When quality is not important II

Now that Brazil is officially entering the global marketplace, one thing comes to my mind: how do they keep up with international quality standards?

I asked a friend who was, at that time, the Director of Quality Control in Melitta, the coffee company, about quality standards at the company. “There used to be a quality stamp and we were the only ones that had it. Now everyone and anyone has it, so the quality of our coffee doesn´t matter anymore.” This obviously forces companies to lower standards and lower prices in order to compete.

The jeitinho brasileiro allows for almost anything, from getting food administration approval stamps (there was a good sketch about this in Zorra Total, where a sexy woman would always get the approval stamps, while the honest but uglier businessman, wouldn´t unless he agreed to pay a “tip”) to getting environmental licenses. It all depends on how good you are at playing the game.

When you buy a plug, a light bulb, put your shopping in a carrier bag, you will almost always have to deal with quality issues. The light burns in 2 days, the plug simply breaks in your hand, the carrier bag drops all your shopping on the driveway…

It you insist on quality in Brazil, you have to pay for it. And the price is very, very high. While you could easily walk into any store in the US (I compare because it´s on the same side of the world and should therefore be more similar than they are) to buy a shower curtain, say, and find a wide range of good quality items at a decent price, this is impossible in Brazil. Anything good is “for export”, while all the other shabby stuff is “domestic”. “For export” means you pay the price for the “extra” work put into the factory adjustments for compliance. If they exported as is, it would be returned (I know because I do thousands of compliance translations based on faulty, returned products and adjustments needed for export).

In my family we have this joke, which is not that funny anymore. When someone comes to visit from Argentina or the US and asks us what we want, we give them a list of items such as shower curtains, plugs, light bulbs (please?), switches, cleaning products….

The reason for this all goes back to the previous article on quality. Brazilians accepts bad quality because their culture does not allow complaints. People accept the worst and most unacceptable defects without uttering a word. The law is slow, but it works, eventually. They have the same legal issues here as they do anywhere else. They also have the Procon, the customer rights agency. So it´s not the lack of legal support. It´s just the way it is.

The worst thing, and what concerns me most, is that I will eventually go with the tide. The other day I bought chicken nuggets. When I opened the box and the bag, they were green. Yes, green. I wrote to the supermarket and complained, and then returned the product. That was a success story! Then, I bought a spray bottle, one of those empty containers with the spray nozzle you can put liquid in.  The little tube where the liquid goes up was missing. I returned it. I got another one. It didn´t work. It just didn´t. I returned it. “Sorry, we don´t have anymore of those.” Ok, soooooo….

That´s another thing. As people never complain or give up their complaining missions in a second, the sales staff give you stupidest excuses so you go away. “No one has ever complained before.” “Are you sure? That´s odd!”, “You must have broken it or something.” “We don´t have the brand anymore, sorry.” are some of the responses I have had to listen to as I stand in front of the counter with my faulty plug that almost caused a short circuit in my entire wiring system.

People continue complaining (to anyone who will listen or to themselves) after they leave the shop, but they rarely insist. I am known in my town to be a “pain in the butt”, “gringa chata” and “the problematic one”. Some actually admire my grit (?) and have told me so in my face. Sales people in the local shops cringe and look the other way when they see me marching towards them. I´ve shouted in supermarket queues, down the phone…

Before you wonder what this gringa is complaining about, Brazil is fantastic, go home, bla, bla, bla, ask yourself: It shouldn´t be that way, should it? Should I have to risk my life because some company owner realizes he can lower the quality of this goods (put more water in, use plastic instead of mandatory steel, etc.) and sell more because no one cares or complains? Do I really have to drink coffee that tastes like mud and leaves because he sells all the good stuff to the UK?

Bad quality goes for everything, from driving (Brazilians drive like ***, from babies hanging out the front window to people jumping red lights and stop signs. I´ve actually seen a truck run over a lady on a zebra crossing!), food, clothes (expensive and bad quality thread, some companies have stopped manufacturing clothes here because the thread is so bad), shoes (Argentina stopped importing because the soles would just come off, bad glue), appliances (my steam iron gave me so many electric shocks I stopped using the steam!!!). the list is endless.

The result is inevitable. Quality is now considered “luxury”. The luxury market in Brazil is booming, but it´s consumers pay 3 or 4 times the price a consumer from another (quality- abiding) country would pay. They seem to think it´s worth it…

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