Lessons to Brazil – Thinking like a Nation

I don´t know if this is common in other Latin American countries, but I know it´s the same in Argentina. I don´t know if it´s related to being from a generation of immigrants and never truly acquiring that feeling of belonging to a country or a part of a nation (that the USA managed to do), but Brazilians (and Argentinians) don´t think like/as a nation.

Let me illustrate with some very common examples of things I have seen in BOTH Brazil and Argentina:

1.When someone puts a foot on the street to cross (even if it´s a pedestrian crossing) most cars accelerate instead of slowing down.

2. When someone is crossing the street at the crossing and the traffic light turns green when he/she is mid-way, the drivers press the accelerator (without actually accelerating if he/she is lucky) to frighten or hasten the pedestrian.

3. When someone eats something that leaves a wrapper they just it on the floor. There is no where-is-the-damn-rubbish-can reflex. They just open their hands and let it drop. A fine example is New Years in Rio, where people that went to the beach to watch the fireworks display left amazing amounts of rubbish without even bothering to put it in bags or SOMETHING, and the nappies I have found buried in the sand on beaches in Bahia.

4. The pavement is the responsibility of the property owner. This means that if you fall in a hole in the street, the person who owns the shop or house that is facing that pavement is responsible. This means that pavements look like patchwork quilts, some good, some slippery and life threatening and some outright worse. On the other hand, the worse pavements belong to the town hall, who people pay tax to to keep the city in walking order.

5. The government lowers taxes and sticks their hands in people´s saving accounts to compensate the losses from tax.This give and take is constant, omnipresent in supposed “improvements”. Councillors are mostly unaware of their job description and rarely make any changes, but they are thousands of them and they get better salaries than a good teacher.

6. Most traffic accidents (Brazil is a record-breaker in that area) are caused by negligence and drunk driving. That means that they are not actually accidents but are treated as such (things are gradually changing because social security is tired of paying for the bill).

7. When (some/most) women use public toilets they don´t flush the toilet and sometimes wee all over the seat! (Yes, women can be nastier than men).

8. Private schools illegally charge enrolment fees (equal to one monthly fee plus the monthly fee so it´s two payments in January) EVERY YEAR even if your kid has been in the school for years and will remain there. In public schools, they just ask you if your child will continue next year, which is the only thing private schools should do.


And that´s where thinking like a nation comes in. How can you eliminate corruption and bad administration if most people would do the same in their position? How do you get people to drive properly if they are always trying to get ahead, go quicker, be “smarter” than everyone else and get almost psychotic when they are behind a wheel? It all boils down to thinking as a whole, as a nation, rather than seeking only personal gain over everything you do.How are politicians expected to punish drunk drivers when so many of them have been caught in exactly the same situation?How are people expected to respect a disabled person´s parking space if these same politicians use it too, and too many non-disabled civilians, too. What right do you have to complain if you would probably do the same? The bottom line is, no one is worse than the other. It´s collective disrespect.

Thinking like a nation is picking up behind you for the next person. It´s that built-in reflex that people of more developed countries have of looking for that trash can and holding onto their trash until they find it. It´s that basic consideration and understanding that you are not alone, that the roads belong to everyone, that we are all pedestrians sometimes and we are all drivers. That if you complain you have to follow the rules also, and that effectively complaining is good for everyone. That our kids could be in that knot of a car that idiot crashed into because he was tapping an SMS and his car was basically driver-less, that we could be the victims or the idiot.

That sense of civility, of basic collective awareness and respect is desperately lacking in both countries and my question is, where do you learn that?



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