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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Why Brazil Is Its Own Worst Enemy | Daniel Wagner

Any article with a title like this one is bound to be interesting! Must read.

Why Brazil Is Its Own Worst Enemy | Daniel Wagner.

Why are Brazilians Protesting?

I am not going to go into a detailed account of current events or repeat any of the things people have been posting because that would just be, well, repetitive. As I watch the videos and read comments and mainstream media vehicles requesting photos and struggling to understand the protests, I tried hard to answer some of the questions myself and came up with some conclusions based on what I´ve heard and seen.

Basically, students started to protest because of the raise in bus/transport fares. With the increasingly unaffordable cost of living in Brazil, this just seemed to be the breaking point for an entire nation. At first, Brazilians watched from behind their TV screens as students were battered by the police and vandalized one thing or another. Then came the comments and reactions, the disgust at police violence and the vandalism. After that, other people started to adhere to the protest, people who don´t even use public transport; doctors, lawyers, people who are just dying to express themselves and decided it was time to take advantage of the tide before it died down. The excuse this time was police violence. The police backed down a little, but the people continued gathering, painting their own signs, complaining with their own voices about just about everything that is wrong with Brazil.

In one post, someone, who was praised for his honesty, said Brazilians hate violence, which is why these protests reached such colossal proportions. In my opinion, Brazilians hate confrontation, which is different. They act in groups and hate to tackle anything alone. Brazilians are collective but disorganized, so when they saw such a great opportunity to express their anguish, they took it, regardless of the initial reason for the protests. This is my opinion, mind you, so respect it before you jump at my jugular. To complain alone in Brazil is a sad affair because Brazilians don´t have the legal resources and solid  institutions great nations need to survive.

The government claims it does not know why they are complaining. The protests were initially organized by an organization called Passe Livre, and they are still fighting to maintain the current  public transport fares. So who are all the rest? They are Brazilians who are just sick of it all. You have to live in Brazil to understand the full extent of the problem because governments that send money to Africa and Cuba are supposedly governments of a well-off, stable, happy country. Brazilians live in a massive, destructive contradiction that lacks all common sense. Every day, they get up and ask themselves: if I work half a year just to pay taxes, why isn´t public transport, health and education like in Norway, like Japan, like in Germany?

The Brazilian government is confused because it “helps the poor”, it shares the income, builds houses to subsidize (they should at least be “free”) and gives the new dwellers credit to buy that TV and washing machine they badly want. They are failing to see that the people who are complaining are the middle class, the people who support the poor and the entire system, and that the new classe C they helped to create is facing problems they never even dreamed existed.

In summary, the protests in Brazil are about everything. I was amazed last night as I watched the thousands marching as the newsreader refused to shift from the “police violence” theory. Yes, it is a problem, but the underlying issues are way more important to Brazilians who work, pay tax and get nothing in return, and to the students who do not want to live as their parents do.

They deserve a better future and we have to help them in any way we can.

 

Living in Brazil: Electric showers, toilet litter and other oddities

I was going to write a separate post for each of these cultural-shock-inducing items of everyday Brazilian life, but that would be a little extreme because they are pretty easy to describe.

This week, I thought hard about the first things that shocked me when I came to Brazil at the clueless age of 15 to meet up with my parents. They had just rented a huge house in the Jardins area of São Paulo that was the perfect landing pad for such an overwhelming city. I actually pity people who visit São Paulo for the first time and have to stay at a hotel. Venturing out into the crazy streets of São Paulo for the first time can be nasty if you don´t know what you are doing. My parents immediately introduced me to friends they had made in London who were now living in São Paulo and they took me around, slowly allowing me to digest this hectic city.

Anyway, the first weird experiences were obviously when I started to visit people at their homes. I will put my initial cultural shocks in which they were experienced:

Television

I was sitting in someone´s living room one evening and we were all shouting at one another because the television was on and loudly so. I looked around to see if anyone was watching and it seemed that no one was, so I asked if we could turn it off. The glare I got was enough to shut me up and pretend I had never asked, forever.

  images5 Another time, I decided to test a family to see what would happen if I turned the television off. I was in this house that had a corridor-like living room, the TV was on and no one was watching, but everyone passed the TV and entered and exited the living room as they went about their activities. I turned the television off and waited. After 5 minutes, a boy passed, turned the television back on and left the room.

