An important thing to know is that Brazilians have a flexible definition of the truth. White lies are social necessities; everyone knows that’s not true, everyone says it anyhow. This extends from the street corner all the way up to the highest levels of government. So it’s got all sorts of implications, both good and bad.
I still don’t completely understand Brazilian politics, so I’ll leave that powder-keg alone. But socially-speaking, it’s kinda like living in a louder, rowdier version of the Southern United States. White lies are used to smooth social interactions in this small town–after all you gotta live with these people for decades–and grease the wheels of society. If you’re new to the culture (like me, from my tell-me-the-truth-until-it-hurts Northeastern United States upbringing), these little babies will trip you up. Once you settle in, you’ll be surprised to see them rolling off your tongue as well (I’m getting there).
So, click on the video below and let it play as a soundtrack as you read this short list of little social white lies. Sing along everyone: “Tell me lies, tell me sweet little lies…”
- “Eu passou lá a semana que vem.” (I´ll stop by your house next week.)
Scenario: You meet a friend or casual acquaintance on the street. You chat. The conversation drags on. Oops! Turns out you suddenly have to be somewhere! But you’re not neglecting them, you´re going to stop by their house next week to visit. No one ever does, but everyone promises. Don’t feel bad, if they didn’t no one would ever be able to end a conversation.
- “Sumiou!” (You disappeared!)
Scenario: You see a good friend for the first time in a while. They exclaim: “You disappeared! Where have you been! Why haven’t you come to visit??” Odds are, they have busy lives too and they didn’t really notice that you were missing. I’ve had complete strangers accuse me of disappearing. And so maybe you haven’t been around to visit in a while. Fact is, while maybe you’ve been out of touch so were they. The guilt is totally mutual, but it´s the Catholic way to pass that guilt along. The important thing is that they want you to feel that you were missed; even if you weren’t.
- “Está sedo!” (It´s still early!)
Scenario: You are starting to leave. Your host will exclaim: “Don’t go! It´s still early!” Brazilians will say this at 10pm at night after you’ve been there for three hours and eaten every scrap of food in the house. It’s a culturally ingrained reflex (being a good host is very, very important to Brazilians), not an sign of whether they really want you to stay.
- “Depois eu comprou de sua mão.” (I’ll buy [exclusively] from you later on.”)
Scenario: You know someone who owns a store or provides a service. They hear from João who heard from Maria that you just got that same service/product from someone else, and begin to pressure you to shop at their store and/or grill you on why you didn’t buy from them. Shop loyalty is hugely important in this small town. It can make or break a business. Quick!–give a vague excuse about why you didn’t buy from them and then say, “But next time I’ll buy from you, my friend, don’t worry.” Funny thing is as a market vendor I’ve witnessed people reflexively offer this excuse to me with absolutely no pressure at all. I say “Hi,” and they reply that they’ll be back later to buy something. I think it just slips out. They’ve said it so many times they can’t help themselves.
- “Onde está aquele café forte e gustoso?” (Where is that tasty, strong coffee that you serve?)
Scenario: Someone comes to visit. You politely offer them coffee. It´s the best coffee they’ve ever had. So is the next household. It’s not personal, Brazilian coffee really is that universally good.
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