I thought this was incredibly interesting, although a little outdated. I am sure little has changed since 2006 in terms of doing business in Brazil.
I thought this was incredibly interesting, although a little outdated. I am sure little has changed since 2006 in terms of doing business in Brazil.
Really interesting article, literally titled: Culture of the Jeitinho makes Brazil susceptible to faults in the Copa das Confederações.
The most interesting comment, in my opinion, is that these events with force Brazil to face its problems. I sincerely hope that is the case, as opposed to denying everything as the authorities have been doing so far.
I think that the most depressing problem of all is the absolute lack of transport from and to anywhere. It´s embarassing.
I was going to write a separate post for each of these cultural-shock-inducing items of everyday Brazilian life, but that would be a little extreme because they are pretty easy to describe.
This week, I thought hard about the first things that shocked me when I came to Brazil at the clueless age of 15 to meet up with my parents. They had just rented a huge house in the Jardins area of São Paulo that was the perfect landing pad for such an overwhelming city. I actually pity people who visit São Paulo for the first time and have to stay at a hotel. Venturing out into the crazy streets of São Paulo for the first time can be nasty if you don´t know what you are doing. My parents immediately introduced me to friends they had made in London who were now living in São Paulo and they took me around, slowly allowing me to digest this hectic city.
Anyway, the first weird experiences were obviously when I started to visit people at their homes. I will put my initial cultural shocks in which they were experienced:
I was sitting in someone´s living room one evening and we were all shouting at one another because the television was on and loudly so. I looked around to see if anyone was watching and it seemed that no one was, so I asked if we could turn it off. The glare I got was enough to shut me up and pretend I had never asked, forever.
Another time, I decided to test a family to see what would happen if I turned the television off. I was in this house that had a corridor-like living room, the TV was on and no one was watching, but everyone passed the TV and entered and exited the living room as they went about their activities. I turned the television off and waited. After 5 minutes, a boy passed, turned the television back on and left the room.
The first thing that I noticed about a lot of Brazilians is the fact that they ALWAYS have the television on. They turn it on as soon as they get up and sometimes don´t turn if off, ever, not even at night. I have a friend who sleeps with it on, in her bedroom. If you turn it off, as I once did, she wakes up, gets out of bed, turns it on again and goes back to sleep. Wouldn´t it be easier to just close your eyes again and sleep without it?
The relationship between most Brazilians, especially poorer ones, and their televisions is eerie.
My parent´s home has a boiler and piping for hot water because it was an old, well designed house, but the first time I encountered an electric shower was almost deadly. I was at my boyfriend´s (at that time) grandparent´s house somewhere near SP. It had gotten late so they invited us to stay the night. When I walked into the shower “box” and looked up I almost had a heart attack. All these wires and cables sticking out of the wall attached to a nasty plastic contraption that was supposedly the shower. I turned the only tap because I was too embarrassed to ask for help and felt a slight electrical current running through my arm, like a needle pinching me. I leapt out of the shower, got dressed and hysterically hissed at the first person that passed outside the door. “Oh yeah, it does that sometimes. Don´t worry, just open the tap with your flip flops on so you don´t get a shock”. I decided to go to bed without the shower.
When I eventually rented my own house and had my first electric shower installed, I had to tackle the problems of burning cables, melting insulation tape, dashes from the shower due to life-threating shower situations, such as sparks and smoke, and showers that just burn out because the “resistência” can´t take the load. They are always nasty, no matter how you look at them. The ONLY thing I like about them is that the water is instantly hot. That´s it.
Not a single Brazilian has been able to convincingly explain to me why they use [sometimes badly installed] electric showers and why homes aren´t built with hot water piping. I can handle the low income situation, because copper piping is expensive and most people can only afford plastic piping, but electric showers are used in ALL homes outside the main cities. It´s just the way it is, they always answer. The truth is that most of them have never seen what a shower is supposed to look like, and most tourists don´t see the electric showers because they rarely have the in hotels and apart hotels. So it´s basically a national secret that no one wants to talk about.
