O Mechanismo, new series on the “Lava Jato” corruption case

Netflix just launched a new series on the famous and ongoing Lava Jato operation and I can tell you, it is great.

It has a very Tropa de Elite type vibe, with the protagonist telling the story in a deep voice as the story unravels, explaining all the nifty parts.

The acting is flawless and most of the characters are fictitious, according to the warning screen before every episode. With Melton Shello as a retired federal police agent who starts the whole process and Carol Abras as the one you takes over and is appointed delegada, there isn´t much that could wrong.

It is supposedly “loosely” based on the true story, but any similarities with real people are creepily believable and probably true.

Anyway, give a serious shot. It´s a great series whether you are interested in the subject or not.

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Things you have to get used to when you live in brazil

I have been dying to write this post for months, but decided to leave it for a while until I was confident enough. in the meantime, I started writing a small book about living in Brazil in case anyone wants to venture into the developing world for a few years. The points in this post are not included in the book.

The idea came after I read a post originally posted in Gringoes.com containing 20 reasons the author hated living in Brazil. The list grew to 66 reasons after the readers added items to the list and was finally translated and published in other Brazilian media channels. I personally agree with several of the items, especially the first three, but also think the author was a little unfair. So, I decided to write my own list with some of the things you have to get used to if you want to live in Brazil.

1. Insecurity: Brazilians are terribly insecure. If you are a translator, like me, you must have seen the horrible attacks on anyone that publishes job opportunities for native speakers, for example. Although this is a standard request for any translation outside Brazil, they seem to believe they should be priority when someone wants a translation in a language other than Portuguese in Brazil. If they do not want a Brazilian teacher translator then by golly they are not getting anything. Would you prefer a Japanese native to teach you Japanese or someone from another country? Exactly.  Their reaction to any insinuated or direct fault is violent. And there is no point trying to convince them otherwise. It only gets worse. The women are also particularly insecure (jealousy). Most of my foreign acquaintances who married Brazilian women can no longer have friends outside their wife´s social cycle. The worse part is that is seems to physically hurt them when they are confronted with their insecurities. If you want to continue being that person’s friend, you have to accept it. No way around it. For them, it is always personal.

2. Invasion of personal space: The first time I visited Bahia, I remember being in an ice-cream parlour trying to ask the attendant for a specific flavour. Someone came up behind me and leaned their chin on my shoulder, from behind, and said “they don´t have that flavour here”. Although this type of invasion is not so common in large cities, there are times you will feel people just get too close even while waiting in line. If you are a reserved type, it can be hard to get used to. Other space invasion problems include private parking space invasion, frequent home visits for no particular reason, the inability to realize when someone wants to be alone or not talk, and other awkward situations.

3. Rejection of anything nature-related or “dirty”: One of the first things I noticed when I moved to Brazil was how people seemed to reject anything related to nature. While trees, bushes, and lawns are welcome in most countries, here they are avoided like the plague. I have seen garden lawns cemented ruthlessly, leaving only the leafless trees in place, perfectly beautiful trees sawn down to the stump, totally tree-less streets in super hot towns, wall-to-wall white ceramic tiling even in bedrooms (for some reason natural finishing or decoration is not an option) and other weird preferences. I suppose my mother gave me the best reason for this: in a country surrounded by nature, it is only natural that people reject it. Maybe…. but how else can you cool down the hot Brazilian summer if it´s not in the shade? If you do happen to have a tree in front of your house, trust me, people will sit and stand under it, but they will never think of planting one in front of their own houses.

4. Inability to adapt to the environment: this takes us to the south, the coldest region of Brazil. Even in the poorest home in Argentina, people have stoves, heaters, even a fireplace to keep warm. Natural gas is piped into homes and cheap. There is a whole system to protect people from the cold that everyone considers standard when building a home. Not in the south. I have seen people put alcohol in cans and throw a match in to keep their homes warm (some actually died) or stay in bed almost half the day to keep warm. My husband decided to cut and sell wood and we bought a salamander to keep warm when we lived there, which we had to install. People who lived there would pass our home and laugh; we were the local joke. People from other regions who could not take the cold, bought all our firewood. In the north, other than air conditioning, people have no idea how to keep their homes cool. There are no white washed walls to reflect the sunlight or small shuttered windows to keep the hot air out. They leave that *** wide open. Trying to convince a Brazilian that a dark, shaded home is a cool home is like trying to prevent them from using those nasty roof tiles that absorb all that heat and increase global warming.