The first thing that I noticed about a lot of Brazilians is the fact that they ALWAYS have the television on. They turn it on as soon as they get up and sometimes don´t turn if off, ever, not even at night. I have a friend who sleeps with it on, in her bedroom. If you turn it off, as I once did, she wakes up, gets out of bed, turns it on again and goes back to sleep. Wouldn´t it be easier to just close your eyes again and sleep without it?

The relationship between most Brazilians, especially poorer ones, and their televisions is eerie.

Electric Showersimages3

My parent´s home has a boiler and piping for hot water because it was an old, well designed house, but the first time I encountered an electric shower was almost deadly. I was at my boyfriend´s (at that time) grandparent´s house somewhere near SP. It had gotten late so they invited us to stay the night. When I walked into the shower “box” and looked up I almost had a heart attack. All these wires and cables sticking out of the wall attached to a nasty plastic contraption that was supposedly the shower. I turned the only tap because I was too embarrassed to ask for help and felt a slight electrical current running through my arm, like a needle pinching me. I leapt out of the shower, got dressed and hysterically hissed at the first person that passed outside the door. “Oh yeah, it does that sometimes. Don´t worry, just open the tap with your flip flops on so you don´t get a shock”. I decided to go to bed without the shower.

When I eventually rented my own house and had my first electric shower installed, I had to tackle the problems of burning cables, melting insulation tape, dashes from the shower due to life-threating shower situations, such as sparks and smoke, and showers that just burn out because the “resistência” can´t take the load. They are always nasty, no matter how you look at them. The ONLY thing I like about them is that the water is instantly hot. That´s it.

Not a single Brazilian has been able to convincingly explain to me why they use [sometimes badly installed] electric showers and why homes aren´t built with hot water piping. I can handle the low income situation, because copper piping is expensive and most people can only afford plastic piping, but electric showers are used in ALL homes outside the main cities. It´s just the way it is, they always answer. The truth is that most of them have never seen what a shower is supposed to look like, and most tourists don´t see the electric showers because they rarely have the in hotels and apart hotels. So it´s basically a national secret that no one wants to talk about.

Toilet litter

images4Visiting my father´s auntie Tusa I was confronted with the hard reality of that nasty plastic basket with everyone´s used toilet paper in it. I hate being gross in my blog, but it´s a gross thing, believe me. For some unexplained reason, Brazilian piping and sewage is not compatible with toilet paper so people never flush the toilet paper down their toilets. Instead, they provide little baskets, sometimes with lids and sometimes without, beside the toilet for the toilet paper. If you refuse to use them, as I did at first, you end up blocking their entire piping system (yes, just with toilet paper) and have to pretend you don´t know what happened, praying that toilet paper will not float when they peak into the loo.

Bujão/Butijão

Brazilians who live in the city have no idea what this is either. As soon as you move to the interior, you are forced to deal with the bujão, also called butijão. This annoying little fellow is nothing more and nothing less than a heavy metal container where cooking gas is stored. You purchase a butijão with gas and then get it filled when the gas runs out. None of the houses in the interior or in some smaller cities have gas piping, so gas is stored in a butijão and placed outside the house or under the sink. It´s always a good idea to have two because they love “drying up” on Sunday night, when no one is open to replace it.

index4In most cities of the interior and even mid-sized cities, there is this pickup that drives around the streets playing this repetitive music, selling butijões. The first time most gringos hears that music, they run out with their purses or coins thinking it´s the ice-cream van. Nope, it´s the butijão guy. He´s usually far away by the time you reach the pavement so it´s a good idea to get one of those fridge magnets with his number on them. It´s also important to buy from official gas brands because there is some dodgy gas filling activity going on and official brands less likely to rip you off with half-filled butijões.

