A lot of people ask me the difference between Argentina and Brazil. One of the biggest differences is the “senso critico“(or, the capacity to judge and form opinions regardless of everyone else´s judgment or common sense). Argentinians complain about everything, from the weather to the government, while Brazilians never criticize anything.
I once read an article that discussed why Brazilians always clap when they see a show, even if it´s the worst show on earth. The few critics in Brazil, including the author of this article, give you impression that they are fighting a very solitary battle. Whereas in Argentina, the US or Europe, a critic usually finds some supporters of his/her views, in Brazil you are left standing alone with the banner. People seem to edge away as soon as you complain in the bank line or try to return a faulty product. No one wants to participate in your battle, not even if they agree.
Another article I read claimed that we fall in love with someone for specific reasons, which later on become the same things that annoy us about our loved one. In my love affair with Brazil, for example, I loved that carefree spirit, that oblivion some people seem to be in throughout their entire lives, that ability to laugh just about anything off, no matter how terrible or painful. As the author of the article warned me, that is now exactly what irritates me most about the Brazilian way of life.
Why don´t you care if your brand new fridge is growing a massive lopsided lump of ice that means your fridge has to be in defrost half the day? Why don´t you cry when the sole of your shoes just comes off in the middle of the street? Why don´t you have a fit when someone jumps the queue or slams a door in your face, or a salesperson disrespects you? The reaction to most of these situations is always the same, a shrug accompanied by, “Fazer o que?”.
I am alone in my daily battles of territory-marking and respect-assuring in Brazil. I receive phone calls and e-mails all the time telling me how so-and-so was simply not done, lost, forgotten or overlooked, with no explanation, no sorry, no guilt. My weapon of mass persuasion has been to insist, reply, insist, complain, until I get what I asked for in the manner it was promised. This has it´s side-effects. Some people now refuse to do business with me.
This absence of a senso critico is so deep rooted in the Brazilian culture that it has formed a dangerous vicious circle that can be contagious if you´re not careful. To demand respect and quality becomes so exhausting that you sometimes feel it´s safer to just let them get their way.
The other day my mother bought a jigsaw puzzle for my daughter. It cost 20 reales. They took it home and immediately started trying to piece it together (my daughter loooooves puzzles). The pieces did not fit. Not only did they not fit, the shapes were all wrong. There was no way of putting the pieces together because the entire puzzle fell apart every time you tried to put in an extra piece…anyway, she took it back. She complained and told the salesperson this was not a puzzle and that she should complain to the suppliers. The salesperson-dash-owner said, “Fazer o que? Não adianta reclamar.”
Last week a group of vandals destroyed everyone´s trees and pots on my road. One of these victims has a surveillance camera. I asked her if she identified the hooligans. She said, yes, she knew them, but, “Fazer o que? Nem adianta reclamar ou denunciar. Eles vão continuar….”
She has a point. I firmly believe that one of the main reasons why Brazilians prefer not to criticize or stand up for themselves is that there is nothing to back them up. The legal system is totally broken, penalties are way to lenient, police are either too aggressive or totally omissive (they ignore most complaints), the customer protection agency only finds solutions to your specific problem, while the rest can lump it, and the list goes on.
This takes us back to the vicious cycle…