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.

Rolezinhos Explained – A reflection of inequality in Brazil

A fascinating new phenomenon that has recently emerged in Brazil is the “rolezinho”, which is the literal translation of “walk around”(e.g. vou dar um role) like when we decide to walk around the shopping centre or streets. The fascinating thing about this new trend is that it is a direct reflection of the extreme inequality there is in Brazil.

A group of people, usually from a same community, such as a favela or “sem teto” (homeless people) notify the press and organize a trip or rolezinho to a shopping centre. The interesting thing is the reaction of the shop owners, attendants and other regular customers, usually of middle and upper classes. They immediately grab their cell phones to call the police and clutch their bags from fear of being robbed. The presence of the press usually strips the police of any reasons for violent action because these people, like all of us, have the human right to be there and simply want to visit a shopping centre. This action forces middle and upper class Brazilian to face their own bias and prejudice without any excuses or justifications. They have no where to run.

The entire action is obviously organized to convey a message and protest against the discrimination these communities endure day after day by people of a different and often foreign social class.  The result is absolutely fascinating, especially when they decide to eat at the food court or use the restrooms. The panic they cause is a punch in the face of Brazilian society in general and a clear message delivered by a specific segment of society simply by being there.

It took me a while to understand what all the commotion was about and I initially thought people were actually protesting in shopping centres, but then, after watching the video, I realized it is all about people simply wanting to visit a shopping centre that has been invisibly “off limits” to certain segments of the population for so long.

I think this is all amazingly positive trend and hope it does not attract wrongdoers and people with bad intentions. If the rolezinhos manage to maintain the peaceful approach and very powerful but silent message they are trying to deliver, I think this will be one of the most successful revolutions of Brazilian society, and proves my assumption that Brazil is not a racist nation, it is a classist nation.

Here, the 19 minute video “So quero conhecer o shopping” (I only want to visit the shopping centre). Enjoy.

Living in Brazil: Builders

Someone posted a comment and mentioned the topic of builders in Brazil. I thought that deserved a post of its own, so here goes.

Dealing with builders, painters and the like in Brazil is one of the trickiest endeavors you will probably undertake as a gringo, or Brazilian for that matter.

I have actually seen news reports on the subject and any advice should be seriously considered.

In my experience, and those of people I know, there are three types of builders in Brazil. Good, professional ones who usually work for construction companies, do lots of training and earn accordingly. Good ones who are self-employed and usually inherited their trade from their fathers, grandfathers or from watching other builders. They usually have a team of the third type of builder, or builders like themselves, in which case you are looking at a miracle. Most work alone. Either way, they should be considered a Godsend if you are planning on building anything because they are usually overloaded with work or extremely, rare. Then, there are the ones who say they are builders, which in rare cases is true, to some extent, or who learned the trade from someone else. They are usually alcoholic and/or very bad at managing money.

This last type of builder is unfortunately the most common so I will stick with them. There are some basic rules when dealing with this type of builder, and rules to steer away from them and try to get the second type of builder. If you are lucky enough and have the resources to hire an architect and engineer (another tricky endeavor), they might already have a team of trusted builders or might handle the builders themselves. In most cases, the engineer or architect will appear once a day for 5 minutes and charge you a fortune for every visit. So you are basically left to deal with the builders yourself.

First rule: Never, ever hire them on a daily-rate basis. Always use the “empreitada” modality, which means they get paid per constructed square meter or for the entire project. You should, of course, ask them to set a timeline and hassle them about it, and preferably hang around when they are working to make sure they stick to it.

Second rule: Never EVER pay them “vales” (payments in advance that are deducted from the total) unless they give you an amazingly great justification (usually an agreement before they start working, such as 10% in advance and 90% at the end of the project). As I said before, lots of these builders are alcoholic and very bad money managers, so they are usually penniless and will only appear to work when they need money. If you start paying them the “vales” they ask for, they will eventually reach 50% of the final price for the project, or more, and never appear again. This is incredibly common in Brazil and I know of people (Brazilians) who have unfinished homes and have no more money to hire another builder and continue the project because they already handed over 50% of the budget. It should be very clear before they even lay the first brick that you will not pay a penny until it is all completed ( in the absence of any other agreement). They will throw the “leite para meu filho” excuse and even cry but you must not waver. Trust me.

Third rule: Be careful with building material (this is a universal rule). They should justify every purchase and you should keep track of everything from screwdrivers to cement. Some builders don´t have tools because their temporary workers steal them, so they might ask you to buy tools. This is rare but it happens. Regardless, keep a close tab on all the supplies you buy. I know of builders who build their own homes with the stuff that leaks from other people´s “almoxarifado”.

Fourth rule: Always hire a builder based on recommendations. Brazilians create emotional bonds with everyone they meet, even builders. So they will feel personally responsible for his work and only recommend someone they truly trust.