Panela de pressão

The first billboard I saw in Brazil was for a Clock Panela de Pressão. I did not know what they were because my parents did not use them. When I did finally see one I admit I was afraid of it. I had already heard of exploding ones and the consequences, so I was really curious to see how they worked. It took me about 2 years to muster the courage to use one without close supervision.

The secret is to cover the food with enough water. When that water runs out, the panela de pressão (aka pressure cooker) dries and can explode, causing nasty damage and injuries. If you are not sure if there is enough water or you have finished cooking, you take it off the fire and put it under running tap water. Some people lift the little nob to let the pressure out, but that is dangerous and unnecessary. Just allow some water to run on the panela until you hear a “puff”. Then open. If there is pressure, it will not open. In that case, more water and try again. Another tricky bit is aligning the lid, the rubber hoop and the handle. It´s always a good idea to have a new panela, because old ones sometime let the pressure out and they never do that “shhhh” sound. I still don´t know what that little red button is for, though.

Panelas de pressão are essential for cooking feijão (beans) in a hurry or carne à panela. I will probably get death threats for saying this but, in my opinion, Brazilian meat is terrible. Most Brazilians call their cattle cows, but they are mostly Zebus/Nellore, and their meat is harder and leaner. So, putting the meat in a panela de pressão softens it, which is why carne à panela is so popular. Other people actually boil it and then fry it, which is almost unthinkable if you had a nice, chunky piece of tenderloin, proving my point. If you do find good meat, it´s either very expensive or a fluke. It´s hard to get the same good quality twice. Another reason is that they tend to slaughter their zebus when they are 100 years old, unlike some countries that have a certain pride in good quality meat and slaughter animals when their meat is still tender. I know nothing about meat, but as an Argentinian, meat is important to me.

Bakeries

I love bakeries. When I lived in England and Argentina, I was often the first customer at the bakery in the wee hours. I love variety, soft, greasy pastries and lots of different types of breads, tarts, pies and goodies bakeries are supposed to sell,  but all that is sadly very rare in Brazil. Unless you live next to a fancy bakery in an equally fancy neighborhood in a large city, bakeries are depressing little places indeed. The only good thing about Brazilian bakeries is the bread, when it´s good quality. They have this little invention called the pão francês, ou pão de sal, depending on the region, that is a little baguette-like bun. It´s nothing like a real baguette, of course, but it´s still charming and eventually addictive, especially on the “chapa” with butter, mmmmmmmmm, or as a queijo quente ou misto quente. Then you have the caseirinho, which varies in size and shape depending on the region, but is a great option if you want softer bread or crustier bread (yes, caseirinho is softer in SP and crustier in the NE, for example). Anyway, the white bread is generally good in Brazil. The problem is the other stuff. When I lived in Florianopolis, an Argentinean baker tried to make medias lunas (the Latin American version of croissants) and eventually gave up because I was his only customer. Brazilians aren´t keen on trying new stuff.

When I visit other countries, the first thing I do in the morning is visit the bakery just to get a feel of them again. I really miss the variety, the rye bread, the huge loaves of soft whole-wheat bread, the assorted buns, the sweets, the cakes and pastries with chocolate or cream oozing out of them. Maybe it´s just me.

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The consequences of bad education

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.

(Source: http://noticias.terra.com.br/brasil/noticias/0,,OI659284-EI994,00-Ibope+da+populacao+nao+sabe+ler+direito.html)

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.

The Favela Dance (Dança/Passinho da Favela)

Just wanted to post these videos to show the new dance the kids in the favelas have invented that I find fascinating. You rarely see new dances here that do not have heavy sexual undertones, so this one is a pleasant surprise. Of course, someone had to ruin it and call it “dança foda” but that´s another story.

The Jeitinho Brasileiro

When I first arrived in Brazil, I was obviously overwhelmed by the huge cultural gap between the Brazilian way of life and the British and Argentinian way of life. Whenever I talked about it to someone here or complained, I was often told that the root of all my frustrations was the “Jeitinho Brasileiro”. It took me about 10 years to actually understand the concept of the Jeitinho, although now I hear it is “a thing of the past”.

For those of you who are still interested in understanding this strange concept, here is my contribution.