Visiting my father´s auntie Tusa I was confronted with the hard reality of that nasty plastic basket with everyone´s used toilet paper in it. I hate being gross in my blog, but it´s a gross thing, believe me. For some unexplainable reason, Brazilian piping and sewage is not compatible with toilet paper so people never flush the toilet paper down their toilets. Instead, they provide little baskets, sometimes with lids and sometimes without, beside the toilet for the toilet paper. If you refuse to use them, as I did at first, you end up blocking their entire piping system (yes, just with toilet paper) and have to pretend you don´t know what happened, praying that toilet paper will not float when they peak into the loo.
Brazilians who live in the city have no idea what this is either. As soon as you move to the interior, you are forced to deal with the bujão, also called butijão. This annoying little fellow is nothing more and nothing less than a heavy metal container where cooking gas is stored. You purchase a butijão with gas and then get it filled when the gas runs out. None of the houses in the interior or in some smaller cities have gas piping, so gas is stored in a butijão and placed outside the house or under the sink. It´s always a good idea to have two because they love “drying up” on Sunday night, when no one is open to replace it.
In most cities of the interior and even mid-sized cities, there is this pickup that drives around the streets playing this repetitive music, selling butijões. The first time most gringos hears that music, they run out with their purses or coins thinking it´s the ice-cream van. Nope, it´s the butijão guy. He´s usually far away by the time you reach the pavement so it´s a good idea to get one of those fridge magnets with his number on them. It´s also important to buy from official gas brands because there is some dodgy gas filling activity going on and official brands less likely to rip you off with half-filled butijões.
Panela de pressão
The first billboard I saw in Brazil was for a Clock Panela de Pressão. I did not know what they were because my parents did not use them. When I did finally see one I admit I was afraid of it. I had already heard of exploding ones and the consequences, so I was really curious to see how they worked. It took me about 2 years to muster the courage to use one without close supervision.
The secret is to cover the food with enough water. When that water runs out, the panela de pressão (aka pressure cooker) dries and can explode, causing nasty damage and injuries. If you are not sure if there is enough water or you have finished cooking, you take it off the fire and put it under running tap water. Some people lift the little nob to let the pressure out, but that is dangerous and unnecessary. Just allow some water to run on the panela until you hear a “puff”. Then open. If there is pressure, it will not open. In that case, more water and try again. Another tricky bit is aligning the lid, the rubber hoop and the handle. It´s always a good idea to have a new panela, because old ones sometime let the pressure out and they never do that “shhhh” sound. I still don´t know what that little red button is for, though.
Panelas de pressão are essential for cooking feijão (beans) in a hurry or carne à panela. I will probably get death threats for saying this but, in my opinion, Brazilian meat is terrible. Most Brazilians call their cattle cows, but they are mostly Zebus/Nellore, and their meat is harder and leaner. So, putting the meat in a panela de pressão softens it, which is why carne à panela is so popular. Other people actually boil it and then fry it, which is almost unthinkable if you had a nice, chunky piece of tenderloin, proving my point. If you do find good meat, it´s either very expensive or a fluke. It´s hard to get the same good quality twice. Another reason is that they tend to slaughter their zebus when they are 100 years old, unlike some countries that have a certain pride in good quality meat and slaughter animals when their meat is still tender. I know nothing about meat, but as an Argentinian, meat is important to me.
I love bakeries. When I lived in England and Argentina, I was often the first customer at the bakery in the wee hours. I love variety, soft, greasy pastries and lots of different types of breads, tarts, pies and goodies bakeries are supposed to sell, but all that is sadly very rare in Brazil. Unless you live next to a fancy bakery in an equally fancy neighborhood in a large city, bakeries are depressing little places indeed. The only good thing about Brazilian bakeries is the bread, when it´s good quality. They have this little invention called the pão francês, ou pão de sal, depending on the region, that is a little baguette-like bun. It´s nothing like a real baguette, of course, but it´s still charming and eventually addictive, especially on the “chapa” with butter, mmmmmmmmm, or as a queijo quente ou misto quente. Then you have the caseirinho, which varies in size and shape depending on the region, but is a great option if you want softer bread or crustier bread (yes, caseirinho is softer in SP and crustier in the NE, for example). Anyway, the white bread is generally good in Brazil. The problem is the other stuff. When I lived in Florianopolis, an Argentinean baker tried to make medias lunas (the Latin American version of croissants) and eventually gave up because I was his only customer. Brazilians aren´t keen on trying new stuff.
