How the Brazilian Ethos Contributed to the Coronavirus Chaos
Brazil has the second biggest Coronavirus death-toll in the planet and the highest number of daily victims for the last two weeks.
This desperate situation came with a myriad of geopolitical analyses blaming politicians, control methods, and sources of information.
However, there is one aspect forgotten by virtually everyone:
The Brazilian Ethos, and how it contributes to worsening the pandemic.
As a Brazilian myself, I understand that most of my fellow compatriots cannot see this problem. If I was still there, it would be equally invisible to me.
Living in Poland (one of the most successful countries in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic), I saw how the contrasting cultural differences helped one country while aggravated the situation in the other.
So in this article, I will compare one of the clashing differences between Brazilian and Polish behavior.
I am not saying this is the sole reason for the Brazilian failure or Polish success. Just an additional one, often neglected despite its importance. And of course: there are plenty of exceptions in what I describe below as Brazilian and Polish behaviors. Not everyone conforms to those descriptions.
What happens when you tell Poles and Brazilians to avoid agglomerations?
Poles, just like many of their neighbors, are not big fans of massive gatherings. Sure, there are football matches, the national marches, and occasional festivals driving crowds. But on all those occasions, people gather for a reason and do it despite the aversion for huge masses. The sociability of the Polish people tends to develop among groups of friends, smaller collectives of common interests, and family.
There is a certain disgust among Poles to be much closer to fellow humans. Not in the same proportion of the Finns but certainly in a dimension unknown for most hot-blooded Latin-Americans.
In Poland, people will participate in mass gatherings for a reason despite their distaste for crowds.
In Brazil, often people seek gatherings for the pleasure of being part of them, sometimes without secondary reasons.
There is an expression in Brazilian Portuguese called “vuco-vuco” (and regional variants, like “rala-rala”). It means exactly what I pointed above: mass gatherings with their purpose on itself.
People that like vuco-vuco are the same who enjoy athletic physiques partying together during non-stop carnival-style festivals. They feel at home at micaretas, parties were thousands gather behind sound-trucks and walk across the city in a body density high enough to cause safety issues.
While Poles developed an instrument (the parawan) just to isolate themselves in crowded beaches, in Brazil vuco-vuco lovers are a very considerable share of the population. And they look for crowded beaches.
When you tell Poles to avoid agglomerations, it means to avoid something they already hate and only participate when strictly necessary (like in the subway).
To tell Brazilians to avoid agglomerations means almost to forbid something essential to the very Brazilian carnivalesque existence.
It means prohibiting the rala-rala, rubbing shoulders, and sweaty bodies leaning against each other during the carnival street parades.
This explains how the bars in Rio got immediately crowded just after the government looses the lockdown rules.
Solutions? I have none. But to know that the problem includes a particular cultural feature in a singular ethos may help to develop better measures. There is still time for that.