How to Order Like a Local in Brazil

Getting a waiter’s attention in Brazil can be a challenge. I’ve never quite known the words to use to call them over, relying mostly on eyes and gesticulation. I’ve noticed men using the word “Amigo” to call a waiter across the room, and never felt quite comfortable saying that myself. “Amigo”? Really, isn’t friendship a little presumptuous, an imposition of a nonexistent bond?

Apparently not. Last night I was out in Laranjeiras at the weekly couchsurfing gathering for the Rio group, sitting with two Brazilian guys. “Amigo” is just the beginning of their creativity in the way they call over a waiter to the table. Subtle and psychological they are.

We made a list of all the words they use to get a waiter’s attention. To wit, they might call out:
– amigo (friend)
– chefe (boss)
– doctor (an address of respect, not just for “doctors”)
– irmão (brother)
– comandante (commander)
– presidente

The more flattering the address, the more likely the waiter (garcon) will come over to take our order or bring us the check.

(Honestly, what do we say in the U.S.? It’s sadly uncreative if all we say is “waiter” or “check, please”?)

Next time I am desperate for a caipirinha or a caldo de feijao (black bean soup), I am going to try saying “irmão” or “chefe.” I’ve never heard women using these forms of address. Is it just a male thing? My new friends think so.

But maybe Brazilian women have a waiter-attracting language all their own. I’ll be listening.

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “How to Order Like a Local in Brazil

  1. Mariana

    The answer to what we call them in the US is: we don’t need to, they come to us without being called! as a Brazilian living in the US, I was told from day one by American friends that it is rude to make hand gestures or call a waiter, and it was hard to get used to it at first… now I have a reverse cultural shock when I go home and everyone is waiving and yelling “garçom!” (or any of the names of your list) and you can’t really get any service if you don’t yell too.
    That said, “Amigo” seems to be always a safe one.

  2. Hey Mariana, You’re right! I was racking my brain to think of the words in English but the fact is we just don’t need to use them very often: the waiter or waitress brings a check without being asked for it, et cetera. Will be great to finally meet you in San Francisco, we will have so much to talk about!

  3. Mariana

    Yes, even though by now you know Brazil waaaay better than I probably ever will, by traveling to all those places in northeast by yourself. I have been following your trajectory as I think it’s so inspiring, and also because I identify myself as a Quirkyalone. You make some very interesting points about Brazilian culture in your facebook posts and your blog(s).
    I hope I don’t annoy you when I comment on stuff, I just really like what you write!

  4. Tracy

    It’s so funny. My husband, who is Brazilian, felt offended the first time a waiter brought the bill without us asking for it in Europe. He thought the waiter was asking us to leave and I had to explain that it was normal not to have to chase after the waiter for your bill here. Hardest place to get waited on and served the check in Brasil: Bahia. Easiest: Sao Paulo. My husband likes to use the word companeiro to address waiters. Also amigo. Women tend to use a different kind of flattery like meu anjo or amorzinho. I always found this too cute for my taste and stuck with gesturing or saying “oi?” as they walked by.

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