5. Inflexibility: this takes us to their inability to accept that there are different ways of doing things. Depending on where you live, people will come and give you all types of standards and rules of conduct and appearance. In São Paulo, for example, I was told only criminals wear hats (baseball caps are ok because they are all-American), although most people have no idea how to play baseball. I was also told which verbs to use, although the verbs I had chosen were actually correct (botar vs colocar, for example). Other crazy inflexibilities are builders insisting on placing staircases outside the home or saying arches are not used.

6. Total lack of civic/social awareness/duty: a lot of people talk about their rights, but few are aware of their duties (or their real rights). Duties include not throwing your old sofa out into the middle of the street or your empty chip wrapper out the bus window. It also means not transforming the pavement for your own purposes and ignoring that others might slip and break their necks on the ceramic flooring you used or may not be able to pass with a pram or wheelchair. These are all common sights in Brazil. Since the city council comfortably transferred its duty to tend to the pavements to the residents or shop owners, each resident can do as they please, and they do, believe me. Returning to the rubbish problem, I have been to birthday parties where EVERYONE simple dropped their plastic cups on the lawn after use. Go to a concert in Brazil after everyone has left and see the amazing amount of rubbish people leave behind. I have never ever seen that in any other country. Only in Brazil. Vandalizing anything remotely civilized is also common (rubbish cans, bus stops, public toilets, etc.).

7. The inability to speak up: for those who have travelled around and know how a society is supposed to act, the courage to speak up and complain is just not there. I have tried so many times to explain that rubbish does not go out the window only to get nasty sneers or looks of absolutely astonishment. Sociologists say this is because Brazilians are collectivist, which means they act as a collectivity and never independently. If one screws up, they feel they can or will all screw up, too. If one acts a specific way, they want to act that way, too.  Another tell tale sign of collectivist societies is queuing up. Stand outside any shop looking as if you were waiting for something or queuing up and you will soon see someone standing behind you. No one asks, they just queue up. I´ve done it twice and it never fails. Sometimes the person doesn´t even want to go into that shop or bank, but they still queue up.

8. Disrespect toward others in general: curiously, Brazilians tend to disrespect anything that is not intimately related to them. While they are very friendly and have time for you if you need help, they do strange things like push passed you when you open a door, jump queues, and generally try to take advantage of any situation for purely personal benefit, …. there is a human element, but there is no social element. If they do not personally identify with you, if there is no personal connection, no matter how slight, they don´t care. There is no sense of being Brazilian, there is only a sense of being me and my family and friends, and what I consider important. There is no overall concern for surroundings or people. That, combined with the inability to speak up, is the main reason for the paralysing corruption Brazilians are facing.

Complaining about services in Brazil

One thing you will have to get used to in Brazil is complaining. Most Brazilian don´t complain because they are afraid or don’t know where to complain. It took me a long time to get over the “crazy gringa” stereotype and find the right places to complain. In most cases, there is no point complaining at the actual service. You have to look for the regulatory agencies. So here goes a short list of the agencies I have successfully used. The only con is that you have to know how to write in Portuguese.

Banking Institutions

Banco Central do Brasil (click on Registrar Demanda)

If you spent more than 30 minutes in the queue, you can sue the institution. For that, you need a lawyer and proof of the time you went in and the time you were attended (use the senha e ask the attendant to stamp the senha with the time of attendance).

Telephone and Cable TV companies

Anatel (click on Registre sua Reclamaçao)

Supermarkets

First try the supermarket. If that fails, which it probably will, visit the website of the chain and send an email to the head office. I once bought rotten frozen food and the head office sent the supermarket an email saying they had to give me a new one.

If all else fails, gather your papers and register a complain at the Procon (click on your state on the right sidebar to get the phone or email).

Clothes

If you buy something faulty and the store refuses to change it, write to the manufacturer/label and explain. They usually let you ship the product to them for free and return it fixed or give you a new one. The only exception, in my experience, is Casas Bahia. They change it for a new one on the spot.

If all else fails, gather your papers and register a complain at the Procon (click on your state on the right sidebar to get the phone or email).

