The Jeitinho Brasileiro

When I first arrived in Brazil, I was obviously overwhelmed by the huge cultural gap between the Brazilian way of life and the British and Argentinian way of life. Whenever I talked about it to someone here or complained, I was often told that the root of all my frustrations was the “Jeitinho Brasileiro”. It took me about 10 years to actually understand the concept of the Jeitinho, although now I hear it is “a thing of the past”.

For those of you who are still interested in understanding this strange concept, here is my contribution.

The Jeitinho Brasileiro is not only a Brazilian concept. It also exists in Argentina under the name of “ventajita” and I suspect it is a very Latin American phenomenon. All the South Americans I know seem to have some similar translation to this expression.

Anyway, the Jeitinho Brasileiro and the Ventajita must be understood if you want to truly adapt to the South American way of life (Brazilian or Argentinian in this case).  The Jeitinho can be defined as “personal benefit or advantage that is detrimental to the benefit or advantage of others“. To illustrate this expression, I have provided two examples from the most simple to the most complex.

Example 1
You are patiently standing in a queue at the bank. Someone walks in looking like they own the place and, completely ignoring the existence of the queue, heads towards the cashier. The intruder convinces the cashier that he or she has more urgent business than everyone else and the cashier complies (or not).

This person used the Jeitinho Brasileiro to jump the queue because they genuinely believe they have an advantage over the other people standing there for one reason or another, usually a personal bond with the cashier, more money in the bank, working for a powerful company, etc.

This type of behaviour is unacceptable in most developed countries. There is something about developing countries that makes people put up with this type of social behaviour. I am still trying to figure out what it is.

My great-uncle was a billionaire. He was the owner of Banco Roberts and La Buenos Aires, an insurance company in Argentina. He also had a strict British upbringing and education. When he needed money, he would stand in the queue in  branch of his own bank like everybody else.

Now to Example 2:

Two companies are fighting for an account that involves a specific project. After some negotiation, one of the companies accepts to offer a slightly lower overall price while maintaining the same quality of service. Regardless of price and given the scope and importance of the project, the executives of the contracting company hold a meeting to discuss both proposals. They eventually decide to accept the cheaper proposal due to other factors, including quality of service, project programme, experience of the professionals involved and, yes, affinity with the head negotiator.

The contracted company initiates the contracting process only to find out that the contract has been “postponed” without notice. The contracting company is suddenly silent.

After some insistence, they find out that the reason for the silence is that the previous Director has stepped down and been replaced with a new one that has a close relationship with executives of the competitor. The proposal of the competitor is immediately accepted, without meetings, without any form of approval or evaluation process.

Both companies used affinity to get what they wanted, and the contracting company used affinity as a criteria for selection.

This “problem” is incredibly common in most Brazilian companies and even in the government (although, in this case, there is usually affinity AND money involved). Proposals are accepted or rejected based solely on personal relationships between the people involved, sometimes even in the case of large corporations.  There are exceptions, of course, but those usually involve money (the cheaper the better). Quality is a requirement that is often overlooked. A company from say Germany, where people are 100% no-nonsense, would find it incredibly hard to adapt to the Brazilian market due to lack of affinity or “likeability”, unless, of course, it was an advantage to the Brazilian companies involved, such as companies that export to China.

The Jeitinho Brasileiro is not extinct. It is present everywhere. It used to be a lot worse, but it is hard for most Brazilians to separate the personal from the professional, the objective from the subjective. Everything is based on emotion. If you are not likeable and cannot establish some sort of personal or friendly relationship with the people around you (which for some people can be very difficult as “friendly” in Brazil can sometimes be almost gooey), you will find it a lot harder to adapt to the Brazilian way of life.

22 responses to “The Jeitinho Brasileiro

  1. After living, studying and working in countries like Brazil, Germany, Denmark, Spain, USA, Mexico, Island, India and UK let me tell you that in both Latin, Asian and Western countries the “Jeitinho” s well-accepted “. In Western countries we call it “network” and nepotisme is the core princip of it, even many will arge the opposite.

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  2. Me encanta tu blog🙂. Vou viajar para São Paulo no proximo ano e estou lendo e estudando sobre a cultura brasileira. Thank you very much for all your post with usefull information. By the way, im from Venezuela and here we called the Jeitinho or Ventajita, “PALANCA”. Saludos.

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  3. > I am still trying to figure out what it is.