When I visit other countries, the first thing I do in the morning is visit the bakery just to get a feel of them again. I really miss the variety, the rye bread, the huge loaves of soft whole-wheat bread, the assorted buns, the sweets, the cakes and pastries with chocolate or cream oozing out of them. Maybe it´s just me.
The title of this post is a little generic, but I am mostly referring to services here. From anything to going to the hospital to getting a passport.
Getting things done in Brazil is an art. It´s unlike anything most people have encountered in their native countries and one of the most important complex situations you will probably ever encounter. The reason for this complexity is that nothing is logical in Brazil. As someone quoted in an article I read in the Economist, success or failure in Brazil depends on who is sitting at the desk.
Rule 1: If you need a service, information or help and you can´t get it, insist. Wait for a change of shift, come back later and talk to someone else. The “sitting at the desk” quote is 100% true. I once went to get a money order at the banco do brasil and the attendant told me I could not cash it because my address was wrong in “the system” and that I had to get a proof of residence. I went home, got a proof of residence and returned. The attendant had changed and she cashed it without even flinching, no address problems.
Rule 2: Never be afraid to complain. It´s the only way to get respect.
Firstly, it is important to clarify that most Brazilians are afraid to complain. They will buy a faulty product and keep it in a cupboard, or pay for a bad service and prefer to remain quiet than say anything. They hate confrontation and avoid it like the plague. Secondly, because of this fear, they usually don´t know how to complain when they eventually muster the courage.
I once read a blog that was advertising a new line of products. In the comments, the only thing people wrote were complaints about the product and how their purchase had broken or fallen apart. Their comments were also asking the poor blogger to fix their problem, and they obviously went unanswered.
I had the same problem with the same product, but I wrote to the company, got a reply, got a free mailing order to post the product back to the company and got a new pair. In summary, some customer services do work, but there is a rule:
Rule 3: ALWAYS go to the source, the mother ship! NEVER complain to the store attendant or the employee unless its a huge chain with a good reputation. Asking for the manager does not work either, in most cases. I once got a sour ice-cream at McDonalds and only managed to register my complaint when I wrote to the headquarters. The manager got upset, asked me impolitely if I wanted my money back and continued selling the sour ice-cream, which is a serious issue in such a large chain. Another time, the post office delivered letters to just any address and we are all exchanging letter for weeks. I called the regional office and got nothing. Then I wrote to the mother ship and they told me he was a replacement of the postman who was on holidays, and that they would replace him immediately! I then got a phone call from the regional office asking me to complain to them next time. Not a chance.
Rule 4: Establish relationships with people that provide services you need on a regular basis. Brazilians are 100% emotional, so if they know you, chat to you about your family and home, get to know you, your stakes will hit the roof when you need to get something done. Be nice to the cashiers, secretaries, attendants, salespersons… People calling you by your name when you enter that crowded bank is always nice anyway, right?
But be careful: taking advantage of that “relationship” is entering the zone of the “jeitinho brasileiro”, which is not nice. Stand in line, get your senha and be patient and friendly, but never be afraid to complain if that does not work. It´s worked wonders for me.
If you are coming to Brazil from any first-world/developed country, the first thing you will have to get used to when you finally settle here and start working and living in Brazil is the bureaucracy. If you are from a third-world/developing or emerging country, you are probably used to it.
Lots of Brazilians complain about it, so it´s not like we are bitching about something that does not exist, but there are two aspects of bureaucracy that most people don´t realize or consider.