Correios/Post

If you want to complain about abusive rates or tax when you pick up a parcel, ask the attendant at the post office for the form. They take a while to reply, but they do, in writing after an investigation. If you have some other problem, first complain at the Fale Conosco. If that fails, use the protocolo from the Fale Conosco and write to the Ouvidoria.

Petrol Stations (bad petrol)

If you went to a petrol station and suspect the petrol was “adulterado” (mixed with other substances), you can complain to the ANP.

Other Options

Use the Public Attorney´s Office (Ministério Público). Each state has it´s own and it’s really important to contact the Office of your state. This is an example of the SC MP (Santa Catarina). To find yours, Google Ministério Público+denuncia+[your state].

Get a lawyer

If you need a lawyer, I recommend JusBrasil (click on Buscar um Advogado). Their service is excellent and a lawyer in your area answers in a few days.

Use customer complain sites

Reclame aqui sometimes works. It´s a customer complaint website where some companies actually answer and try to solve your problem. It never worked for me though.

7th of September Blues

For those of you who don´t know, today is the Brazilian Independence Day. I don´t know much about politics and presume there is not much to celebrate, but you have to be blind not to see that something tense is going on. Something is shifting.

After some massive protesting, Brazilians are slowly learning one thing: the government should fear public opinion more than the press. This may sound a little obvious to countries like the US or European countries, but Brazilians haven´t fully understood the power they have. They limit their participation to voting and complaining, but little is really done toward forcing the government to listen to their woes. No one has been able to explain this to me, 11953267_1032919433414338_6114491051835807124_nespecially Brazilians, but I suspect it is just how Brazilian society works. Get on with your life, look after your own and pretend the rest is not there. That just isn´t working anymore.

Too much neglect has led to this point. Pointing the finger to the government they chose is not going to work. They have to actually get up off their asses and do something. Not many have fully realized this, but it´s changing. The two inflatable dummies created to shout public opinion in the face of the government seems to be a good step. Seriously. It might sound far-fetched, but those dummies represent more than outsiders could comprehend. They are the smack in the face the government needed, the F-you protected under tight guard.

On the government side, they are as deaf as usual although visibly more irritated, scurrying to find more idiotic ways to take money from Brazilians to pay for their inefficiency and bad decisions. Who was it that said people need a common enemy to come together? Well, that is what is happening in Brazil. It´s them against us now.

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On the innocent bystander side, things are also changing. The economic hole the country is in is forcing people to treat customers better, create more innovative ways to attract our attention, offer discounts (whaaatttt?), show more respect, more “comradeship”… before all hell broke loose, you would not get much respect or attention from a shop attendant or waiter. Now they are falling all over each other to convince you to buy or taste something.

The other day, someone told me cars made in Brazil are cheaper in Mexico because Brazilians pay for the higher price. Simple as that. Service providers and manufactures in Brazil (and I presume people here in general) have this annoying habit of lowering quality, raising prices and treating each other badly for no reason. As if wanting to see just how far they can go. Now real-estate is going down, although they still haven´t gotten the knack of attracting customers in creative ways (free TV if you buy a 100,000 BRL 35m2 flat is not creative, sorry) instead of actually putting the price down to, say, what it´s worth. Oh, and car sales are hitting rock bottom. Clothes are actually almost the same price as they are in the rest of the world, although there is still a long way to go. People are now considering fixing things instead of throwing them away (buying = status, even if your fridge is empty) and of buying good quality used cars instead of bad quality new ones just to impress the Joneses.

Yes, things are changing. And as a firm believer that bad things always have a sunny side, I am just watching the social shift and eager to see the outcome.

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Buying property in Brazil: The Easy Way

After looking for years, I finally managed to buy a piece of land in Brazil. As I was the buyer, I decided to find the place first and then look for someone to help me with the paperwork. Of course, I live here and don´t have to worry about the “foreigner” part of the paperwork (that part took me about 5 years to complete), so I will jump a few steps here.

Anyway, I found a lovely piece of land in the rural area of Ilhéus, somewhere between Serra Grande and Ilhéus, on the motorway to Itacaré. There are some “neighbourhoods” here where lots of foreigners have purchased property and basically take care of everything. In the region I chose, I was lucky enough to also find some foreigners and other local neighbours who are very kind and helpful.

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Sunset after a long day of work

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Garden

View of the shed

View of the shed

Our beloved horse, Colorado

My daughter and dog.

My daughter and dog.

