Most people probably know this by now, but if you are wondering what to do in São Paulo or Rio, check out these Time Out Facebook pages (in English).
If you are coming to Brazil from any first-world/developed country, the first thing you will have to get used to when you finally settle here and start working and living in Brazil is the bureaucracy. If you are from a third-world/developing or emerging country, you are probably used to it.
Lots of Brazilians complain about it, so it´s not like we are bitching about something that does not exist, but there are two aspects of bureaucracy that most people don´t realize or consider.
1. Bureaucracy in Latin American countries is actually necessary. Most Latin Americans will always find ways to get away with things and honesty is usually considered a sign of weakness. Before you smirk with scepticism, let´s consider this scenario. My dad was once stopped by the police when we lived in London for speeding. The policeman asked him for his name and address, but, which is pretty characteristic of the UK, no one asked him for identification. That means they literally took his word for it. Imagine the same scene in a Latin American country. Yes, you gottit. Impossible. If, let´s say, the policeman forgot to ask for ID, most Latin Americans would lie about their name and address to see if it sticks. The natural consequence of this tendency to be dishonest is that everyone has to prove everything they say or do, hence the bureaucracy. In summary, Latin American is not ready for less bureaucracy. The example above may be a little extreme, but you will soon notice that you will actually appreciate the bureaucracy, especially if you have to sign an agreement with someone or buy something. The bureaucracy provides proof of each step you took if you should ever need it.
In Brazil, the level of suspicion is much higher than in Argentina, say, although they are at the same smart-ass level. That is why Brazilians invented Cartorios. Yes, those nasty little places are used to prove that you are you, that your signature is yours, that your name is your name… in Brazil you have to prove EVERYTHING.
2. It´s not the Bureaucracy itself that´s bad, it´s the time it takes to do anything. The fact that you need a stamp on your birth certificate to prove it passed through the proper channels is not a bad thing. The fact that that stamp can take up to 3 years, is. I mean, how long can it take to pick up the stamp, put ink on it and lean it on a page? A long time, apparently. I waited 2 years to correct a mistake on a certificate. It took the judge one year just to pick up the paper, then another to decide what to do. You basically have to hand in the papers and forget about it until it´s done. Forget about timing anything. You will also notice that things the government wants, such as income tax statements, ID for everyone and the like, are usually based on efficient, faster services, such as websites. When it´s you that needs something from the government, the story is very different and there are not effective channels available at all.
In summary, arm yourself with lots and lots of patience when you need to get anything done that involves authorities, public services, law or government. In these harems of bureaucratic bliss where everyone is over paid, under worked and rarely get fired, you cannot complain unless you want to make serious enemies and extend the time limit to infinity. If you really want to reduce bureaucracy to an absolute minimum, live in the smallest, best developed town you can find near the biggest city you can find, which is exactly what I did.
In the aftermath of one of the worst and most senseless tragedies in the history of Brazil, I woke up this morning asking myself, “will anything change?” After scanning the latest news and all the thoughts of several journalists and supposed actions to make sure “this never happens again”, and after watching the inspectors suddenly doing their job on the evening news, I sincerely believe nothing will change.
Why? On the evening news, there was a scene that, to me, made everything very clear. It´s the same scene when someone is caught drinking and driving or breaking any other essential law. An inspector was inspecting a bar that had been “interditado” (whatever that means, because they just open it again as soon as the inspectors leave) more than 4 times because it did not have a license or permission to function as a music bar (they apparently insisted on hiring bands). The bar was full of people and there was a band playing. The owner blatantly said to the inspector that “they were just friends having a party” and that it was not open to the public, although people were walking in and out like in any normal bar. The inspector didn´t believe him and “interditou” the bar again. Great work.
When a person is caught drinking and driving the reaction is the same. They just stare the police officer in the face and say they are doing nothing wrong, that they did not drink, that they refuse to blow into the bloody “bafometro” and then get offended when no one believes them, usually followed by an actual tantrum, death threats… which, ok, happens in any crime reality show.
Brazilians in general have a very childlike attitude when caught red handed. They deny it and lie in the face of anyone that accuses them, actually believing they will and should be believed regardless of all the overwhelming evidence that proves the contrary. Like a child trying to convince his mother that he did not eat the cookies and then having a tantrum when he is not believed. This is frighteningly common here and I see it on a daily basis almost everywhere.
So my conclusion is based on the fact that Brazilians (I don´t know about other countries because I have not experienced this anywhere else) are extremely subjective when it comes to following laws. They will do almost anything not to follow them but expect other´s to follow them when it´s convenient. That is one of the reasons why we have governors. They are supposed to make sure that people follow the rules. But as in most Latin American countries, being an authority or a politician is mostly for people who have other interests, which are mostly the high salaries without much accountability or work involved (in most cases, not all). That accountability, on the other hand, should be demanded by the public, by Brazilians in general.