Five rule: Likewise, if you find a good builder and have a pleasant experience, clutch onto that phone number with your life. You will probably need him in the future.

Interview #3 – Craig Bell


1. Please tell us a little about yourself (name, nationality, occupation, country of residence, etc.)

My name is Craig Bell. I’m a Kiwi living in Brazil, and after working in the corporate world for 16 years, for the last 10 years I’ve been self-employed and developing various projects.

2. When and why did you decide to move to Brazil?

I moved from México to Brazil in 1997 as the General Manager for the Mercosul region for Fonterra, a large dairy co-operative from New Zealand.

3. What were your thoughts on Brazil before you actually moved here?

I’d visited a couple of times and my first thoughts were that Brazil was playing catch up with the rest of the world at the time as it was just emerging from hyper inflation, and the range of goods and services wasn’t that high a quality. But I also thought it was a monster in terms of scale of opportunity.

4. What were your first impressions (good and bad)?

Well being based in São Paulo, I thought the traffic was driving too fast and there was too much of it! I thought “these guys have to be the world champions of bureaucracy and business complexity” (and they still are!). Basic infrastructure like cell phones or banking were awful at the time, and after Mexico it seemed a bit drab. But as I got to know the place, there was an infectious happiness in the people which has left a lasting impression on me, and that helps I guess to overcome the daily challenges of government and living.

5. Which have been the most positive and negative experiences in Brazil?

Bureaucratic red tape to get just about anything done including endless trips to the cartorio to get signatures notarized would have to be at the top of my list of negative experiences.

Travelling just about anywhere in Brazil has been real fun, and in helping to set up a farming business ( in the interior of the country it has been personally very satisfying to see a whole community develop largely as a result of our actions.

6. What is your advice to foreigners who are thinking of moving to Brazil?

Firstly here’s an excellent and funny blog that captures pretty well I reckon what Brazilians are like.

You’ll need patience to get most things done. If you’re thinking of setting up a business you’ll need an added dose of patience, and you must get good legal and tax advice. Keep every single bit of paper.

Be prepared to pay and pay well for health and education. Private services are great, public are poor.

7. How did you find or look for work in Brazil? (On site, internet, etc.)

I was transferred with my company, but anyone from overseas looking for work should tap into a network of ex-pats and put the word out that they are looking. I think that is probably the best way.

8. What was your level of Portuguese when you moved to Brazil and what language difficulties did you have when you arrived?

I had some average Spanish when I arrived, which was a bit of a help to learning Portuguese, but there really is no substitute to putting in a couple of hundred hours of serious study to pick up the language.

9. What were the challenges you faced regarding finding a job?

Not really applicable as I arrived to a job. But being self-employed for the last 10 years, I think the biggest challenges are staying disciplined while you think about and implement the next opportunity.

10. How did you distinguish yourself from other Brazilian candidates for the position?


11. What advice would you give any European that is looking for a job in Brazil?

Best to line something up before you leave Europe, as Brazil is expensive to hang around in.

12. How did you legally work in Brazil and did you run into any problems during your working visa application?

I applied for a RNE (now called a CIE). The process was just slow and bureaucratic, like a year on a protocol for some reason, and then I had to return to my New Zealand to pick it up in person. I think the process might even be longer these days. There’s all sorts of visas and they need to be researched to see what is most appropriate.

13. What was your overall experience working in Brazil?

It was and still is very enjoyable, due to the opportunity to create in an environment of hard-working but fun people.

14. How did you make friends in Brazil? (Online, bars, etc.)

There were a couple of people I already knew here, and I was fortunate enough to tap into their networks, and I also met a lot of people playing sport here.

15. Tell us about good and bad experiences you had making friends or acquaintances in Brazil.

Brazilians have a tendency to say “you must come around home sometime” but think of it as more of a ritual discussion than an invite! Overall though I’ve had some great experiences meeting people through sport, lunches, friends of friends etc, and have probably met an eclectic bunch I would never have met back in NZ.

Interview #1– Iulia

As requested by one of my readers, I am starting with interviews of people who have lived or are living in Brazil. The questions are all the same, but you are welcome to submit new ones.

Here goes interview 1.


1. Please tell us a little about yourself (name, nationality, occupation, country of residence, etc.)

My name is Iulia Balteanu, I am Romanian, I graduated Economics but as a profession I chose to be a Mathematics, Romanian and English teacher. I lived in Brazil for 2 ½ years.

2. When and why did you decide to move to Brazil?

I decided to move to Brazil in March of 2010 because I always wanted to learn the most beautiful language which is Portuguese and because there are lots of opportunities in the fast growing Brazil.

3. What were your thoughts on Brazil before you actually moved here?

The cliché ones: samba, amazing beach resorts, dark skinned people and not too developed cities… But the reality is totally different and amazing!!!

