Lunch Time is Sacred: Valuable Lessons Learned from Working in Brazil [SLIDESHOW]

May 24, 2013

When I told my Canadian colleagues that I had the truly awesome opportunity to work for two months in the LinkedIn Brazil office, they immediately imagined me working on a beach in the hot sun sipping fruity drinks. And who could blame them? I was fortunate enough to leave my home country in the dead of Canadian winter (think -20C/-4F) and travel to São Paulo, Brazil, where I worked for seven weeks at the local LinkedIn office.

So I packed my bags, convinced my husband to join me (this was not a hard sell) and left Canada behind for two months. I didn’t expect I’d encounter anything new as it wasn’t my first time in country, but I soon discovered that living and working in Brazil was very different from just passing through. I did not - contrary to popular belief - work while sitting on a beach, but I did learn some valuable lessons that will stick with me.

Lunch time is sacred

Lunch in Brazil is a serious matter. Unlike North Americans who hurriedly swallow a sandwich while hammering out emails, Brazilians take the proper time to go out for lunch. They step away from their desks, go to a restaurant with colleagues, take time to savour the food and enjoy good conversation while they eat. I’ll be honest - it took me time to get used to leaving my computer behind and sitting down to a meal in the middle of the day. I always felt I didn’t have time or I’d be missing out on something important. But you know what’s important? Eating lunch. Chewing. Taking a break. I soon began to appreciate just how vital this midday meal is. I also got to know my LinkedIn Brazil colleagues much better, and they me. I moved my meetings around to accommodate this time and my emails were waiting for me when I returned. After my time in Brazil, I look at lunch in a whole new way and plan to teach my other international colleagues about its benefits.

Listening and understanding is an art

How well do you listen when having a conversation with a colleague, friend or family member? Do you ever find yourself half tuned in while you mentally prepare what you will say next? Nothing makes you listen more than when you must comprehend what someone is saying in a foreign language. Even after studying Portuguese for nearly a year, I would sometimes only pick up 60-70% of what someone said to me at work, in a restaurant or just out and about in São Paulo. This meant I had to not only listen very carefully when engaging in a conversation, but I had to play close attention to nonverbal cues so I could pick up on mood, expression and tone. I’ve learned that truly listening requires attention and focus but pays off in better understanding.

‘Wasted’ time can be useful time

Traffic jams in São Paulo are epic. It once took me almost an hour to go eight blocks in a cab and combined with often limited mobile access, this could make for very stressful commutes. While at first I felt panic at not being able to work while in the back of a cab, I soon turned that time into what I call useful time. I downloaded several books to the Kindle app on my phone and began reading during each commute to and from work. In seven weeks, I read 14 books (full disclosure: I tend to devour books and read quickly, but still!) and really enjoyed the time to use my brain in a different way.

Human contact = happiness

I come from a very affectionate family so when I first visited Brazil I enthusiastically embraced (literally) the culture of kissing with each greeting. For North Americans, this may at first seem a bit jarring but it’s much more than it seems. Brazilians are among the warmest people I’ve ever met and each greeting is a genuine expression of joy (at seeing the person) and warmth (a quick embrace and a kiss on the cheek). I quickly found that each and every interaction I had with colleagues, friends and journalists was instantly made better by a bit of human contact that I rarely give or get at home. I hope the Canadians in my life are ready for this newfound appreciation of mine.

Even though I’ve left Brazil behind, it’s left a lasting impression. And if you ever get the chance to work or live in another country for a spell, I highly recommend it as you’ll come back a different - and better - person than you were when you left.