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.
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.