Here is an example: A person decides to open a bar. He has family, kids, all that. The fire department never comes to inspect the place for fire risk and the inspectors never appear for all the other permissions he needs (this actually happened to me, but I decided not to open the business), so he just continues working in his bar for as long as possible (or until something like Santa Maria occurs). It is his responsibility to ask the fire department to come and do their job. That is what “we” pay them for. He should take that responsibility because he supposedly wants to believe that his kids will be safe when they go to someone else´s bar, right? Wrong. And THAT is the problem.
As long as it does not affect him he is fine with having an unlicensed bar. As long as it´s not HIS kids who are dying in someone else´s bar, he´s cool with the absolute lack of responsibility. As long as it´s not HIS kid who was run over by a drunk driver, he´s fine with drinking and driving. Hey, he even allows his under-aged kids to use his car and drive and drink sometimes.
So my message here is, if Brazilians wants things to work, they have to assume the responsibility for the things they do, be accountable for the consequences of not doing them and make sure that everyone who is on their payroll does their job.
But until then, the path is long, very, very long.
Here is the second interview of the series. Enjoy!
My name is Indra Barrios Lasso, Panamanian who works as a language instructor in two language schools. I teach Spanish and English. However, I worked as a Journalist and a copywriter in advertisement agencies in my country (McCann Erickson Worldgroup, Euro RSCG and Lintas). I am 48 years old and married to a Brazilian for 25. You can say I am a bit Brazilian as well.
2. When and why did you decide to move to Brazil?
I didn’t “decide” to come to Brazil. I didn’t plan to come here. A friend of mine wanted to study in Brazil, as a “estudante convênio”, and invited me to take the test at the Brazilian embassy in Panama. There is an exchange program that enables Latin American, American, European and African students to study in Brazilian universities (my case, Universidade de São Paulo-USP). At that time, back in 1983, I was taking a Communications graduate course at Universidad de Panamá and wanted to become an advertiser. When the results of the test came out, it turns out I passed and my friend didn’t! So, I talked to my parents and told them the news. They agreed on sending me U$250.00 every month. Unbelievably, this is how much I lived with for many years when I came here in 1984. Things were pretty different in those times.
3. What were your thoughts on Brazil before you actually moved here?
It seemed such a far away country, people seemed so free (bikinis looked so cool) and Roberto Carlos singing in Spanish all his songs, with that peculiar accent that I loved. I knew they were kind of different, soccer was great. That’s all I knew.
4. What were your first impressions (good and bad)?
I was impressed by the amount of people and cars and motorcycles! More than impressed, I was a bit scared. Everything was different, I didn’t speak the language (it took me some months to figure out what the professors were talking about at the university), I kept watching tv and repeating every single word for me to be able to communicate better.
5. Which have been the most positive and negative experiences in Brazil?
I try to see every experience as a positive one, even though they bring a little negativity for a while. It is difficult when people try to imitate your “accent”, or they try to make fun of you and your different cultural background. But, that happens to everybody! Something that really get to my nerves was getting my RNE, my Brazilian ID, because I had to go to the Polícia Federal, without speaking the language very well (nobody speaks English nor Spanish there, even though they work with foreigners)…the place is terrible, the people are terrible, there are lots of kids running around or crying…it is just insane!
6. What is your advice to foreigners who are thinking of moving to Brazil?
Learn the language! Buy a Lonely Planet guide book or read about the city you are going to live in. Nowadays, it is much easier to get information about Brazil or make part of an expat community in the city.
Working in Brazil
7. How did you find or look for work in Brazil? (On site, internet, etc.)
I went back to Panama when I finished my graduation course, this time with my Brazilian husband. We decided to work there, and change a little our experience here in Brazil. We stayed in Panama city for 8 years and then, in 2004, we decided to come back to São Paulo. I had been working as a copywriter and was doing fine, financially speaking. But the work was too much! We wanted to live a better life, so SP sound better. I decided I would never work that much, and from then on I started looking for something to do…I stayed on a Sabbatical year and then thought it would be a good idea to teach Spanish or English. I knew I had a big chance to succeed as I am very communicative, have many friends and have always trust relationship sites. I am not afraid of anything, I know I am good in what I do and many people see that in the way I teach.
8. What was your level of Portuguese when you moved to Brazil and what language difficulties did you have when you arrived?
On my way to Brazil, on the Varig flight, the flight attendant asked me “Você gostaria de um suco de laranja?” I just said: “Sorry, I don’t speak any Portuguese”. It was awful!
