You might be excused for thinking that Brazilians have no modesty worth talking about, let alone enough to make up the subject of an interesting article, but there you would display your ignorance of Brazilian etiquette and completely overlook how social contrasts and extremes affect the individual’s attitude towards appropriate behaviour.
Carnival is the clearest example of this, when it becomes acceptable for people to dance almost naked in the streets, to kiss strangers in public and for men and women to flirt outrageously.
For the remainder of the year this behaviour would be taboo, especially if the participants are married or members of one of the evangelical churches.
But in Brazil, what is normally acceptable is difficult for a foreigner to understand.
Take the beach as an obvious place to start.
Brazilian swim wear is famous and rightly so. The ‘fio dental’ is clearly the briefest of all bikinis, but it is very rarely worn topless, in Brazil at least. Public display of naked female breasts is not only immodest; it is illegal, except within one of the few nudist areas. Having said that, the sheer quantity of naked flesh on display is sufficient to prompt a startled reaction from even the most well seasoned observer. I remember my dear old dad remarking to me as we jetted back to London after a holiday in Sao Vicente, that he had never seen so many bottoms in his entire life! He was 80 years old!
Even in the street, rather than focussing on exposing her breasts, Brasileiras take the attention of the male gaze toward their buttocks, which are considered to be the most sensual part of the female anatomy, and to their cleavage, but her nipples are firmly left under cover.
Hence short skirts are very short indeed, shorts are minimal and tops plunge towards the midriff, but underneath there lurks a brassiere that would survive attack by shell-fire. Nipples are a no-go-area.
Enough of your leering about near naked Brasileiras! I hear you clamour! What about the men?
Well funnily enough it goes much stranger for them, as the Brazilian male will happily display his genital bulges , his ‘builder’s bum’ and some of his genital hair, on the beach, in the supermarket, on the street, almost anywhere! The ‘sunga,’ which is the briefest male beachwear, is very popular among single men and much admired by young and mature women alike. It is very tiny and made of the sheerest material, so that it becomes almost transparent when wet. Next comes the ‘bermudas’ which begin with a waistband that starts below the hip, then hug every contour down to the thigh before ending cut to the knee. The more daring or perhaps those who have more to display, wear ‘bermudas’ tailored in lycra.
In summer it is common for men to be bare chested almost everywhere, except for banks, smart restaurants and other more formal areas. ‘Six pack’ abdominals are ‘de rigueur’ for the aspiring Brasileiro. If this were not enough, the Brazilian male has a very strong attachment to his genital region, and that is his hand. It seems as if he is constantly seeking reassurance that everything is still there and intact. Quite unselfconsciously he will reach down and give himself an affectionate pat, sometimes a good scratching will then ensue and then a re-arrangement of his precious equipment before returning his hand to whatever else takes his fancy. Which is probably his girl-friend’s behind.
If he is on his own, or especially with his amigos, he will mercilessly taunt unaccompanied females with vocal appreciations of the most immodest nature, all of which is usually met with a haughty response.
All of the aforesaid is however in public, and little or none of this behaviour will be displayed within the privacy of a Brazilian house, especially while entertaining visitors.
First of all, the house is separated into the areas where guests are normally received, and those where outsiders will seldom be invited. You are unlikely to be given a tour of a Brazilian house beyond the sitting room. Bedrooms are frequently shared, especially among poorer families, but perhaps in an effort to recover some degree of privacy, they are seldom put on show. In a similar fashion, dress codes are curiously altered towards a much more modest arrangement. Skimpy bikinis and provocative clothing are fine for the beach or for showing off in public, but not usually welcome at home unless you are in the pool. While staying with close friends in their house, I made the mistake of coming from the bathroom wrapped in a large towel after taking a shower. As I returned to the bedroom allocated to me, my partner lost no time in telling me that this was much frowned upon.
Very strange indeed, I thought, especially since we had just returned from a party where there had been played over and over again, the then hit song;- ‘Move your body very sexy’ on the dance floor, accompanied by enthusiastic gyrating by all attending, complete with explicit body movements to illustrate the indecent verses being shouted aloud!
Tut ! Tut!
And in public too!
© 2014 Alastair Kinghorn