4. What were your first impressions (good and bad)?

At first, the dimensions of Brazil scared me as well as the image of the homeless people and the huge development of the cities and the good infrastructure. And after I discovered the best asset Brazil has, its people and their huge hearts and great hospitality.

5. Which have been the most positive and negative experiences in Brazil?

The most positive: the people who are really helping the foreigners to adapt to their culture and to find a job, place to stay, learn Portuguese etc. and their acceptance of strangers.

The most negative: the big number of homeless people and robberies in the centers of the cities.

6. What is your advice to foreigners who are thinking of moving to Brazil?

To be prepared for everything, especially delays, unorganized meetings, to give a lot of time to the authorities in order to register their papers but to have patience because in Brazil everything gets solved delayed but in a magic way! J

Working in Brazil

7. How did you find or look for work in Brazil? (On site, internet, etc.)

Internet and networking. It helps a lot to have recommendations in order to get hired.

8. What was your level of Portuguese when you moved to Brazil and what language difficulties did you have when you arrived?

My Portuguese was level 0 but I was speaking Spanish so it took me 3 months to learn the language at a basic to intermediate level. But I am a native speaker of Romanian which is a Latin language, which helped me a lot.

9. What were the challenges you faced regarding finding a job?

It is very hard to find a job without knowing somebody and having a network…

10.How did you distinguish yourself from other Brazilian candidates for the position?

I distinguished myself through punctuality, hard-work, willingness to work in a serious manner, and the credibility given by the fact that I am a European citizen, fact that I find very unfair towards the Brazilian candidates.

11.What advice would you give any European that is looking for a job in Brazil?

To ask everybody, but everybody about job opportunities in its company.

12.How did you legally work in Brazil and did you run into any problems during your working visa application?

I didn’t work legally because is very hard for a company to hire foreigners.

13.What was your overall experience working in Brazil?

The overall experience was good because the Brazilians are very nice and empathetic and never happened not to get paid and stuff like this. The working laws are very advantageous for the employees too.


14. How did you make friends in Brazil? (Online, bars, etc.)

In Brazil you make friends everywhere! At work, school, bars, clubs, in front of the building, bus station, even in the Botecos. J They are very friendly and they love to speak to foreigners due to their curiosity about other countries.

15.Tell us about good and bad experiences you had making friends or acquaintances in Brazil.

Good: Everybody is inviting you in their homes, beach houses, parties etc. Is very easy to make friends and that’s how I got to know lots of wonderful places like Rio, Atibaia, Litoral Norte de Sao Paulo, Campinas, Interior de Sao Paulo etc.

Bad: Be careful that Brazilians don’t know how to say NO. They always say “Pode ser” which to other people means that can be possible but when they say this usually is very less possible…

Getting past the attitude

Insecure people always have an attitude and that is true for everyone, everywhere. The first thing I noticed when I set foot in Brazil was the insecurity. This insecurity leads to the impossibility of accepting criticism because you feel attacked. This is also true for most Brazilians, also. There are some major and almost life-threatening things that they simply do not accept:

De Jijoca para Acaraú

De Jijoca para Acaraú (Photo credit: deltafrut)

1. They drive very badly (the accident rate is one of the highest, if not the highest in the world. Period. Drive for 10 minutes just to see the horrors committed on the streets. The way they drive does not match their so-called “friendliness”, it´s almost creepy, like split-personality creepy)

2. Most of them can´t speak English but insist they can (this is going to be a major problem when the world cup-olympic games saga starts. Learn or die, there´s not other option. The world is not going to learn Portuguese. For more information, check “US Universities reject Brazilian scholarship students because their English is unacceptable”, and other articles that have been popping up almost daily in the news)

3. The jeitinho brasileiro is not a good thing (there is no “we” in the jeitinho. Although most die to prove that it´s positive, related to being creative. Real creativity is very different. Just to give an example, you would never hear someone advertise they use the jeitinho in their business or to solve serious problems (politicians, for example). For Brazil to start thinking as a nation, as people with the same objectives, they have to eradicate the jeitinho and use real, all-encompassing, all-including creativity. Instead of inventing a great excuse to jump a queue or be attended first, while treating everyone else like an idiot, use that creativity to complain about the long queues and benefit everyone. Well, that would also require courage.

4. No one cares about serious social problems. (Again, as Brazilians are mostly me-me and family-me, they don´t really care about anything unless if affects them directly. They are an emotional lot, so they really suffer when their loved one is hit by a drunk driver, but until that happens they laugh off the 3+ whiskeys they had before stumbling into their cars. No, it´s not everyone, but the one´s who don´t drink before driving laugh at the ones who do and do nothing about it, so it´s the same thing. In summary, the social problems they suffer are the result of negligence or denial)

Yes, Brazilians are friendly and kind and I love them to pieces although they probably hate me by now, but touch on any of these topics and get your stones ready because they are fiercely defensive and that attitude you didn´t see before will jump up in your face.