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Information About Brazil

History and government

Brazil was discovered and colonized by the Portuguese around 1500. The French and Dutch attempted to establish colonies but were expelled. In 1808, Napoleon captured Lisbon and the royal family fled to Brazil. Rio de Janeiro became the seat of the Portuguese Empire. Brazil is the only Latin American country that had a monarchy. The independence was declared in September 7th 1822 by D. Pedro I, the son of D. João VI. Following a military coup in 1889, a republic was declared in November 15th. Since that time the military has seized control of the government 5 times; however, leadership changes have seldom been accompanied by violence. There was a dictatorship from 1930 to 1945 (Getulio Vargas), and the military again took control of the government in 1964. A major step toward a return to democracy occurred in 1982 with the first secret- ballot election of state and local officials since 1964. In 1985, Tancredo Neves was elected president, ending 20 years of military rule, but he died shortly before assuming office. Jose Sarney (Neves' vice- president elect), became then the president. In 1989, the first direct elections for the presidency for the last 20 years were held, and Fernando Collor de Mello became the president. Due to a corruption procedure, he was impeached by the Congress in October 1992, when Itamar Franco, his vice-president became the current president. Brazil is a federal republic consisting of 26 states and 1 federal district (Brasilia, the capital). Each state is autonomous, with a legislative body and an elected governor.

Land and Climate

Brazil is the fifth largest country in the world and the sixth most populous. It is larger than the continental United States and makes up about one-half of South America. Sixty percent of its land is covered by forest, including the world's largest tropical rain forest in the Amazon River Basin. The Amazon is the world's largest river. The climate ranges from tropical (north and central regions) to temperate (southeast), with high humidity in coastal and tropical regions, such as Rio de Janeiro. São Paulo, Brazil's largest city, is situated in the highlands where temperatures are moderate. The warmest month is January; the coolest is July.


The population of Brazil is approximately 137.5 million and is growing at a rate of 2.3% annually (0.9% in U.S.). The average population density is only 31 people per square mile (58 in U.S.), but over 90% of the people live within 200 miles of the coast, mainly in the large cities of the southeast. Over 65% of the people are city dwellers, and the urban population continues to increase rapidly. Approximately 55% of the people are white; 6% are black. Brazilians of mixed European, black, and Indian descent comprise about 37% of the population. Only about 2% of the people are native Indians. Many Germans, Italians, and Japanese settled in the southern half of the country and still maintain ethnic communities. Many of the blacks, descended from African slaves brought to Brazil, live in the northeast.


Portuguese is the official language. English and French are popular second languages in big and touristical cities. Because of the similarity between Portuguese and Spanish, a Spanish- speaker will be understood by most Brazilians.


Over 90% of the population is Roman Catholic; there are more Roman Catholics in Brazil than in any other country. Protestant sects, however, are growing rapidly. Many people in the northeast practice Afro-Brazilian religions that combine tribal beliefs with those of Catholicism. Religious freedom is guaranteed, and church and state have been separated (and at odds) since 1889. Although Brazilians consider themselves quite religious, most attend church only on special occasions.


Brazil's gross national product ($211 billion) is the largest in Latin America and the tenth largest in the world. Because of the large population, however, average per capita income is only about $2,000 ($14,300 in U.S.). Agriculture continues to play an important role in Brazil's economy. About 10% of the people are employed in the agricultural sector. Brazil is the world's second largest producer of coffee and sugarcane, the third largest producer of corn, soybeans, and livestock, and ranks fourth in forestry products. Other important crops include rice, beans, cotton, manioc, oranges, cocoa, and tobacco. Much of Brazil's sugarcane goes into the production of alcohol, which is used as fuel. Brazil leads the world in fuel-alcohol production. The industrial sector has grown greatly in recent years. About 30% of the people are employed in industry. Brazil is rated second in world iron- ore production and fifth in the production of motor vehicles. Other important industrial products are textiles, chemicals, and cement. Most of Brazil's electric power is generated at hydroelectric installations. Service industries comprise the largest sector of the economy, employing nearly 60% of the work force. Brazil is self-sufficient in most foodstuffs and consumer goods. Despite its size, the Brazilian economy suffers from a number of problems. The inflation rate over the past 10 years has been among the highest in the world, and is currently over 200%. Unemployment is above 25%, and underemployment affects 15- 20% of the work force. Brazil's foreign debt is among the largest in the world, totaling over $100 billion. In February 1986, an economic stabilization plan was implemented that has considerably lowered the inflation and unemployment rates. The monetary unit is the real.

Social and Economic Levels

There is a large disparity between the upper and lower classes in Brazil. The poorest 20% receives only 2% of the of the national income, while the richest 10% receives over 50%. About 8% of the people live in absolute poverty. There is a growing middle class, however, and telephones and automobiles are becoming more common among this group. Most middle-class families live in modest homes (usually apartments) and own televisions and some appliances. Many women and youth must work to help support their families. Maids are considered indispensable to middle- and upper-class families.


A national adult-literacy program has raised the literacy rate from 66% to 83% since 1971. Education consists of 8 years of compulsory elementary education and 3 years of secondary education. Brazil ranks second in the number of primary schools and fifth in the number of university professors. Entrance into one of Brazil's 63 universities is difficult and is preceded by a special college preparation course and entrance exams. About half of secondary-school graduates go on to trade schools. Brazil has many fine libraries and research centers.

Transportation and Communication

A highly developed air-transport system serves 30 major airports and hundreds of landing strips in small interior towns. Public pay telephones, operated with a prepaid token, are common. Telegraph and postal services are generally available and reliable. Theft of packages in the postal service has been a problem in the past, but recent information indicates improvement. Brazil has the fourth largest television network in the world.


