“Oi! Tudo bem?”
My new friend beams as she leans forward towards my face. She then proceeds to give me two blatantly loud kisses, one on each cheek, with her arms in a full embrace around my shoulders. I return the gesture politely. Oddly enough, the girl is standing so close I can smell her perfume, floral and sweet. After the greeting is over, she steps back and we resume talking about whatever it was we were originally saying. You might be thinking – why the heck is that girl kissing you if she has never even met you? Don’t you have a boyfriend? What is going on? In the same situation, maybe you’d feel that your space was invaded, or you wouldn’t know how to respond. Don’t worry, amigos, all will be revealed.
Needless to say, from the very first moment you meet a person until they’ve adopted you into their family, kissing is a big thing here in Brazil. Generally, you’ll find yourself giving these types of kisses to people you don’t know, people you do know, friends of friends, and close friends. Not giving this kind of outward affection can be considered rude or cold in many cases, and can easily be taken the wrong way. So, here’s a little glimpse of what you can expect, kiss-wise, when you’re with a group of Brazilians:
Most relationships of every kind in Brazil start with a kiss, unlike the American custom of simple handshakes or nods. The practice here in Rio de Janeiro, called dois beijos, is this: when you first meet someone, you offer them two kisses, one on each cheek, paying extra attention to making them heard by the receiving party. Girls kiss girls, girls kiss boys, and boys kiss girls (but typically boys don’t kiss boys, unless they have a close enough relationship to warrant such behavior). The concept of space here in Brazilian cities is a much smaller margin, so don’t be surprised if people come really close when they greet you. Usually, it’s just a sign of affection or friendliness.
This custom differs, however, from state to state in Brazil. In São Paulo, for example, it is customary to just give one kiss to the other person upon meeting them. In Salvador and Bahia, it’s three kisses (two on one cheek, one on the other, alternating). In order to know how many kisses to give, take the other person’s cue. If they go for more than one, then follow along. If they are hesitant after the first one, then stop and end the gesture there. Mastering the art of reading other people’s kissing cues is important so you never make an embarrassing mistake!
Much like the introductory kiss, when you see a friend or family member, it is a sign of respect and affection to give them one or two kisses on the cheek(s) and a big hug as you greet them. Again, it can be seen as standoffish or rude if you don’t.
Also, when you’re saying goodbye, do the same thing – one or two kisses and a hug. If you’re with a big group of people saying goodbye and don’t want to kiss all of them, just blow a big kiss in the air and say “Beijos” or “Tchau gente.” Your point will come across and you’ll still be seen as polite and friendly.
You may get an email or text message from someone you barely know that is signed “Um beijo” or “Beijinhos” or “Beijão” and think to yourself, oh my gosh, what is this person trying to do? Are they crazy? Why is my teacher/boss/neighbor sending me kisses via the Interwebs?!?! Don’t be alarmed. Many people, especially Brazilian women, sign their emails or end their phone calls with some form of the word “beijo.” It’s quite common, actually, to overhear “um beiiiiiijo, tchau” while riding on the bus or walking on the street.
Public Displays of Affection
Public displays of affection (PDA) are extremely common here in Brazil. It seems to be on every street corner, in every restaurant, at school, and of course, on the beach. It is normal for people to be making out on the street, and most people seem to pay no attention to it. Unlike the USA, where PDA can get a little bit weird around parents, friends, in public, or in a group of singles, it is perfectly acceptable here. Don’t feel awkward when your Brazilian friend and her boyfriend start kissing as they’re waiting for the walk signal on a street corner – it’s just a simple fact of life.
From personal experience (one I’ll share later on this lovely little blog) I have learned that men in Brazil can be especially aggressive and forward, specifically in the nightlife setting. Ladies, when you’re at the club with your friends, you may have men who grab you by the arm, put their arms around you, or just dive straight in for the kiss (trust me, all three have happened to me). If this happens and you are uncomfortable with it, politely say something like “Não, desculpa. Estou com amigas agora.” I usually just tell the guy that I have a boyfriend and that he’s away currently but he’ll be returning soon (the truth, in fewer words I suppose). In short, ladies can typically expect to be confronted by men at clubs, especially ones with fewer women, and kissing on the dance floor is certainly something that happens in great numbers here.
Basically, kissing is everywhere in Brazil and it’s rather unavoidable, especially if you’re planning to hang out with a lot of Brazilian people. In a nutshell, if you’re coming to Brazil, expect to get kissed. A lot.
Um beijo, gente. Até a próxima!
Have you ever experienced a culture that was extremely affectionate? What did you think? Share your stories and thoughts in the comments!