One of things that most impresses me about Brazilians is their incredible ability to make conversation: bater papo, puxar conversa, falar--no matter how you say it, conversation is practically a Brazilian art form.
As a reader once wrote, Brazilians love an invitation to converse, be it with a friend, a vague acquaintance, or a total stranger. On the bus, I've sat next to people talking like old friends, only to find out they had just met. People constantly try to talk to me: on the elevator, in line, or in transit. When I'm with Eli, he'll start up conversations with waiters, taxi drivers, store attendants--you name it. Part of it, I believe, has to do with the cordial man culture, but another part, I think, is a part of the culture of leisure, by taking advantage of spare moments to spend with others, instead of being alone. It seems to me that Brazilians hate nothing more than solitude.
Besides making new friends and finding a social outlet to occupy one's time, conversation seems to fulfill other functions. One place you can observe this is on TV shows, especially talk shows or interviews. I'm always surprised by how much they let people talk before cutting them off, or how little the editors seem to cut from the original conversation before it airs. I think that in cases like this, the content of the conversation is less important than the function the conversation serves, which is to socialize, find common ground, and to establish a bond of mutual affection.
In Rio, I've come across three conversational types, which may be inaccurate due to the whole gringa angle, but this is what I've personally experienced:
1. The conversationalist: this is the absolute conversational expert, who has really perfected the art of conversation and has managed to find a balance between talking and listening, and is able to exchange information equally and amicably. He won't offer more information than he asks for, and will reciprocate questions to ensure an egalitarian conversation. He is patient and friendly, and relishes the conversation like one might in a cup of coffee or a good movie. I've encountered this type more frequently amongst men.
2. The listener: Though this person will offer up information about himself, he'll allow you to do most of the talking and will ask most of the questions. If you don't ask him the same questions in return, he won't offer up the answers. He's modest and humble, and will keep his answers shorter so he can get back to hearing what you have to say. I've encountered this type the least, but most commonly amongst younger women.
3. The talker: This person likes to talk. A lot. He may ask you questions about yourself, but is less interested in the actual answers than in trying to be polite and let you get in a word edgewise. In fact, he will likely ignore half of what you say and continue on with his discourse. He'll revel in the sound of his own voice and will expect you to nod and show you're paying attention. He will stop to listen to you talk occasionally, though it seems more to catch his breath or to take a drink rather than caring about what you think. The best thing is to nod and mumble "Mmhm" every so often and to let him talk, because there's not much you can do to stop him. I've encountered this type more frequently amongst older women.
I still find it a little odd when people try to have a real conversation with me in an unlikely location, but I think it's sweet. It makes me feel like I'm a part of the world, especially in a big city, rather than wandering alone in my own little bubble, which I can easily do in New York.
E você, que acha?