9. What were the challenges you faced regarding finding a job?
Brazilian networking was a big challenge. This is a big city with lots of opportunities, but you have to know where to search.
10. How did you distinguish yourself from other Brazilian candidates for the position?
Languages, global mind, culture.
11. What advice would you give any European that is looking for a job in Brazil?
12. How did you legally work in Brazil and did you run into any problems during your working visa application?
I am married to a Brazilian and have a permanent visa.
13. What was your overall experience working in Brazil?
I have met many interesting people. Some of them are my friends. Paulistas tend to be efficient in what they do and won’t take a no without explanation. You have to make sure you know what you are good at, and let everybody know that as well…then, they will respect you as a professional. I think it is quite the same around the world.
14. How did you make friends in Brazil? (Online, bars, etc.)
Paulistas like to go to bars, but sometimes it gets too often. I have made Paulistas friends and friend from other countries through FB, couchsurfing, internations, friends of friends, etc.
15. Tell us about good and bad experiences you had making friends or acquaintances in Brazil.
Paulistas are good party friends, but when it comes to going to a cultural event (museums, art galleries, theater, etc) they usually make excuses and won’t show up. People have a different perception of punctuality and this is something I will never get used to. If you invite them over at 8, they will show up at 10! I usually tell them to be at 6 so they will show up at 9! hahahaha You’d better get to know this in advance, otherwise you will get really upset and stressed out!
Yes, I know the title is pretensions and ambitious, but I actually have some examples to prove my point so bear with me.
Brazil is not a great nation for two reasons:
Brazilians do not consider it a nation.
Brazilians do not consider it their nation.
Yes, I also know that Brazilians have to be cut some slack because they are making lots of efforts, but its much, much deeper than that. I will illustrate my philosophy with examples that are all 100% true and witnessed in person.
1. In an outdoor birthday party in a country club, everyone, and I mean everyone, simply threw their paper cups and napkins on the lovely lawn, and left their used plates on the ground, next to their seats or on tables.
2. A Facebook group is trying to collect signatures to force the authorities to create strict laws against drunk driving. This country has millions of Facebook users. They need 1 million signatures and have, after 2 years, only collected 400,000. This can only mean two things: Brazilians know they are drinking and driving and will do nothing about it until someone in their family dies in a car crash (causing someone´s death is obviously not important), or their children are drinking and driving and they have no intention of stopping them. Police apprehensions of people driving without a license have gone up 80%!
3. A Facebook page is trying to collect signatures to fight corruption, they aren´t even close to the 1 million and never will be. The reasons can only be that Brazilians still consider corruption acceptable or admirable or that they are corrupt or corruptible in some way, maybe at work.
4. The presidential party (ruling party) is currently being investigated for corruption in one of the biggest political scandals and trials in the history of Brazil. The same party has majority of voters in São Paulo, a city that never voted for this party.
5. During the election campaigns, litter left by candidates in the streets was so bad that a woman actually tripped on the pamphlets and died. My town looked like an atomic bomb had hit it. If politicians are willing to treat their city that way, how can they deserve our vote?
6. The city or town hall says that each individual is responsible for his or her pavement. Yes, this means that if you fall into a hole in the street, the house or building that is directly in front of that hole is responsible for your injuries. On the same token, the pavements that are in front of properties that belong to the town or city hall are always the worst in the city or town, sometimes causing serious pedestrian accidents almost every day.
7. Every day, at school in and out time, a police car has to stop at the pedestrian crossing in front of the school (in my town) so that kids can cross the street. If the policeman does not force cars to stop, they do not stop and the kids cannot cross. If the law says you have to stop when someone stands at a crossing, who is enforcing that law?
8. When you visit Ilhéus, the Princess of the North-East, in Bahia, you sit in the beach and have to dodge buried nappies, food and plastic cups. Trucks simply dump all their rubble in the beaches. One individual actually tried to create a movement, but she asked all the members to organize the protests so the movement became obsolete. Politicians in Ilhéus have been promising the construction of a new bridge for almost 6 years. Candidates get elected govern and leave, and no one builds the bridge.
9. Luxury stores in Paris have to hire Brazilian sales staff (not Portuguese, Brazilian) because if the saleswomen does not treat clients in a certain way, they do not enter the shop. It´s not arrogance, it´s lack of self-confidence and she has to know what handbag “Carminha” in Avenida Brasil was using to be able to sell them a Chanel bag just like hers.
10. In carnival in Salvador, Bahia, they installed hundreds of chemical toilets that were stolen or vandalized. The organizers concluded that “people (o povo) are not ready for these things”. In carnival in Rio, people left so much litter in the beach that it became news and an example used for littering campaigns.
11. In a protest held in Rio (Rio!) to support the “mensalão” the huge political trial going on in Brazil right now, 40 people participated. Now, in this year´s Gay Parade….
