Category Archives: La puce méchante

Brazilians invented the selfie

I have no proof to back this claim up but there seems to be an unwritten law in Brazil that events – a holiday trip, an evening out with friends, a nice dinner – did not happen unless there is photographic evidence.

As of the youngest age, Brazilians are trained to smile at the camera which over the years converges into the same pose, the same grin repeated incessantly: Women stand slightly sideways, men as broadly shouldered as possible and both show that the money spent on the dentist was well invested.

The typical Brazilian holiday picture will show themselves in front of whatever tourist attraction they happen to visit. It’s important to note that it is not necessary to be able to recognize the attraction, the person is the relevant item to be on the photo.

Personally, I would not be surprised if hell was a place where you have to sit through endless repetitions of photos from the same people in front of something. Forever and ever.


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.

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.


Flip-flops for every occasion

Floppies for every occasion
The ones for going to the movies were out…

This post is neither sponsored nor endorsed by a major company – with a name vaguely resembling one of the US states –  producing flip-flops.

There is no better way

Welcome to Blumenau

to mark the beginning of a historic city centre than by an ugly, high-rising and abandoned construction site.

Admittingly, we should have known what to expect from Blumenau at exactly this moment in time. Still, as Germans living in Southern Brazil, we had been asked “Have you been to Blumenau?” so many times, that we assumed that there must be something worth-while visiting.


To frame it positively, one could argue that Blumenau has the authentic charm of many other historic city centres in Brazil: two dozens or so of old buildings and in between some of the ugliest architectural sins the 1960s and 1970s had to offer.

To be fair: the city centre is clean, it’s safe to walk even on a Sunday (note to self: never visit city centres on Sundays – shops are closed!) and the few historic buildings that harbor banks like Santander, Bradesco or Itaú, have been artfully restored, probably by the funds of the very institutions they house.

A part from that?


At least, we didn’t spend too much time on it.

Only in Brazil

Having traveled quite a bit – and read about it – I have come to terms with the fact that cars in some countries drive on the right side of the road and in others on the left.

English hand

What startled me however was a sign in my neighborhood that announces a sudden change from right to the left hand, or as more appropriately called here English hand – mão inglesa.

Englishly handed

Is it to check if drivers are awake? Or to see how much confusion one can possibly create? And will we ever know?

Arroz e feijão

Arroz e feijao

“Arroz e feijão” – rice and beans – are an essential, if not indispensable, part of every Brazilian lunch. EVERY lunch, every day, 365 days a year…
The rice and beans are joined – also every day – by a piece of meat which, depending on the budget, might be frango – chicken, carne – meat, synonymous with beef, or peixe – fish. Further depending on the region also comes on the table vinaigrette, actually a kind of tomato salad and farofa, roasted manioc flour which varies in taste anywhere between ,sand’ and ‘tasty & crispy’.

Independent of this menu, the expression ‘arroz e feijão‘ also stands for the ordinary, the business as usual, the boring monotony that Brazilians remember longingly – com saudade – once they are abroad.  Oh, yes, saudade…

There is hardly a more Brazilian word to be found. It describes the longing for the good old days, order, warm summer nights, the good time with friends, freedom, the beach and much more. In English, however, there seems to be no adequate translation for it.

In any case, ‘saudade’ is a fundamental concept that helps to understand the Brazilian way of thinking and living. Just as important in that respect is “dar um jeito”, or in its short form “o jeitinho”, best translated as ‘to find a way’. It mainly means two things: or to help someone, to take heart, to support or to cheat, to muddle through and even to play a trick on someone. However, that’s not all.

In its trinity o jeitinho represents the  complexity of the Brazilian existence: First, it states that there is always a way,  a path to cross, for example, the jungle of the Brazilian bureaucracy. Second, the range of possible uses of this beautiful idiom reflects the wide range of characteristic Brazilian – not to say human – behavior: from very generous and helpful to spiteful and selfish; with one behavior not necessarily contradicting the other.

To finish, let me add one more particularly picturesque expression to this idiomatic collection: “pé na Jaca” . Jacas – better known as jackfruit to the English speaking world – when cut open, emit a very sticky secretion that is all but impossible to wipe of with soap and water. The expression reminds me therefore nicely of the good old German “ins Fettnäpfchen treten”*. 


Well, I hope I haven’t done just that with this post.

* to put your foot in your mouth – hardly as pretty as pé na jaca

On demand language skills

Today, I had one of those moments where I just wished not to understand other people. Of course, it’s a good sign that I understand by now almost anything or anybody when it comes to Portuguese.

But when I had to wait today in a ministry, these two people next to me… How to say this politely? I do not care what you had for dinner. And no, you don’t need to call your daughter to ask her how the pudim was she had after lunch. And no, I don’t want to know that you are accused by everybody in your family of having too many midnight snacks.  And so it went on and on and on for the entire 60 minutes waiting time…

It was one of those moments in which I longingly remember the blissful time when I would simply continue reading my book because I didn’t understand and  in which I very much wish that language skills could be momentarily suspended.

Infelizmente, não é possivel.

Auditive nuisance

A former colleague in Brussels was convinced that an ice wagon with a little, tedious melody was not only following but positively stalking him. It’s a good thing that he is unlikely to ever move to Brazil.

When it comes to auditive nuisances, especially from ice vendors, Brazil just beats everything. The most annoying are push trolleys with their loudspeaker announcing that “Picolé Sorvete Caico” is to be had again. While I don’t mind them passing every once in a while; on weekends, it is not rare to witness dozens passing in front of our place, joining their tones to a chilling cacophony that raises many lusts except the one for ice cream. That they are all but impossible to escape from obviously doesn’t help:

In comparison, the ice vendors of a competing enterprise using but a modest bell to announce a sweet and cold treat being on sale are almost a bliss. Regardless, ice cream vendors are not the only ones offering something comestible through persistent and piercing announcements.

Indeed, it is hardly necessary to leave the house to purchase foods of all kinds. It starts at 6:30 in the morning with a loud PJB (Peeee-Juuuu-Beeee) passing by on bicycle, which I’m 95% sure is selling bread. Later in the day, macaxeira (Makacheiiiiraaaa) – a type of mandioca can be purchases; usually just before the shrimps car passes along. In the beginning, I actually thought that this car sold funerals, judging by the tone of voice of the announcer. But no, in the end it’s just camarão, peixe, camaroja, i.e. shrimps, fish and whatever the last one is.

Add to this the inhame – another kind of root vegetable, the sweet potato and the banana, et voilà, a full meal provided by street vendors using the full capacities of their lungs or loud speakers to attract potential buyers who are neither deaf nor inclined to violence.