The Jeitinho Brasileiro is not only a Brazilian concept. It also exists in Argentina under the name of “ventajita” and I suspect it is a very Latin American phenomenon. All the South Americans I know seem to have some similar translation to this expression.

Anyway, the Jeitinho Brasileiro and the Ventajita must be understood if you want to truly adapt to the South American way of life (Brazilian or Argentinian in this case).  The Jeitinho can be defined as “personal benefit or advantage that is detrimental to the benefit or advantage of others“. To illustrate this expression, I have provided two examples from the most simple to the most complex.

Example 1
You are patiently standing in a queue at the bank. Someone walks in looking like they own the place and, completely ignoring the existence of the queue, heads towards the cashier. The intruder convinces the cashier that he or she has more urgent business than everyone else and the cashier complies (or not).

This person used the Jeitinho Brasileiro to jump the queue because they genuinely believe they have an advantage over the other people standing there for one reason or another, usually a personal bond with the cashier, more money in the bank, working for a powerful company, etc.

This type of behaviour is unacceptable in most developed countries. There is something about developing countries that makes people put up with this type of social behaviour. I am still trying to figure out what it is.

My great-uncle was a billionaire. He was the owner of Banco Roberts and La Buenos Aires, an insurance company in Argentina. He also had a strict British upbringing and education. When he needed money, he would stand in the queue in  branch of his own bank like everybody else.

Now to Example 2:

Two companies are fighting for an account that involves a specific project. After some negotiation, one of the companies accepts to offer a slightly lower overall price while maintaining the same quality of service. Regardless of price and given the scope and importance of the project, the executives of the contracting company hold a meeting to discuss both proposals. They eventually decide to accept the cheaper proposal due to other factors, including quality of service, project programme, experience of the professionals involved and, yes, affinity with the head negotiator.

The contracted company initiates the contracting process only to find out that the contract has been “postponed” without notice. The contracting company is suddenly silent.

After some insistence, they find out that the reason for the silence is that the previous Director has stepped down and been replaced with a new one that has a close relationship with executives of the competitor. The proposal of the competitor is immediately accepted, without meetings, without any form of approval or evaluation process.

Both companies used affinity to get what they wanted, and the contracting company used affinity as a criteria for selection.

This “problem” is incredibly common in most Brazilian companies and even in the government (although, in this case, there is usually affinity AND money involved). Proposals are accepted or rejected based solely on personal relationships between the people involved, sometimes even in the case of large corporations.  There are exceptions, of course, but those usually involve money (the cheaper the better). Quality is a requirement that is often overlooked. A company from say Germany, where people are 100% no-nonsense, would find it incredibly hard to adapt to the Brazilian market due to lack of affinity or “likeability”, unless, of course, it was an advantage to the Brazilian companies involved, such as companies that export to China.

The Jeitinho Brasileiro is not extinct. It is present everywhere. It used to be a lot worse, but it is hard for most Brazilians to separate the personal from the professional, the objective from the subjective. Everything is based on emotion. If you are not likeable and cannot establish some sort of personal or friendly relationship with the people around you (which for some people can be very difficult as “friendly” in Brazil can sometimes be almost gooey), you will find it a lot harder to adapt to the Brazilian way of life.

Touchy Issues

Brazil
Brazil (Photo credit: NASA Goddard Photo and Video)

Ok, I have to admit that I have refrained from writing for a while because I understand that Brazilian readers might find me too critical, but some things just have to be said.

These last few months, I have been reading lots of posts from foreigners (gringoes.com and similar websites) and Brazilians alike. Mostly on finding work, doing business, surviving, the “boom” we are supposedly experiencing but not feeling, and so forth. It was refreshing to know that I am not alone in my frustrations. It seems that when foreigners say something good about Brazil, mostly in articles in official media, Brazilians attack saying it´s not that good. When they say something bad, they also attack saying it´s not that bad, why are they here, why don´t they leave, etc.

My point being? Well, this seems to be Latin American characteristic as Argentinians are the same, but Brazilians are incredibly touchy when it comes to anything…Brazilian.