    Masculinity. Testosterone. The ability to project confidence and instill fear, to send the message that if you try to stop me you lose a tooth. We have exactly the same atittudes in Eastern Europe. Our kids aspire to be or at least look like huge, intimidating looking body builder gangsters, the kind nobody dares to disrespect out of fear.

    Why is this and the whole jeitinho concept so hard to understand for you? It is very simple: forget civilization, imagine a barbarian tribe where might makes right, and the stronger, the victor takes all. That is all, really. Read your Tacitus, your own Germanic ancestors were full of jeitinho.

    In other words, mans natural state and natural instincts, without the softening effect of civilized manners and morals.

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    • Thanks for the comment. You say you are still trying to figure out what it is and then ask me why I have not figured it out. I know exactly what it is, I just don´t know why we can´t seen to evolve from that. Some Brazilians I have met say Brazil needs a war to imbed that community spirit, that sense of all against one to make people consider one another, their surroundings. I just think it´s human nature, the urge to be better, one step above everyone else. The only problem with the jeitinho is that is prevents things from running smoothly and it´s unfair. I hate any form of injustice.

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  4. “I think you are correct about the “jeitinho brasileiro” concept and how it can be bad and wrong to some people. You were really scared about this phenomenon when you first arrived in Brazil, because it’s very common. You’re right, but it’s hard to change the Brazilian tradition: the “jeitinho brasileiro” has been present in our culture since colonial times. I’m Brazilian and I know what I’m talking about!”

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  5. Hi! We’re students and we are discussing about Jeitinho Brasileiro at english classes. We agree with you concerning the Jeitinho Brasileiro. It is a sad aspect of the american culture. People who practice it show the corruption existing in our culture. Consequently, this corruption passes to the other areas of the human life; politics, mainly. If we want to change, let’s start changing the bad behavior we developed. We do not just agree with you concerning the exclusiveness of the Jeitinho Brasileiro in the latin american countries. Some nations have their own Jeitinho. There is corruption everywhere.

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    • Thanks for your interesting comment. Yes, I suppose you are right. Some or most Asian countries also have their jeitinho. The other day I went to the supermarket and I got my “senha” like everyone else. Some man appeared who obviously knew the butcher and the butcher said to him, “stand here behind this lady (some other lady who was being attended), this is the quick line (fila rápida)” No one said a word so I stepped in with my British attitude and said, “Que fila rápida nada! Aqui tem senha e ele tem que respeitar a fila como todo mundo”. I was defending everyone but they all looked at me as if I were insane. I became the crazy, “gringa” who ruined everything for everyone. The funny thing was that the friend was attended by some other butcher (he waited his turn but did not get a senha) and finished after everyone else, so it was obviously not a fila rápida either.
      The problem with countries like Brazil and Mexico is that they are collectivist, which means, among other things, that people are afraid to openly complain so they do not seem “chatos” or annoying, which is exactly what feeds the jeitinho. If no one says anything, it´s tough to eradicate. Here in Brazil, we have to muster the courage to complain when we see someone using it.

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    • I would like to elaborate a little more on my reply because I missed some points.
      Corruption is not the same as jeitinho. Regardless, corruption is severely punished in some countries and widely accepted or tolerated in others. My point is that the personal advantage (jeitinho, in the case of Brazil) is typical of Latin countries, not just Latin American countries. Although some people may use the jeitinho or its equivalent to get advantages over others, hence the corruption, these same advantages would not be accepted in most European countries, for example. Remember that in China, a corrupt politician may get executed, whereas in Brazil he doesn´t even get 1 day in jail (although I hope that will change). Corruption exists everywhere, but it is not tolerated everywhere and that was my point in the post. The jeitinho and its equivalent in other Latin countries is accepted and tolerated, hence the higher levels of corruption. BUT, corruption also requires other “ingredients” and it is not the same thing.

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  6. Hey there! Let me say that in Portugal we also have a name for that kind of thing… We call that “cunha”.
    But here “cunha” isn’t a good concept at all. Represents a easy way to get what you want, but isn’t well seem by the others who try to get that things in a tradicional, legal and honest way😛
    However, it’s very common here.

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    • Jeitinho Brasileiro, unlike what some Brazilians insists on claiming, is not good either because it always involves personal benefits, not collective. I´ve been asking around and it seems all Latin countries have their equivalent. It would be interesting to find out why.
      Thanks for your comment!

