What is it about Brazilians that makes them so thin-skinned?

This is a question I have pondered many times. It came up again today after Robin Williams joked on Letterman that Rio won the right to host the 2016 Olympics because Chicago sent Michelle Obama and Oprah Winfrey and Rio sent 50 strippers and half a kilo of cocaine. Robin Williams is a comedian. He made a joke.

However, Rio Mayor Eduardo Pães didn’t see the funny side. Pães reacted nastily, calling William’s words those of man betrayed, or “dor do corno” in Portuguese. (Telling a man his wife is cheating on him is considered one of the biggest insults in Brazil.)

The smart – not to menion the classy thing – to do would have been to laugh it off. After all, Rio won, the city can afford to be magnanimous. Also, why bring more attention to the issue? Let it go.

But Brazilians are incredibly thin-skinned. When Burger King made a joking reference to Rio as the place gangsters flee to, Brazilian publicists designed their own campaign to slag off London, as I wrote about in this Christian Science Monitor story back in June.

And of course, there was the by now legendary Simpsons episode that made fun of Rio. Not getting irony, or not being worldy enough to know that the Simpons make fun of everyone, Brazil’s president protested and the Rio Tourism Board threaten to sue.

The Brazilian response, I think, comes because for years the country was never taken seriously. When foreigners joke about tiny bikinis, or violence, or samba, or football or any of the typical Brazilian stereotypes, locals feel belittled.

They shouldn’t. They should learn to laugh it off. If Brazil is going to be a world player they can expect more such attention. And their leaders should learn to take the moral high ground.