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CULTURES/ANTHROPOLOGY: The Brazilian population, spread out over a continental-sized nation, reflects a wide ethnic and cultural mixture. From the Portuguese came the language and the Catholic religion. From the Indians came an inheritance of food, beverages, dance and music. The African cultural influence is seen throughout the country in music, religion and cuisine.
The combination of such different cultural traits produced a people known for their spontaneity and informality. The regional differences are quite pronounced but, in general, Brazilians are known for their sense of humor and cordiality. Don't hesitate in asking locals for directions and information on the street, even in large cities. Brazilians are solicitous and will probably help you as much as possible.
Other traits are informality and expansiveness. Don't be surprised at effusive gestures and noisy commemorations. It is common for Brazilians to greet each other with bear hugs and two kisses to the cheek, even if they are not particularly good friends. A gesture that is very popular for showing satisfaction is the upraised thumb: this means everything is "OK".
In coastal cities, the way of life is more informal. This is reflected in the way people dress, in their habits and customs. But even so, men shouldn't annoy women with invitations or praise. Despite the fact that the tropical climate favors a certain dose of sensuality in the way Brazilian women dress, it is not recommended that men stare insistently at them, and an unadvised visitor could have problems if he persists. Especially in Rio de Janeiro, the "Cariocas," as the locals are known, demand respect of the individual and different ways of dressing and behaving as a part of their cosmopolitan way of life.