1. Bureaucracy in Latin American countries is actually necessary. Most Latin Americans will always find ways to get away with things and honesty is usually considered a sign of weakness. Before you smirk with scepticism, let´s consider this scenario. My dad was once stopped by the police when we lived in London for speeding. The policeman asked him for his name and address, but, which is pretty characteristic of the UK, no one asked him for identification. That means they literally took his word for it. Imagine the same scene in a Latin American country. Yes, you gottit. Impossible. If, let´s say, the policeman forgot to ask for ID, most Latin Americans would lie about their name and address to see if it sticks. The natural consequence of this tendency to be dishonest is that everyone has to prove everything they say or do, hence the bureaucracy. In summary, Latin American is not ready for less bureaucracy. The example above may be a little extreme, but you will soon notice that you will actually appreciate the bureaucracy, especially if you have to sign an agreement with someone or buy something. The bureaucracy provides proof of each step you took if you should ever need it.
In Brazil, the level of suspicion is much higher than in Argentina, say, although they are at the same smart-ass level. That is why Brazilians invented Cartorios. Yes, those nasty little places are used to prove that you are you, that your signature is yours, that your name is your name… in Brazil you have to prove EVERYTHING.
2. It´s not the Bureaucracy itself that´s bad, it´s the time it takes to do anything. The fact that you need a stamp on your birth certificate to prove it passed through the proper channels is not a bad thing. The fact that that stamp can take up to 3 years, is. I mean, how long can it take to pick up the stamp, put ink on it and lean it on a page? A long time, apparently. I waited 2 years to correct a mistake on a certificate. It took the judge one year just to pick up the paper, then another to decide what to do. You basically have to hand in the papers and forget about it until it´s done. Forget about timing anything. You will also notice that things the government wants, such as income tax statements, ID for everyone and the like, are usually based on efficient, faster services, such as websites. When it´s you that needs something from the government, the story is very different and there are not effective channels available at all.
In summary, arm yourself with lots and lots of patience when you need to get anything done that involves authorities, public services, law or government. In these harems of bureaucratic bliss where everyone is over paid, under worked and rarely get fired, you cannot complain unless you want to make serious enemies and extend the time limit to infinity. If you really want to reduce bureaucracy to an absolute minimum, live in the smallest, best developed town you can find near the biggest city you can find, which is exactly what I did.
Someone posted a comment and mentioned the topic of builders in Brazil. I thought that deserved a post of its own, so here goes.
Dealing with builders, painters and the like in Brazil is one of the trickiest endeavors you will probably undertake as a gringo, or Brazilian for that matter.
I have actually seen news reports on the subject and any advice should be seriously considered.
In my experience, and those of people I know, there are three types of builders in Brazil. Good, professional ones who usually work for construction companies, do lots of training and earn accordingly. Good ones who are self-employed and usually inherited their trade from their fathers, grandfathers or from watching other builders. They usually have a team of the third type of builder, or builders like themselves, in which case you are looking at a miracle. Most work alone. Either way, they should be considered a Godsend if you are planning on building anything because they are usually overloaded with work or extremely, rare. Then, there are the ones who say they are builders, which in rare cases is true, to some extent, or who learned the trade from someone else. They are usually alcoholic and/or very bad at managing money.
This last type of builder is unfortunately the most common so I will stick with them. There are some basic rules when dealing with this type of builder, and rules to steer away from them and try to get the second type of builder. If you are lucky enough and have the resources to hire an architect and engineer (another tricky endeavor), they might already have a team of trusted builders or might handle the builders themselves. In most cases, the engineer or architect will appear once a day for 5 minutes and charge you a fortune for every visit. So you are basically left to deal with the builders yourself.
First rule: Never, ever hire them on a daily-rate basis. Always use the “empreitada” modality, which means they get paid per constructed square meter or for the entire project. You should, of course, ask them to set a timeline and hassle them about it, and preferably hang around when they are working to make sure they stick to it.
Second rule: Never EVER pay them “vales” (payments in advance that are deducted from the total) unless they give you an amazingly great justification (usually an agreement before they start working, such as 10% in advance and 90% at the end of the project). As I said before, lots of these builders are alcoholic and very bad money managers, so they are usually penniless and will only appear to work when they need money. If you start paying them the “vales” they ask for, they will eventually reach 50% of the final price for the project, or more, and never appear again. This is incredibly common in Brazil and I know of people (Brazilians) who have unfinished homes and have no more money to hire another builder and continue the project because they already handed over 50% of the budget. It should be very clear before they even lay the first brick that you will not pay a penny until it is all completed ( in the absence of any other agreement). They will throw the “leite para meu filho” excuse and even cry but you must not waver. Trust me.
