. After the religious ceremony, there is a party, usually held at a rented hall or the home of the bride or groom's parents. There is a lot of food, drink, and music at a Brazilian wedding reception. Partway through the celebration, the couple leaves for their honeymoon, and after they leave, the guests keep partying. Wedding reception parties often last late into the night. Possibly because of the country's strong ties to the Catholic church, there were once many restrictions placed on divorced people. After a divorce, a Brazilian resident may have had to wait several years before becoming remarried. However, attitudes regarding marriage and divorce are changing, and life is now easier for people who are divorced. Pregnancy is highly celebrated in Brazil. Brazilian women make no attempt to hide their growing bellies. Friends and relatives often thrown baby showers for expectant mothers a few months before the baby is born. The baby may be named for one of his parents, or he may be named after a close friend or relative. A baby's first birthday is cause for a big celebration in Brazilian families. 


Mealtime with family and friends is very important to the people of Brazil. Most Brazilians eat three meals a day- breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Extended family often comes over for Sunday dinner. Brazilian cuisine reflects its cultural diversity. Each region has its own traditional foods. Staple foods include bread, meat, beans, rice, eggs and cheese. A typical breakfast would include coffee with milk, fruit, and bread with butter. Lunch is the biggest meal of the day and often includes rice, beans, salad, meat, potatoes, bread, and fruit. Dinner tends to be lighter and may include soup with bread, coffee with milk, and a piece of cake. Pastries are often eaten for snacks. Each region has its own popular foods. In Rio de Janeiro, the favorite dish is feijoada (black beans with pork, beef, sausage, and sometimes pigs ears and feet.) Churrasco is a barbecue dish from the southern regions. 


Brazilians are passionate about football (soccer.) Some businesses and schools may even close during the World Cup. People all over Brazil love football, both playing it and watching it. If they can't watch the games in person, they will watch them on TV. If a playing field is unavailable, games take place in neighborhood streets. Fishing and boating are popular in Brazil, as is auto racing. 

Many people consider Pelé (Edison Arantes do Nascimento) to be the world's most famous soccer player. He is from Brazil. 

In their freetime, Brazilians like to visit friends and family, or watch television. Any occasion may be a reason to celebrate in Brazil. Get-togethers often include singing and dancing. People young and old enjoy dancing. Young people often go dancing in clubs. Music is popular among Brazilians. The arts in Brazil reflect the country's rich and diverse background, influenced by European immigrants, African ancestors, and indigenous roots. Samba is the most popular music, and it uses African rhythms and European-style singing. Brazil is also home to several important architects. Many aspects of the arts, including architecture and literature, were heavily influenced during the country's years of colonization, particularly by Jesuit missionaries. 


Brazil's holidays include Carnaval, the celebration leading up to Ash Wednesday; Lent and Easter; independence day (September 7); Tiradentes Day (April 21); Labor Day (May 1); Memorial Day (November 2); Republic Day (November 15); and Christmas. Carnaval is undoubtedly the most famous Brazilian holiday. 

Carnaval parades are full of fantastic floats, elaborate costumes, dancing, music, and more!


Brazil has universal healthcare.That being said, rural areas rarely have adequate healthcare facilities. For those with financial resources, excellent medical care is available in large cities. Some areas have trouble accessing clean water. Yellow fever, malaria, and other tropical diseases are an issue in some areas. There is a grassroots effort to send mobile healthcare units to rural areas in order to improve infant mortality rates and other common issues. AIDS is a growing problem in Brazil, while in other areas of the world, HIV/AIDS is on the decline and may be considered a chronic health condition compared to the death sentence it once was. 


Education is very important to Brazilians. Education is seen as the key to overcoming economic difficulties. However, lack of resources prevents some families from providing their children with a good education. Education is mandatory for nine years (ages 6-14.) Primary school lasts for five years, then there are four years of middle school. After that, students may attend three years of secondary school. Attendance is not always strictly enforced, particularly for older students, who may need to leave school to help their families. Brazilian children usually start school at the age of six, but some may go to preschool before then. In elementary school, students learn basic world history, science, math, reading, writing, Portuguese, and physical education. Late middle and high school students take classes in physics, chemistry, biology, history, calculus, geography, art, psychology, sociology, and foreign languages. Many schools have labs, libraries, and technology such as computers, but uniforms and school supplies are the financial responsibility of the students and their families. Sometimes students who can't afford these costs receive donated items. Almost all Brazilian students attend primary school- aboput 95%. Boys make up a little more of that group than girls. By secondary school, girls outnumber the boys- 85% of girls attend, and 78% of boys attend secondary school. Private schools are available in Brazil, but they are very expensive and not affordable to most Brazilian families. Admission to the country's top universities is difficult. There is a special college-prep course available to students, and then an entrance exam. Much of secondary education focuses on preparing students for this exam. About half of secondary school graduates go on to trade schools. Adult literacy rates have risen substantially since literacy programs have become available.

Schoolchildren in Brazil enjoying a healthy lunch.

Books to Read: 

So Say the Little Monkeys by Nancy Van Laan
Spotlight on Brazil by Bobbie Kalman

Bible Verse:

“Porque Deus tanto amou o mundo que deu o seu Filho Unigênito[a], para que todo o que nele crer não pereça, mas tenha a vida eterna." João 3:16 (via Bible Gateway)

From Compassion's website: 

"Compassion's work in Brazil began in 1987. Currently, more than 38,800 children are registered in more than 150 child development centers. Compassion partners with churches and denominations to help them provide Brazilian children with the opportunity to rise above their circumstances and become all God has created them to be."

All information came from CultureGrams. It's an excellent resource if you have access to it!


  1. I'm waiting for you to do my countries!

    1. Haiti is next! Then I'll probably do India. My plan is to hopscotch from region to region (Africa, South America, Central/North America, Asia, lather, rinse, repeat.)

  2. I love it!! Thanks so much!!! Again, I enjoyed all the info about the families and people! And I loved seeing the Iguazu Falls....I got to visit them when I lived in Argentina! And it was interesting to see how similar the wedding process is to that in Argentina and Uruguay. I'm looking forward to your future posts!


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