This incapacity to take constructive criticism or accept any form of comment or opinion on the way they do things is one of the most damaging characteristics they have. It all boils down to insecurity. The Brazilians are the most insecure of all the South American people I have met, no exceptions. They only appreciate something when it is the reflection of something else (they seldom open a restaurant with an innovative theme, for example, unless they saw it on a trip abroad), and they only feel secure about something if it is being done somewhere else, mostly in films. Women cut their hair and dress to look like women in the novelas, men buy SUVs that are considered eco un-friendly and costly in the rest of the world but that still appear in US films. The Brazilians are great imitators, although that innovative restaurant might not get the crowd it expected because people here are sometimes afraid or skeptical to try anything new.

The problem is that they fail to see that the rest of the world is praising us, emerging countries, because they need people to spend. No one is buying anything in their countries, so they say we are booming, emerging, “the ones”. It´s nothing personal, it´s just business. No one really cares. It´s the Brazilians who should care, about Brazil.

If they could only value what they have, what they are, and only imitate the good things from other countries, like investments on education, science, technology, sports. If they would only allow good, stable companies to enter Brazil to improve the incredibly bad quality of raw material used in some Brazilian industries (glue on shoes, thread in clothing, dyes, etc.), some finished products, such as furniture (Brazilians women have been crying for Ikea for years), and services, and compete with Brazilian companies to make them more aware of the importance of customer assistance, quality… the red sea. So far, they have only swum in the sea of carefree, tax heavy, bliss, which is incredibly expensive and short on quality.The tax load is the main culprit, but it´s not the only one.

You can only grow if you are eager to listen, to really take in the good things that you see in other countries, other companies, other people.

In Brazil, people have only just started to complain. When I got here 20 years ago, there was nothing in the way of customer rights. Now, there are websites where people complain about services and damage company images. But there is still a lot to do. They have to REALLY complain to improve things around here. The only noteworthy public manifestations on the news are for the legalization of marijuana, gay rights and the like. No one hits the streets to complain about the billions they pay in tax and then have to take their kids out of private school because they can no longer afford it, about the billions politicians steal under their noses every day, in every way, about the buildings that collapse, the planes that crash and kill hundreds of people and no one gets compensation, no one goes to jail, about the increasing violence they see every day on TV, with absolutely no consequences, about the criminals that are given amnesty on Christmas and never go back to jail, only to commit more crimes, kill, rape. Those manifestations are never popular. No one can be bothered to organize those. Brazilians are collectivist, but only with the people they know. Only with their closed social groups, family, colleagues. There is not strong sense of society, of “we can do it!”

There is, of course, that annoying Brazilian law that say you can´t speak ill of anyone.

The terrible weight of reality will hit us all hard on the head if we do not start to accept that there is a lot of work to do, and do it, if we do not stop shrugging off constructive criticism from the people who have chosen to live here or were born here and love this country (no, not me, important people!), from the people who come here to work and find it almost impossible to enter the market, to get a job, or even clear their goods through customs! To protect a country is one thing, to ensure work for its people is also one thing, but to prevent other successful companies from entering Brazil to improve the life of Brazilians and make their products and services better through healthy competition is entirely another. To keep that cloak over our heads, to avoid discussing issues that matter, those really gritty, touchy issues is just prolonging the inevitable. Maybe the world cup and the Olympic games will rip that cloak off with a vengeance. I hope not. I hope it comes from us.

Meeting people in Brazil

A lot of gringoes ask me how to meet people and make friends in Brazil.

Brazilians are very friendly and outgoing, but they also need a lot of reassurance before they make an actual friend that is not someone they´ve known forever or a family member. They tend to stick to a closed group of friends and seldom go out without one or more of these friends. Unlike Europeans and North Americans. a Brazilian will never go to a party without knowing anyone. If a Brazilian is invited to a party that was not arranged by a group he knows well, he will either take his group, his girlfriend or family members with him. This means that you will have a tougher time than in the US, say, where people tend to move around alone. Life can get lonely here unless you are married or living with a Brazilian, in which case you can join your spouses/companion´s family/group.