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    • This just confirms what millions of Brazilians also believe: that the Jeitinho is both good and bad, depending on the good or bad nature or intentions of the person that resorts to the jeitinho. Yesterday, my husband, a Bahiano who has never left Brazil, explained it very well. He said, “I need a copy of my birth certificate that is getting impossible to obtain. If I could use the jeitinho, I would have a cousin that works in the registry office whom I would ask to get it for me. No one would see, but it only benefits me. I do not complain to the registry office for a better service for all. I don´t personally believe the jeitnho is creativity. I think, as the article you mentioned states, it is a response to a “harder” life we sometimes have. The point is: is the jeitinho beneficial for others? No, just for me. Point made, thank you very much.

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  7. Your reply was a little confusing. I didn´t understand the comment on Germans. The Brazilians I know have never used the term Lei de Gerson to explain the “dark” side of the Jeitinho. They use the Jeitinho mostly to talk about negative behaviour. I am talking about people that range from CEOs of major firms (my students) to the gari that sweeps my street. If “we Brazilians” have it wrong, then…

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  8. Dear Cipriana,

    One more thing worth mentioning, no nonsense Germans have adapted really well to Brazil, Brazilians and both “Jeitinho Brasileiro” and “Lei de Gerson”. Brazil has more German companies than any other country in the world besides Germany. Way more!
    Some companies such as Volkswagen have larger factories in Brazil than any place else in the world. Germans adapted quick and are laughing all the way to the bank…😉

    Ray

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  9. Dear Cipriana,

    I agree with you, many Brazlians use the term incorrect. You will even find many links and post all over the internet to back this wrong notion.
    This is my entire point, we “Brazilians” have an expression for the positive, creative way to find solutions for problems, and we call that “Jeitinho Brasileiro” and we, “Brazilians”, also have an expression to describe the negative, brake the law sort of way people find to solve issues, and we call that “Lei de Gerson”.
    I am glad I found your blog thru Danielle’s comment page. I love to hear other’s perspective on my country.🙂

    PS: By the way, I linked this comment and your post on my blog for a “Jeitinho Brasileiro versus Lei de Gerson” post I just wrote.

    Abracos
    Ray

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  10. Dear Cipriana,

    I read your post about “jeitinho” and have to say, unfortunately, even after all these years in Brazil, you have been misinformed about “jeitinho”.
    What you are describing above, we “Brazilians” call “Lei de Gerson” which means “to take advantage” over every one else. I don’t know where you got the idea that it is tolerated, it is not, it is hated by most Brazilians I ever knew. And the cutting in front of the line issue, I never saw people putting up with it, anywhere, in Brazil, in a Developed country or any developing country, this is a human being issue, nobody is an idiot to watch someone cut in front of them and sit iddle without any reaction.
    The case of the corporations described by you, happens EVERYWHERE, including in the good ol’ US of A, where I have lived for the past 15 years.
    Jeitinho Brasileiro is a creative way to solve a problem. It is the creative way Brazilians find to overcome dificulties, not a way to take advantage of others, that is NOT what jeitinho Brasileiro is, not at all. What you are talking about, we call it LEI DE GERSON, “Gerson’s Law”, which is taking advantage of others.
    Please don’t take my comment the wrong way, I just can’t sit here and read such a wrong conception of such an important part of Brazilian culture.
    “Jeitinho Brasileiro” is supposed to describe a positive treat of the Brazilian culure, the creativity of the people to overcome adversity, not at all the bad habit of many, to take advantage over every one else.

    Abracos

    Ray

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    • Thank you for your comment. I did not find it offensive, but quite informative actually. Opinions expressed correctly are always welcome. However, I stick by my interpretation and I seem to share this interpretation with other Brazilians.
      Jeitinho Brasileiro can be both negative and positive. Check this link:
      http://pt.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeitinho
      In Argentina, we use “ventajita” which is usually negative, and then we have the expression, “lo atamos con alambre” which is the equivalent of the positive Jeitinho: solving something a creative way. The negative or positive use of the Jeitinho depends exclusively on the good or bad nature of the user. You can be creative in a bad or good manner. In my post, I refer to the negative side as most gringos are already familiar with the positive side.
      Gerson´s Law, on the other hand, is always negative. It is always unethical.
      See this link:
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/G%C3%A9rson%27s_law
      I have heard Brazilians use the term “Jeitinho” to explain negative behaviour. They usually say, “Pois e, o jeitinho brasileiro mesmo, não tem jeito”. I have never heard it used the positive way but I have never heard anyone say, “pois é, a Lei de Gerson….”. Maybe the expression has been misused, but my comments and opinions are all based on things Brazilians themselves have told me. I did not make the definition of the Jeitinho up.

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