Third rule: Be careful with building material (this is a universal rule). They should justify every purchase and you should keep track of everything from screwdrivers to cement. Some builders don´t have tools because their temporary workers steal them, so they might ask you to buy tools. This is rare but it happens. Regardless, keep a close tab on all the supplies you buy. I know of builders who build their own homes with the stuff that leaks from other people´s “almoxarifado”.
Fourth rule: Always hire a builder based on recommendations. Brazilians create emotional bonds with everyone they meet, even builders. So they will feel personally responsible for his work and only recommend someone they truly trust.
Five rule: Likewise, if you find a good builder and have a pleasant experience, clutch onto that phone number with your life. You will probably need him in the future.
In the aftermath of one of the worst and most senseless tragedies in the history of Brazil, I woke up this morning asking myself, “will anything change?” After scanning the latest news and all the thoughts of several journalists and supposed actions to make sure “this never happens again”, and after watching the inspectors suddenly doing their job on the evening news, I sincerely believe nothing will change.
Why? On the evening news, there was a scene that, to me, made everything very clear. It´s the same scene when someone is caught drinking and driving or breaking any other essential law. An inspector was inspecting a bar that had been “interditado” (whatever that means, because they just open it again as soon as the inspectors leave) more than 4 times because it did not have a license or permission to function as a music bar (they apparently insisted on hiring bands). The bar was full of people and there was a band playing. The owner blatantly said to the inspector that “they were just friends having a party” and that it was not open to the public, although people were walking in and out like in any normal bar. The inspector didn´t believe him and “interditou” the bar again. Great work.
When a person is caught drinking and driving the reaction is the same. They just stare the police officer in the face and say they are doing nothing wrong, that they did not drink, that they refuse to blow into the bloody “bafometro” and then get offended when no one believes them, usually followed by an actual tantrum, death threats… which, ok, happens in any crime reality show.
Brazilians in general have a very childlike attitude when caught red handed. They deny it and lie in the face of anyone that accuses them, actually believing they will and should be believed regardless of all the overwhelming evidence that proves the contrary. Like a child trying to convince his mother that he did not eat the cookies and then having a tantrum when he is not believed. This is frighteningly common here and I see it on a daily basis almost everywhere.
So my conclusion is based on the fact that Brazilians (I don´t know about other countries because I have not experienced this anywhere else) are extremely subjective when it comes to following laws. They will do almost anything not to follow them but expect other´s to follow them when it´s convenient. That is one of the reasons why we have governors. They are supposed to make sure that people follow the rules. But as in most Latin American countries, being an authority or a politician is mostly for people who have other interests, which are mostly the high salaries without much accountability or work involved (in most cases, not all). That accountability, on the other hand, should be demanded by the public, by Brazilians in general.
Here is an example: A person decides to open a bar. He has family, kids, all that. The fire department never comes to inspect the place for fire risk and the inspectors never appear for all the other permissions he needs (this actually happened to me, but I decided not to open the business), so he just continues working in his bar for as long as possible (or until something like Santa Maria occurs). It is his responsibility to ask the fire department to come and do their job. That is what “we” pay them for. He should take that responsibility because he supposedly wants to believe that his kids will be safe when they go to someone else´s bar, right? Wrong. And THAT is the problem.
As long as it does not affect him he is fine with having an unlicensed bar. As long as it´s not HIS kids who are dying in someone else´s bar, he´s cool with the absolute lack of responsibility. As long as it´s not HIS kid who was run over by a drunk driver, he´s fine with drinking and driving. Hey, he even allows his under-aged kids to use his car and drive and drink sometimes.
So my message here is, if Brazilians wants things to work, they have to assume the responsibility for the things they do, be accountable for the consequences of not doing them and make sure that everyone who is on their payroll does their job.
But until then, the path is long, very, very long.