The best way to make friends in Brazil is studying, teaching or working (in a school, university or office). If you are a language teacher, start off in a regular language school even if the pay is less. Then you can teach our private students and compensate the financial loss. Forget about teaching one-to-one all the time unless you want to roam the city streets alone forever. If you work in a language school, you will probably make friends with other gringoes before you make friends with a Brazilian, but you have to start somewhere.If not, enroll in a course, preferably a university programme. Study groups are usually closed, but just seeing you there in class everyday will boost their confidence.

You can also make friends in bars and parties, but they tend to be more superficial. The kind that invites you over but doesn´t expect you to actually appear. In order to make real friends, you have to do something with Brazilians, like study or work. Few people know this, but Brazilians are incredibly insecure. They need time to investigate, ask you about your background, engage in 5-minute chats by the coffee machine on a daily basis… They don´t like deep conversations, so forget about being to frank and direct about your problems. Keep it light until someone invites you over for lunch….then you can consider yourself “befriended” and accepted inside their circle of acquaintances.

The Driving School Experience

I wrote the title in Capitals because this experience will go down in my life history.

I decided to get a Brazilian driver´s license. In Argentina no one actually does the tests unless they want a professional license. If you don´t believe me, ask an Argentinean where the nearest driving school is. There aren´t any.

So anyway, as I live in Brazil and have been struggling for almost 10 years to get my Brazilian documents, I decided to get an official Brazilian driver´s license with test and everything (yes, they sell them here, too, but it´s less frequent).

The classes are good, no problems there. But the entire social experience taught me a lot about what Brazilians think about rules and laws,  which often leads to incomprehensible behaviour.

I attended all the theory classes (written test) and learned all about the Brazilian Traffic Laws. We studied laws, signs, environment, defensive driving, first aid and basic mechanics. The funny thing was that as we studied, the teacher would keep saying, “this is how it should be, but it´s not like that on the roads.” I thought that comment was odd at first but then slowly started to understand what she meant.

When we studied sound pollution (considered a serious infraction), we learned that people should not remove the silencers from their exhaust pipes and should not honk their horns unless it is to avoid an accident. As she was talking, the teachers of the school arrived, honking their horns so someone would open the gate. Then the motorbikes arrived, all making a terrible noise because the teachers had removed the silencers. Some students actually shouted, “hey, control your sound pollution”, with the typical response of chuckles and smirks.

The Brazilian traffic authorities re-created the test because accident rates don´t stop growing. Traffic accidents in Brazil cause more deaths than almost all diseases put together, especially among the younger population. The result is more study hours but the same test and content. Yes, absolutely nothing has changed. Typical of the government. What´s more, you have to know the laws but there is no need to learn vertical signalling (those signs painted on the roads) so no one studies it.

In the town where I live in, people rarely respect signs, traffic lights, crossings or stop signs. You actually see people crossing huge avenues without so much as a sidewards glance. They don´t die because there are not enough cars to get in the way and others are usually careful because they know just how common “not looking before you cross an avenue” is. Drivers don´t trust green lights because you always see someone rush passed just before you accelerate. You see cars crawling passed their green light on the look out for people running the red light.

My sister once shouted at a woman that had a 6-month old child hanging out of the front window, without so much as a securing hand to stop her from falling out of the car. I asked the woman where her baby chair was, and she said, “I have one at the back but she doesn´t use it.” Then she drove off.

Back to the classes, I realized that laws and rules are a laughing matter. The jokes about running over pedestrians are constant, everyone laughs except me :(.  I thought driving classes were supposed to be taken seriously. The teacher actually tries but she is surrounded by people breaking the laws all the time, so it´s an upward and very dangerous road if you actually decide to be a law-abiding citizen.

I sometimes wonder if someone will crash into my car when I do stop at crossings or red lights. It´s happened in Argentina, with the death of both backseat passengers. Is this a Latin American phenomenon? Are you really an idiot if you follow rules and laws? Do they decide to break them because they are rarely enforced?

Oh, and one more thing. One of the students, who obviously doesn´t have a driver´s license, comes in his dad´s car and parks it at the front of the driving school.