Category Archives: Ce qui pense la puce

Santiage do Chile

Where would you go if you had to leave Brazil for a few days due to visa issues, while flights to Europe are bloody expensive, not to mention cumbersome? Santiago! As it turned out, it was the cheapest destination in LatAm and with an 8 hour trip much more enticing than a 30 hour trip to Europe.

The weather in Santiago was not the best. For one because of the cold – it’s winter after all. But more importantly, there has been no rain in recent months leading to an all-time high in air pollution which meant that we didn’t get to see much from the mountain scenery that Santiago is famous for.

Smoggy mountains

Still, we found Santiago to be a very interesting city. Not exactly beautiful, but more a bric-à-brac of houses, streets and neighborhoods, modern, old; without too many traces of urban planning. The city features many soul-less apartment blocks and as we rented flats in two different ones, I can now say that Chilean constructions are just as badly insulated as Brazilian ones. In other words: you can be happy if the windows close properly.

Nevertheless, many of the neighborhoods are quite charmful, featuring parks, museums, pubs and coffee places; thus giving the city its very own flair.

One  other thing that was noticeable were the many, large, peaceful stray dogs that behaved as if they were holy cows. Appearing rather well fed, often with sewed jackets – provided by animal activists as we later learned – they were everywhere, either sleeping or chasing cars (never people) and generally acting as if the city belonged to them.

Please don't disturb


A word on the people

One of the luxuries of traveling is to meet people from all kinds of origins, classes or educational backgrounds. Sometimes that can be challenging, sometimes that can be wonderful.

In all of the Pantanal, we found people to be very kind and helpful. It’s easy to see that life out there is somewhat slower, simpler but often also harder. Still, people were not only very respectful, but also very curious to know more about these two gringos who would share a few days on a boat with them.

They were equally eager to tell us more about their lives out there on the farms, on the boat, or in the city. It sometimes was a glimpse in a different world. A world I would have liked to explore though I’m not sure if I would like to live there.

One thing that stood out as not respectful however, was the way they deal with nature. The only possible explanation for all the waste thrown in the water, is that, maybe, there is just too much of it. Too much green, too much water, too many animals and of course, too many mosquitos. It almost seems as if there was an endless supply. If only that was true.

The ABC of Brazilian Burrocracia

Thinking about my hard, hard life as an expat and the either mind-numbing or enraging bureaucrazy to go through, I figured that there is actually something to learn from it: PPP – persistency, politeness, patience.

Persistency – For one, it’s the kind of annoying tenacity that makes people give you whatever it is you want in the hope that you won’t come back. However it also means, knowing the legislation better than the people I’m dealing with. I’ve read the article 23 of the decree 3598 – and can show a copy just in case.

Politeness – The system imposes many of the constraints on the people behind the counter. The admin people I deal with – they didn’t make the law and it’s not meant for them either, so a bit of understanding goes a long way. Plus, the reciprocity of politeness makes the whole experience occasionally a bit less painful.

Patience – The gracious acceptance of the impossible.

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.

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.

Vila velha

or as it could be called: protecting nature from the people.

Vila velha is a small natural park about one hour northwest of Curitiba. Having seen the pictures online as well as the weather forecast, we decided to see it for ourselves.

If only that would be so easy. The first thing you have to do when arriving at the park, is to sit through a 10 minute video, explaining what there is to be seen and how a visitor should behave: no plugging out of plants, not carving your name into the stone, not leaving your trash behind, etc.

Knowing the behaviour and respect of nature of the average Brazilian visitor, unfortunately, this guidance is not as superfluous as it may seem to the average German one. What bothered us more was the fact that you cannot move around freely between the three sites of the park – the sandstone formations, the furnas and the golden lake – but have to take a little bus instead. This bus however has fixed hours. No going earlier but wait for your turn…

So after a nice stroll around the sandstone, we could have waited for one hour to be packed in bus with 40 people, to drive 4km across the park, to walk 400 meters to see two holes in the ground, walk 400 meters back, take the bus back, wait for another hour, get on another bus…

Sure those holes  are impressive – to judge by the pictures – but we still preferred to jump in the car and try our luck elsewhere.

Shopping in Brazil – an addition

In the advent season, most shops hire additional assistants to service as many customers as possible. However, when no customer happens to be in the shop, all the assistants can do is stand around. All 10 or 12 or even more of them in an empty shop. Somehow I cannot refrain from imagining that – should a solitary customer wander into the shop – it would be very easy for these assistants to seize the customer and hold her down till she obliges to buy something.

Needless to say that I avoid most shopping besides groceries in the pre-Christmas times in Brazil.

Shopping in Brazil

can either be a nightmare or a a customer’s delight. Depending on what you are looking for…

If you are up for some ‘browsing’, i.e. strolling through the shops just to look around, shopping – if you want to call it that way – can be rather tedious a less than enjoyable experience. If you actually need something & would like to try a bunch of different products, you have come however to the right place.

What the difference makes: the shop assistants in their sheer number. Let me explain.

Where any given shoe shop in Europe would have 2 employees – one in the shop, one at the cash register, the Brazilian pendant will have up to 10 employees. 7 of these will be getting any shoe the customer would want to try from the inventory, 2 will be at the cash register and the last one the supervisor. Of course, all these people need to be kept busy which greatly alters the whole shopping experience.

Back in Europe, you’d pick a shoe you like & search among the boxes to see if you’re lucky enough to find your size, try it & put it back, and repeat this process until you find something fitting your feet, taste & budget. In the case that this endeavor is not accomplished successfully, you give a polite nod to the chap behind the register, leave the shop and are done.

In Brazil, you’ll only get to look at the shoes which are exposed safely behind glass & point at anything you can fancy trying. The shop assistant, after briefly inquiring after your shoe size, will fetch all of them & bring them to the chair on which you’ve settled in the meantime.

If after some back & forth (of the shop assistant, of course), you’ve actually founds something you like & want to purchase; the first thing you get is a piece of paper. With that you pay at the register – a separate process that may take as much time as the preceding selection one – and only then obtain the box with your product of choice from the assistant that has been taken care of you.

More often than not, the assistant will give you her/his card and it’s only decent to come back to the same person if the service was good. Many of the assistants are paid partly by the turnover they make. This process happens in similar forms in most household appliance shops, cutlery, household linen, and even some for clothes.

So far the short description of completing a transaction successfully. If – IF – however, you have not found anything particularly appealing or fitting, you face the slightly awkward feeling of having wasted someones time.  At least, that happens frequently to me in those moments. Also, simply ‘browsing’ becomes a tad tiresome to me as I’m constantly offered help while I’d much rather be left alone.

Obviously, I’m complaining on a very high level here. But I also wonder if it is just me that feels a bit uncomfortable. Or could it be that, in Europe, we are not used to a somewhat pampering customer service any longer and that I should enjoy it while I’m here?

The immense pleasure of things working out

Once you are used to things never being easy, such as getting a visa, a bank account or an apartment, the elevating feeling of walking into an administration & resolving a problem within 30 minutes is overwhelming.

Also, it doesn’t feel quite real. Or right for that matter. Despite having ALL necessary papers, stamps and signatures, a nagging feeling persists, that this was too easy, too good to be true.

So you go and pinch yourself, hope the best & enjoy the feeling while it lasts.