Eating and Greeting: Living in Natal

As we continue our mission project in Natal, Brazil, I’m reminded of the power of the nonverbal.  Since I don’t know Portuguese, and many of the people of Natal do not know my language, I rely on the non-verbal.

Fortunately, our host speaks both Portuguese and English fluently, and she gives me excellent advice on interpreting through the nonverbal.  Greeting people, for example, with a handshake is OK, but the custom with men is also to pat on the shoulder,  and with women to air kiss on each cheek.

Here in Natal we don’t eat food with our fingers.  We must use a napkin, which is much smaller than ours in the United States,  to hold a piece of bread, sweet roll, or sandwich.

When guests are leaving, in this case our readers, we show them to the door by walking with them and opening the door.

When eating in someone’s home or a restaurant, eat everything on your plate.  Otherwise you have insulted the cook.  Take small portions if you are not hungry or don’t care for the food, for you must eat it all.

Never eat in front of another person without offering him or her the opportunity to share the food.

These pieces of advice I am seeking to incorporate in my human relations, but I have to admit–I’m having trouble perfecting the air kiss.

Steve giving a Brazilian woman his “air kiss”
Steve Boyd
Steve Boyd
Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor Emeritus of Speech Communication, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University, near Cincinnati. Steve won the Toastmasters International Speech Contest in 1970 and was chosen Outstanding Professor of the Year at NKU in 1984, among other awards and honors. Since retiring, he volunteers with nonprofits, spends time with family, travels, preaches occasionally, and enjoys reading and writing. Contact Steve at (859) 866-5693 or at

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