As I dive into the culture of Brazil and the nuances of Portuguese language, there are always some fun cultural insights that come along with the learning process. Moments of understanding in seeing how language is a reflection of culture and values.
Most recently this has manifested in the use of the word “nois” – directly translated as “us”.
It’s a word that is used in a variety of contexts, but I most often notice it used in the context of sharing, of giving, of generosity.
For example, I was at the beach this weekend and someone offered me a joint. I said thank you. Their response? “E nois” (it’s us).
A bit later on someone began passing around some food for everyone to snack on. Again, I said thank you. Their response? “E Nois!”
Someone started to pass around some beer as well, again the response was “e nois”.
Across much of my experience in Brazil, there is a common trend of the philosophy of “nois”. Everything is “us”. Nois implies that things are meant to be shared with each other.
Personally, I like to think of it as “ours” instead of “us”. Although that’s not the direct translation, that’s really what the intention of the phrase is.
It’s a word that really conveys Brazilian culture. A word that exemplifies the sharing, inclusive, communal mindset of Brazil.
It’s not the only word in the language that has this intention either. There are other phrases that I have encountered along the way in my journey of Portuguese that convey a similar feeling.
Words like “tamo junto”, which roughly translates to “we’re together”, or the way I use it, something along the lines of “hell yea my brother.” Again, tamo junto conveys a feeling of togetherness. Shared experience.
I also like this word because it paints a picture of how strikingly different this mindset is to that of the USA. In the USA, the perspective is always “mine” or “my”. I’m sharing MY things with YOU. Sharing is considered an act of generosity, rather than something to be expected.
Here in Brazil it’s the exact opposite. Everything is OURS. We share food, water, beer, weed, and experiences together. To have something for yourself and not share it is rude and selfish.
This isn’t limited to Brazil either. I’ve seen this perspective of sharing, of ours, of community in India and many Asian cultures as well.
In India everyone SHARES food from the middle. You order a variety of plates and everyone takes their individual fill. There is no “my” food. It’s all “ours”. We share it together in the common experience of eating together.
In contrast, In the US, with maybe the exception of Pizza, everyone orders their own plates. I order what I want, you order what you want.
I remember one time in particular where I had a moment of culture shock after leaving India. My brother lived around the corner from an Indian restaurant and became friends with the waiters there by telling everyone I live in India.
One day we went to go eat there. He was very excited for me to finally meet everyone and share an experience together. I remember looking at the menu, excited to order a bunch of plates for the two of us. Get him to try a variety of different tastes and flavour that he had never tried.
…and then when the time came to order, and I started to make suggestions, both him and the waiter looked at me like I was crazy with the amount of food I wanted to order.
I quickly realised that these were INDIVIDUAL plates. Rather than the traditional Indian setup, these were entire meals built around that one dish as the centrepiece. In order to cater to the American customer, their menu was set up in a way that has everyone order their own meal. He had his order, I had mine.
An individual meal at an Indian restaurant?! This was sacrilegious to me!!!
These experiences are fascinating to me because they paint a picture of stark differences in culture. The US is a highly individualized society. A mindset of “I look out for myself first”. There is a very heavy embedded cultural nuance of having my things, my food, my experiences, and if I want to, I can share it with you…but only if I want to.
On the other hand, in Brazil and many other cultures around the world, there is a perspective that, more or less, nothing is yours, and everything is ours. We share what we can with each other. Look out for each other. Help each other. There is an emphasis on community, inclusion, and belonging.
Here I have many friends who repeat this unconscious mantra of “e nois”. Experiences are meant to be shared together. It’s frowned upon to be a lone wolf and do things alone.
It’s funny too, because I generally consider myself to be a lone wolf. I like to spend a lot of time alone. For example, last night I said that I wanted to go home and do some yoga and read a book. My friend gave me shit for this and said something along the lines of “what am I supposed to smoke a joint by myself?! Come join me!”
I had two experiences while walking on the beach as well. I was walking alone and a group of strangers called me over and said “why are you by yourself? Come smoke with us, hang out with us. Don’t walk by yourself.”
Even as I write this article there are three guys sitting at the same table as me sharing a bag of cookies. Of course, they offered some to me. It would be rude not to. Gotta love the way the universe sends messages 😉
Again, as I write this article and get feedback from my Brazilian friend on the nuances of nois, his reply? “Brazilians share everything, even the wife”
All of these are reflections of the philosophy of nois. The philosophy of shared experience, of doing things together, of leaving the mind of the individual and blending with the group.
This philosophy has made me think a lot about my own lone wolf nature. How much time I spend alone. How I PRIORITIZE alone time like it’s a gift. My lack of generosity. My lack of sharing.
When I buy things I buy them for myself. I don’t think to buy for everyone. However since having these experiences I’m now trying to embrace this mindset. When I buy certain things, I am buying with the intention to share. I am buying thinking to myself “other people will like these too and it can be my contribution!”
The other night I ordered myself an uber to go home. I made the order with the intention that I would drop everyone else off along the way. My uber is your uber. E nois!
The other day the Slackline community was collecting money for some new equipment. Most people were contributing bout 10 reals/person. I offered to contribute 100. They reached out to me and were like “are you sure you want to give that much?” My reply? E nois 😉
Em fim, this is merely a cultural insight that I wanted to share that has made me think about the way our societies influence our behaviours, and the way that language is a reflection of culture and values.
I like this philosophy of “nois”, of ours, of sharing, of community, and it’s something that I want to embed more into the way that I do things. I want to be more generous. More inclusive. More open. Spend less time alone. Have more of a mindset of the group. Help people out and share my abundance with others.
Because in the end, this planet is not mine, e nois. We’re all sharing the beautiful abundance that this planet provides, nothing is truly ours. It makes all the more sense to realize we’re all always sharing space, sharing energy, and sharing resources with each other. E nois. Nao e Minha, nao e seu. E nois. 🙂