We work hard to prepare our Brazilian students for the cultural shock of starting college in the US. But what happens when our US team works with Brazilian students or comes to visit us in Brazil?
Our experience shows that reading helps people to understand some of the cultural nuances that might not otherwise be obvious. We usually recommend a list of ten books that were written by accomplished Brazilian writers. The first book is always the same: Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands. The purpose of my blog post is to write about this book and explain the importance of reading it to understand Brazilian culture.
Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands was written in 1966 by Jorge Amado, one of Brazil’s most accomplished novelists. It tells the story of Dona Flor, a young woman living in the northeast of Brazil and married to
Vadinho. The plot begins with the sudden death of Dona Flor’s husband, known for being irresponsible and a great lover. Dona Flor remarries with pharmacist Teodoro, a well-respected man and described as being the exact opposite of Vadinho. The story evolves and Teodoro, Dona Flor and the ghost of Vadinho end up sharing the same bed and living together as a triplet.
This novel can be interpreted in many ways. My favorite version is the one that describes Brazilian culture as the perfect blend of formality and informality. In Brazil, the stiffness of behavior (Teodoro) and relaxed and unofficial style (Vadinho) walk together, hand-in-hand, in a balanced and yet chaotic way. Brazilians love to overlap work with social life; we exercise rule-setting but praise flexibility. In day-to-day life, Brazilians can have the most respectful manners towards their coworkers and yet call them by their nicknames. In addition, we talk to people on the streets with proximity regardless of being strangers.
There is no moral judgment here. It is what it is. When it comes to overcoming the cultural shock, there is no good or bad, worse or better. I feel strongly that understanding these cultural idiosyncrasies and ambiguities is an important step toward overcoming the cultural shock and emphathizing better with students.