Living in Brazil: Getting things done

The title of this post is a little generic, but I am mostly referring to services here. From anything to going to the hospital to getting a passport.

Getting things done in Brazil is an art. It´s unlike anything most people have encountered in their native countries and one of the most important complex situations you will probably ever encounter. The reason for this complexity is that nothing is logical in Brazil. As someone quoted in an article I read in the Economist, success or failure in Brazil depends on who is sitting at the desk.

Rule 1: If you need a service, information or help and you can´t get it, insist. Wait for a change of shift, come back later and talk to someone else. The “sitting at the desk” quote is 100% true. I once went to get a money order at the banco do brasil and the attendant told me I could not cash it because my address was wrong in “the system” and that I had to get a proof of residence.  I went home, got a proof of residence and returned. The attendant had changed and she cashed it without even flinching, no address problems.

Rule 2: Never be afraid to complain. It´s the only way to get respect.

Firstly, it is important to clarify that most Brazilians are afraid to complain. They will buy a faulty product and keep it in a cupboard, or pay for a bad service and prefer to remain quiet than say anything. They hate confrontation and avoid it like the plague. Secondly, because of this fear, they usually don´t know how to complain when they eventually muster the courage.

I once read a blog that was advertising a new line of products. In the comments, the only thing people wrote were complaints about the product and how their purchase had broken or fallen apart. Their comments were also asking the poor blogger to fix their problem, and they obviously went unanswered.

I had the same problem with the same product, but I wrote to the company, got a reply, got a free mailing order to post the product back to the company and got a new pair. In summary, some customer services do work, but there is a rule:

Rule 3: ALWAYS go to the source, the mother ship! NEVER complain to the store attendant or the employee unless its a huge chain with a good reputation. Asking for the manager does not work either, in most cases. I once got a sour ice-cream at McDonalds and only managed to register my complaint when I wrote to the headquarters. The manager got upset, asked me impolitely if I wanted my money back and continued selling the sour ice-cream, which is a serious issue in such a large chain. Another time, the post office delivered letters to just any address and we are all exchanging letter for weeks. I called the regional office and got nothing. Then I wrote to the mother ship and they told me he was a replacement of the postman who was on holidays, and that they would replace him immediately! I then got a phone call from the regional office asking me to complain to them next time. Not a chance.

Rule 4: Establish relationships with people that provide services you need on a regular basis. Brazilians are 100% emotional, so if they know you, chat to you about your family and home, get to know you, your stakes will hit the roof when you need to get something done. Be nice to the cashiers, secretaries, attendants, salespersons…  People calling you by your name when you enter that crowded bank is always nice anyway, right?

But be careful: taking advantage of that “relationship” is entering the  zone of the “jeitinho brasileiro”, which is not nice. Stand in line, get your senha and be patient and friendly, but never be afraid to complain if that does not work. It´s worked wonders for me.


3 thoughts on “Living in Brazil: Getting things done

  1. I just found your blog and I am happy to see their are others out there who are willing to address what I like to call the “real” Brazil; not the beer, beach, butt and Carnival that we are told about. Not the lie of always smiling, happy, carefree people who just love life more than anything. The reality of Brazil is quite complicated and very difficult to navigate and the usual picture you get from Brazilians and most expats is that “Everything here is just fine.”. Keep writing!


  2. well said and i agree with all of this, my only problem is that after one year living here in brazil i am still learning how to complain in portuguese


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