I could go on, and on and on forever with these examples. My conclusion is that Brazilians simply do not care about Brazil. They do not love their own country as a nation of equals who have the same needs, rights and duties. No one is held accountable and no one is punished. Everything simply dissolves into nothing, which they call “pizza”. It´s no longer a joke. It´s just not funny anymore. If we, yes I include myself although I am the only one who stops at the bloody crossing, do not start embracing our country as a nation and defending the rights of all its citizens, we will not only be isolated from the world, but from our own people. Finger pointing is not the solution. We have to look at ourselves first.
Now, let´s sit back and see what happens in the Olympic Games and the World Cup. Then maybe Brazil will wake up and fight or come together as a nation.
I just ran across this really interesting blog on food and the author had published a list of 100 food items that everyone should try in Brazil. The idea is to put the items that you have tried in bold and the ones you have not in green (or something like that). I will just copy and paste the entire list because I think everyone should try everything on the list at least once…
I tried to explain the ones I have tried or simply translate the name of the dish. Here we go:
100 Brazilian dishes to try
According to Ibope, 75% of Brazilians can´t write, read and interpret a long text. That means that only 25% of Brazilian can fully understand a long text.
I don´t know how high this percentage is in other countries, but the lack of reading or discussion on serious subjects is very evident when you start talking to people here and this is what I meant when I posted that there is a cultural void in Brazil. I don´t know who is to blame for this obvious disadvantage Brazilians have, but I have my suspicions.
My only contact with the “academic” or “educational” world was when I taught English Text Interpretation at a federal university in Ilhéus and when I studied for my driving test. I even wrote about this in the “Driving school experience” post.
In both situations, I noticed one thing that is probably the basis for the educational problem Brazilians have, and this problem is definitely based on the Jeitinho Brasileiro. Call me a blundering lunatic, but these statistics just prove my point.
Brazilians have a lousy education because the study material and method suck. Period. When they start school, they copy texts written by the teacher on the board that they don´t understand. They copy and copy until they supposedly learn how to read and write. The method is based exclusively on memory.
When the exams comes, the students who pass are those who memorized the most. There are no interpretation or discussion questions, no thoughts or opinions, nothing. When they finish school, they are tested to enter university based on the same principle of memorization. Text interpretation is very basic and it is perfectly possible to pass the exam without understanding anything you have read or written.
Basically, education in Brazilian schools is information that must be memorized to get at least 6 and pass, enter a university, get a diploma and start a professional career.
At the university I taught for a short period, none of the students knew how to summarise. I had to teach them. The smart ones got it almost instantly. Their grades went up almost 30% (students who had previously gotten 6 later got 9). This also goes to show that it´s not an incapacity, it´s just omission.
At the driving school, I was shocked how they only taught the information that would come up in the written test and actual driving exam. We did not drive at night (the exam is during the day) although this was a requirement and we could skip the information that did not appear in the exam. We basically memorized as little as possible. No one was curious, no one really wanted to learn the rules of safe driving or even how to drive properly. They just wanted to pass the exam.
When Brazilians go to an exhibition or to the theatre, they always love everything. No matter how bad it is. They don´t digest what they have and don´t have their own opinions because they were not taught how to. Again, that is what I consider a cultural void. What is the point of having all these cultural events and great museums if you have no opinion? Brazilians get offended when I say they have no culture. They do, but not all of them understand it or feel confident enough to come to their own conclusions.
If you don´t believe me, watch programmes like Zorra Total (with the exception of a couple of comedians, the rest is…. just watch it and then we´ll talk) or Brazilian TV commercials. This problem is also reflected in problem solving. When they realized the driving test was too easy, the authorities decided to add another 15 classroom hours, but the material is still exactly the same, so the schools are forced to teach and then pretend to teach for another 15 hours (you just sign the frequency sheet and go home). Then you have the queuing system and idiotic unfounded requirements people are always inventing to supposedly solve a problem, and create a new one.
Is that normal? Does that happen in your country, too?
At school in London, we had English Language (equivalent to Lingua Portuguesa) but we also had English Literature and I think that made all the difference. In English Language, we learned how to read and write, but in English Literature we learned how to understand what others wrote, how to summarize, how to discuss, how to express our opinions. Information was digested and turned into something individual and unique. It was beautiful.
That, in my opinion, is what is lacking in Brazil. It´s not the teachers, it´s not the students with family and disciplinary problems, its the method. It´s the defective way information is presented and the lack of interaction and real contact with that information. This terrible void the Brazilian educational system has only created citizens who don´t think for themselves, who don´t understand, who don´t know what is right or wrong, good or bad. Call me a witch, but I think I am the only one who is truly mourning.