When happiness isn´t funny

The very first thing people say about Brazilians is their friendliness, their joy… but this can be a problem when you live here. It is more of a cultural issue, which becomes a problem to some foreigners.

The other day I was sitting in a bar with a potential British student who confessed he had moved to Brazil with all his belongings, and was now realizing it was not what he had expected.

Like most ex-pats, he had come here on holidays, liked it, gone back, thought about it, and decided to move here for good. He now things were just too different…too loose.
As he told me his concerns I thought about my experience.

Yes, the entire world is upside down, people are not as professional and reliable as they once where. You can encounter the same problems in Tokyo, New York or Salvador.
But Brazil is different.

This week, for example, the Prefeito decided to fix the road where I live. They hired these poor men, with no adequate personal safety gear, to basically set down the cobbles with their hands and a sledge hammer.
Leaning on my window sill, watching them work, I realized they are always chatting and laughing.
They hammered a little, stand up, looked around, smiled at each other, put a hand on a hip, tilted back their cap, and engaged in conversation for about 10 minutes before continuing.
Life seems good for them, easy and trouble-free. But what about the road? Will it ever get done?

The same thing happens with builders, maids, baby-sitters, rural help, any type of low-income worker.
You have to watch them 24/7 if you want anything done at all. You often see 5-6 men at the side of the road cutting grass with long knives (I think they don’t trust them with mowers). One of them is always working while the other 4 look back at you from their comfortable sitting positions. Then they must switch.
I think 1 in 5 poor Brazilians truly work hard. The others just pretend.

What does this have to do with living in Brazil you ask?
Well, it is something that eventually affects you when you need to get something done. This is only true for those who live here long enough.
It is common to see 5-6 maids work in one same house in 6 months, for example. Poor people in Brazil don’t really know how to work. They have no discipline or real love for their work, and only work to eat.
Let’s say you hire a builder to build a wall. He asks for 50% up front, and you give it to him. Chances are, he will never appear for work. He only needed some money to buy gas, to eat, and he got it. So now, he moves on. This is frighteningly common here. It happened with the satellite dish guy, with the gardener….

This apparent joy is really just unconcern for the future, for the present even. Joy is common only in the poor people of Brazil. They expect nothing, want nothing, and do nothing. There is no will, no hopes, no what-if’s. My mother swears there is no thought.

It is neither a good nor bad thing. You enter a poor house (very poor) and everyone is sitting there. Happy and smiling, they greet you and chat enthusiastically for hours, but there is no coffee, no sugar, no food. The TV is on, the kids are running all over the house, stealing bits of left-over bread, wondering what there is to eat, but no one DOES anything. They are there, waiting for someone to bring something, from somewhere…. Smiling and happy.

When one of them manages to get a job, it is always temporary. They work for a month and leave. I have not discovered why but I suspect it has something to do with the salary. Once they get it, they are gone.

All that joy misses a point. It does not perceive that a better life is only attained through hard work. They see nice cars and good clothes on television, but do not see the work implied. They think they are just unlucky, that God wants it this way.
Some may say it is the poverty, the bad education, but I have long stopped blaming others. I have seen the ugly face of absolute poverty and also seen people climb out of it.

On the other hand, poor people in Brazil do seem to have better human relations. They talk about almost everything. There are few secrets and emotions are expressed openly.

I suppose no one is perfect….


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