Belgian-Brazilian Bureaucrazy

Just as in Brussels, Brazilian bureaucracy excels at making the easy difficult through the means of the unnecessary.


Bureaucracy is the art to transform the easy in the difficult through the means of the unnecessary. Quote: “Hello. How can we disturb you today?”

Above all, the respective administrative systems share their delight for long waiting queues, the incapability or refusal to speak other languages and, of course, for endless lists of documents all of which have to be properly legalized, authorized, stamped, signed and translated.

Oh, and not to forget, a good dose of arbitrary decision-making due to the unwillingness (Belgium) or the inability (Brazil) of the administrator to actually do his or her job.

In hindsight though, living in Brussels was in that sense an excellent preparation for Brazil. If the bureaucrazy in the first doesn’t drive you crazy, there’s a fair chance of surviving its pendant in the latter. Especially if you take into consideration that the weather has improved tremendously.

Oscar Niemeyer Museum – Curitiba

I’m not a big fan of modern architecture and the more concrete is involved, the less I generally like it. It’s hence not a surprise that I’m somewhat suspicious of Oscar Niemeyer’s work. Though in comparison with the standard, read: boring, Brazilian architecture – rectangular, concrete, high risers – Niemeyer’s imaginative grandeur style stands out.

And so does the Oscar Niemeyer Museum in Curitiba, designed by and named after him. intriguing, stylish, space-consuming – Niemeyer’s buildings call for attention and provide unexpected perspectives.

The photo exhibitions inside went in line with the outer shape and so we spent an agreeable 3 hours at the MON, liking Niemeyer or not.

From cattle to cache

The Economist has a charming little article on the challenges of translating IT vocabulary into languages dominated by the farming or fishing origin of their native speakers.

How could one possible resist crash = hookii – a cow falling over but not dying; timeout = a honaama – your fish has got away; or aspect ratio = jeendondiral, a rebuke from elders when a fishing net is wrongly woven?


Mass movement

Brazilians take sport very seriously. Not withstanding that obesity is becoming more and more of a problem, sport is an important part of social life.

Almost every village – or neighborhood in the big cities – has its public gym. The most basic version are some steel bars and a few concrete ramps, allowing for most muscle-building exercises such as push-ups, sit-ups and pull-ups. The more advanced forms look like fancy playgrounds with often brightly colored gym machines – if that is the correct term:

In terms of equipment, Brazilians only know two kinds: none or full battle. So either you see a guy in flip-flops and a t-shirt make a few push-ups or you see a woman with super-duper fancy running shoes, drinking bottle, iPod clip, a support bra and the most psychedelic leggings witnessed in human history.

Actually, leggins with visually nauseating color-pattern combinations are as omnipresent as outrageously ugly. It still defies my imagination as to why anybody would voluntarily subject herself to wear such a piece of clothing.

Be this as it may,  in the late afternoon and early evenings, it’s time for the mass movement. Outside the big cities, people will walk along the road, before hitting the public gym. Inside the cities, any park – or if available: the beach – will be a popular spot to finish the day with a few exercises and a neighborly chat.

Differentiation, Brazilian style

Differentiation is in business terms defined as making your product or service different from others, to make it more attractive to whoever it is you want to sell it to. Brazilian shops are a great example how not to do it.

When driving through the villages of the Brazilian hinterland, we often see all kinds of artisan products on sale: wooden kitchen ware, straw hats, puppets or clothes, stone pots, etc. However, in any given village, you only see one of its kind, e.g. 5 small shops with carefully laid out wooden kitchen ware – all in exactly the same style, from the same material, for the same price.

Another example are the Tapioca stands on the beach. Tapioca is a regional specialty; a kind of pancake made from manioc flour filled with coconut, cheese and other stuff. It seems to be an unwritten law, that there can never be just one Tapioca stand. No, there have to be four if not five stands, one next to the other, selling the same food, for the same price and with the same slow service.

Even in the city centers, it is not rare to find clusters of shops all selling identical products. On the contrary, some streets are known for having dozens of bike shops, car repairs, furniture or household appliances shops. At least there, it comes to the advantage of the customer: With only a little bit of negotiation skills, it is possible to get a really good bargain.

Anhangava – a Saturday afternoon hike

Turns out that the Morro do Anhangava is as close to Curitiba as the Morro do Canal and even easier to hike. As we were informed by the two rangers who sat by the parking lot, the fastest the entire hike has been done is 45 minutes.

With our almost 4 hours, we were very far from such a speed, also because there was no need to. What else was there to do on a sunny and moderately warm Saturday than to hike up, sit in the sunshine, chat with fellow hikers, enjoy the pick-nick and leisurely stroll down on the other side?

Taking the long way home

The train line between Curitiba and Morretes was completed in 1885 and counts today among the top tourist attractions the region has to offer. After having been told countless times to take the train, we finally did so thanks to a speedy last minute hike-run up to the Marumbi station.

While in the first minutes, we were just very happy to sit, we spend the next 90 minutes marveling. The train ride really is spectacular and I can not only recommend it but would urge you to do so soon: Even to the untrained eye, the rail tracks appear as old as they are, the bridges have become a fertile ground for all kinds of plants and the whole set-up seems shaky to say the least.

This observation was confirmed by the fact that the train needed a whopping 3 hours for the 50 kilometers from Marumbi and goes particularly slowly at switch points. In the city, we saw cyclists being faster than the train. Though, to be honest, none of this tarnished our joy of simply sitting, looking out of the window and enjoying a very relaxed ride home.