Excellent medical care is available in all larger cities for those who can afford it. Outlying areas are rarely equipped with adequate facilities. Although the water in most larger cities is treated, visitors may prefer to drink bottled water or soft drinks. Uncooked or unpeeled fruits and vegetables should be avoided.


Breakfast usually consists of cafe com leite (coffee with miLk) with bread and butter and cheese or marmalade. Lunch and dinner are the main meals, consisting of beans and rice, meat, salad, fruit, potatoes, and bread, with fruit for dessert. The national dish is feijoada, black beans cooked with a variety of meats and served with rice. There is a definite African flavor to the cuisine of the northeast, while churrasco (charcoal-broiled specialties) cooking is popular in the south. Brazilians drink plenty of coffee and mate, a kind of herbal tea.

Business Hours

Most stores are open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday, and Saturday until noon; some large stores are open until 9 p.m. Friday. Supermarkets are open 7 days a week. Some business offices and stores close from noon to 2 p.m. Neighborhood bars are open as early as S a.m. The 24-hour clock (1 p.m. = 13:00) is used to schedule events.


Brazil's national sport is soccer, and Brazilian soccer teams are among the world's finest. Basketball and volleyball are also popular. Brazilians enjoy swimming, 'ooating, and fishing at the nation's many fine beaches, as well as camping and other outdoor sports in the mountains. Many Brazilians are members of athletic clubs, which provide the majority of sports facilities.


National holidays include:
  • New Year's Eve and Day
  • Carnival (4 days preceding Lent)
  • Good Friday and Easter
  • Tiradentes Day (April 21)
  • Labor Day (May 1)
  • Independence Day (September 7)
  • Our Lady Aparecida Day (October 12)
  • Memorial Day (November 2)
  • Republic Day (November 15)
  • Christmas.
The feasts of St. John (June 24) and St. Peter (June 29) are celebrated with bonfires and fireworks.

The people

Brazilians are friendly, warm, and happy people. Above all they are free-spirited and resent being told what to do. Brazilians are gregarious, outgoing, and love to be around people. The hot climate allows them to spend a great deal of time outdoors, often just chatting with friends or watching people. Women should be aware that it is common for Brazilian men to stare at them or make comments as they walk by; women should not respond in any way to such actions. Brazilians can be very opinionated, and the vigor with which they argue for their convictions often leads foreigners to believe that they are angry. Visitors should not be offended by such behavior. Brazilians tend to view time more as a sequence of events rather than hours, minutes, and seconds. For this reason they may appear to have an extremely casual attitude about time.

Customs and courtesies


Brazilians usually greet each other with a handshake. Brazilian handshakes, however, may be somewhat less firm than American handshakes. Women customarily kiss each other on both cheeks (they actually just touch cheeks and "kiss the air"), and good friends often embrace. When leaving a small group, it is customary to shake hands with all who are present.


An invitation to a Brazilian home should be considered a special honor. When visiting in Brazil, it is customary to arrive 10 to 15 minutes late. If one has been invited to dine, a box of candy, bottle of wine, or a small figurine is an appropriate gift for the host. Visitors will always be offered coffee or some other refreshment, or will be invited to eat if a meal is in progress when they arrive. Discussions on politics, religion, or other controversial subjects should be avoided. Visitors are expected to stay at least 2 hours or more.


Meals are social events in Brazil. Brazilians eat in the continental style, with the knife in the right hand and the fork in the left. Both hands should remain above the table at all times and the elbows should not be rested on the table. Brazilians enjoy conversation after the meal, usually over a demitasse of cafezinho (strong black coffee). In restaurants, the waiter is called by holding up the index finger or by softly saying garcon (gar-SOHNG), and the check is requested by saying conta, por favor (KOHN-tuh, POR fah-VOR). The tip is usually included in the bill. Toothpicks should be used very discreetly. A bar in Brazil serves alcoholic drinks, but is also comparable to a neighborhood store where milk, bread, sandwiches, sweets, and soft drinks can be purchased.

Personal Appearance:

Warm-weather European fashions are the most popular in Brazil, but because of the hot and humid climate, many Brazilians wear as little as possible. Many Brazilians (especially women) are fashion-conscious, and wear the latest styles. Men usually wear conservative earth tones. Shoes are a status symbol and are polished often. Manicures and pedicures are very popular in Brazil.


The traditional American OK sign , with thumb and index finger forming a circle, is an obscene gesture . The "thumbs-up" sign is used to show approval. Brazilians beckon each other with the palm of the hand facing down. To get someone's attention from a distance, Brazilians say "pssssst." They never whistle at people.


Intercity buses are plentiful, reasonably efficient, and crowded. Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro have rapid-transit systems. City buses must be hailed by a wave of the hand. All taxis in the large cities have meters with fixed prices, but because of high inflation the taxi driver may use a special table to keep the fare up to date. Taxis can be hailed at taxi stops, by telephone, or on the street by a wave of the hand. Tipping is not required, except when traveling with luggage. Taxi drivers are skilled motorists and usually drive at high speeds.


The Family:

Families are traditionally large and include the extended family. Godparents are practically family and in many cases will assume responsibility for god children. Family members often spend their free time together and rely on each other for assistance. Among the youth, however, many of the traditional mores and values are becoming increasingly less important.

Dating and Marriage:

Group dating may start at age 15 or 16. Couples gradually emerge from the group. Serious dating and the engagement period may last as long as 2 or 3 years. Traditional families expect the young man to ask the girl's father for permission to be her boyfriend. Weddings may include 2 ceremonies: the legal civil ceremony, and the optional religious ceremony. Weddin parties are lavish and elegant, with much food, drink, and music. Until 1977, divorce was illegal in Brasil. Young married couples occasionaly live with their parents for a time although this custom is changing.

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