I was also lucky enough to find a “gringo” who had already gone through the entire process and he is very penny-wise (: so I decided to follow his steps for purchasing property.

First of all, most properties in this region so not have all the documentation and have never paid tax. So the first thing is to find a property that has all the documents or at least, as in my case, the “registro de propriedade” which is basically a piece of paper saying that the state or municipality has transferred a piece of land to the current owner and it no longer belongs to the state. This is very common here also, where most people simply settle on pieces of land and build their homes, after which the state may award them that piece of land (usually after 20 years). As the seller had most of this basic paperwork, all I had to do was find the “corretor” who would help me. Enter my gingo friend´s recommendation.

I contacted the real-estate agent/corretor and scheduled a visit. They offered me their full services, including all “cartório” work and “escrituração” (deed) for the modest sum of 2 minimum wages. They drafted the contract, checked all the paperwork, did the missing paperwork and prepared the deed. I paid 50% in advance and 50% when I signed the deed.

Easy peasy. No, seriously. It was really easy.

Then, I was introduced to an angel who knew all the builders, painters and electricians in the area and basically became my contractor. For just 5 thousand reais, I managed to prepare the entire house and moved within a fortnight.

So, if you are planning on living in the Ilhéus region, especially between Itacaré and Ilhéus, and need help doing the paperwork and getting the house ready for living, leave a comment. I would be glad to give you all the contact information.

 

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Review: The Biggest Loser – Brazilian Version

The other day I watched (for the first and last time) the Brazilian version of The Biggest Loser, that reality show where overweight people literally kill themselves to lose weight and are asked to leave the show if they don´t lose enough of it.

The Brazilian version of this show is really interesting because it very clearly reflects one of the biggest differences between the US and Brazil. Merit versus Likeability.

In the US version, as I said, the competitor who loses the least weight must leave the show, and that goes on until the very end when the biggest loser (the person who lost the most weight) gets the prize.

In Brazil it works like this: the competitors starve themselves to almost death and do lots of excruciating exercises and are weighed in front of an audience, just like in the US version. The tragic thing about it is that the audience then chooses who they think must leave based on how “nice” they are. I had to watch the painstaking process of a man who lost the most weight, an amazing 10 kilos on one weekend, having to leave the show because the audience “did not like him”.

That, to me, is the tragic reflection of just how important “being liked” is valued over “being worthy” in Brazil. The person who works the hardest, makes the most effort and has the most discipline is rejected, mistrusted or ignored because there are others that are more likeable. This also reflects that nagging complaint of most foreigners who live and work here: merit and professionalism per se are just not valued in Brazil. No matter how hard you work, if you are not nice, you won´t get very far.

Once someone actually told me that I would not get work in Brazil because I am “difficult”, but my clients all tell me I am professional, punctual and reliable, which, to me, is so much more important than being “easy”. I do, however, now that if I was always charming and hugable, I would get a lot more work in Brazil.

It´s an aspect of Brazilian society that will probably never change and probably one of the reasons professional, disciplined, hard-working and, above all, serious people are not usually elected for the best jobs. Those are reserved for school buddies, family members and close friends.

I don´t know if this happens in other countries but I am positive that the Brazilian rules of the Biggest Loser would not be as acceptable as they are here.

Review: Prejudice? Really?

An article I read the other day: Voices of Brazil, the models facing prejudice at home, from the Guardian, really bothered me and I just felt I had to write something about it, being black and all.

First of all, the author accuses Brazil of choosing a white couple to represent the country in the World Cup draw, which is downright incorrect. Brazil chose Camila Pitanga and Lázaro Ramos, two black actors, for the draw and Fifa rejected them and chose the two white models and couple, Marcelo and Fernanda.

Secondly, black models are rare anywhere in the world, Why? Because we are a minority in most countries and women find it harder to identify with women of other races and because models are chosen for other reasons, not because of colour. I mean, the world´s catwalks are not exactly abundant with Asian models, are they? People should never be forced to choose someone because they are this race or that race. That, to me, is racist.

Maybe black models have more chances outside Brazil, but it is precisely for the “tropical” look that they are chosen so being from Brazil might even be a bonus. Countries where there is a low population of black people are usually the ones who hire them the most. But again, so what?

I just wish people would stop whining about idiotic things and start acting to improve the serious things this country has to change. Picking on a country for just about everything is not going to solve anything.

There, I´ve said it.