This one's long, but worth it!
OK let me start off this very optimistic post by saying thank you and showing my happy surprise at what a great response I got to the Portuguese teacher problem. Things are in the works and I'll keep you guys posted!
But that is not the focus of this post. The focus of this post is that I'm starting to feel as though I am single-handedly changing Brazilian culture -- or at least my experience in it.
Here's the thing: as some of you may know, it is not standard in Brazilian culture to complain about stuff, or to express your dissatisfaction with a service. Sure, Brazilians are humans, so they complain -- but they scoff at injustices when in the company of friends; they rant to their partners over dinner; they lament -- but complaining directly to the source of the problem, especially at a place of business? Rare indeed! Have a bad experience at a restaurant? It's practically unheard of to say something to the waiter or the waiter's boss (if the waiter was, in fact, the problem). A hotel with lots of problems? Complain about it to your friends later, but don't fill out that little survey card they leave for you in the room!
I've gone along with this for long enough. This year, the frustration and the feelings of hopelessness have become stronger than the desire to follow social norms, especially social norms that are the scars of a dictatorship and which need to be questioned. I've begun to take a stand!
Because Brazilians seem to be more forgiving of written grammatical errors than they do of spoken accents, my main method of complaining and calling businesses on their shit has been in writing. Did you know that most Brazilian company websites have a complaints section?
So I'll give you a list of some things I've complained about, and then I'll tell you the most amazing story. (It seems to good to be true, but it's REAL, I swear! It will give you hope for the country, it's that amazing.) My complaints are not rude, and I try to be as formal and direct as I can: "Your business practice makes me not want to give money to your business anymore." (Sometimes I can get a little grandiose, saying things like, "it's in YOUR hands now!", but I'm not offensive.)
OK so first, here are the things I've complained about and stood up to this year:
*The local supermarket -- they pay some car to drive around with a giant speaker playing their radio commercials. This car drives around our neighborhood on Saturday and Sunday mornings. It's only come by once since I wrote the letter. Coincidence? I like to think not.
*The crappy hotel where we stayed when we went to Ribeirão Preto -- you bet your you-know-what that I filled out that customer satisfaction card.
*The interstate bus company that I used to go to Rio -- the driver was smoking the whole trip home, and I was in the seat behind him! This company's site actually had a live customer service chat that I used to report the driver.
*The post office -- they're way late on getting a package to me from the US. Turns out it's because they're on strike. (Thanks to Stephanie for informing me of that, since the customer service rep at the post office somehow failed to mention it.)
*Melissa shoes -- those sandals gave me blisters!
*A local salon -- the only time I paid to get my nails done since moving to the beach town, the lady was totally grouchy and way too aggressive. Lindsey is OK with the aggressive manicures, but I'm not. After asking the manicurist twice to be more gentle, and after having to take the clippers out of her hands and finishing myself to prevent any more bleeding, I complained to her boss on my way out and showed her my cut cuticles.
*The language school that tried to charge me 100 reais an hour for Portuguese classes -- they got an email response with a piece of my mind!
*The Brazilian animal protection agency when I saw that endangered parakeet in a cage on someone's balcony.
You call it annoying. I call it a squeaky wheel who gets the oil! If you don't say anything, there's a 100% chance that things won't change. If you alone say something, there's a slightly greater chance that things will change. Imagine if everyone said something! Be the change you wish to see in the world!
OK guys, so after building up my confidence with all of those events above, I brought out the big guns today. You may remember my stories about the crazy smoking neighbor who loves to play insanely loud music. I wrote that she moved out, because it seemed that she did, but Alexandre's eavesdropping on their fights has revealed that, actually, the husband got in a fight with the wife's brother and won't let him in their apartment anymore. So now she spends a lot of her free time at her brother's apartment, instead of him spending his free time in their apartment. So that explains why she's still living here but there is much less cigarette smoke seeping up into our place. I'm going to tell you about the events in the order that they happened today, even though things were not clear to me in this order:
1. Gross neighbor starts her morning onslaught of offensively loud music presumably before heading off to her brother's apartment (shack?) to smoke.
2. In my frustration, I research Brazilian noise laws, and discover that it is, in fact, illegal to play music this loud in Brazil (proof here!).
3. I call 190, which is the non-emergency police line. Rather than assuming that it's a prank call because of my accent and hanging up on me, the dispatcher is amazingly friendly and understanding, and actually laughs at a joke I make. She confirms that excessively loud music is illegal and says she'll send over a police car. Because Brazil is notorious for shoddy police officers, I don't believe her, but give her a polite thank you for her efforts and friendliness nonetheless.
4. Ten minutes later, I hear the neighbor's intercom phone ring. I look out the window to see a police car parked in front of the building! It's a police officer calling the neighbor.
5. Because our intercom is broken, gross neighbor is forced to go downstairs to talk to the cops, which works out in my favor because I can eavesdrop through the window. Cops scold her for her noise and inform her of the law and say other things I can't understand. Gross neighbor has the nerve to be testy with the cops, shouting things like "who was it, huh?! Who called you?" They are not having it and are stern with her until she backs down. I do a little dance from atop the closed toilet, where I am standing on tip-toe to be within hearing range.
6. Gross neighbor storms back upstairs, shouting nonsense in the hallway that I can't understand. I have long since locked my door, planning to pretend I'm not home in case she suspects me and tries to retaliate. Lucky for me, she doesn't. She apparently realizes that the police are on my side.
7. Gross neighbor goes back into her apartment and spends a good 10 minutes arguing with her husband. I can't understand, but I later come to discover that he's likely now scolding her for causing problems with the neighbors and tells her he's going to sell the speakers, probably because they can't afford to get kicked out of their place that they're likely living in without proper documentation, since neither of them work.
8. Gross neighbor insists on one last hoorah with the music, blasting, in a beautiful irony unbeknownst to her, the Motown hits "R-E-S-P-E-C-T" and "Ain't No Mountain High Enough." Swear to God.
9. When Alexandre comes home from work later that evening, he pulls into the parking area and sees Gross neighbor's husband selling giant speakers to some Japanese guy. With no idea that he's totally rubbing it in the guy's face, he tries to make manly small talk by saying, "wow, those are some big speakers, eh?" Glorious.
10. Alexandre comes upstairs to tell me that he just saw the guy from 202 selling speakers to someone, and asks if I think that means they aren't going to play such loud music anymore. I cackle in hysterical happiness and tell him about my day. We high-five.
So reporting something to the police totally worked; the police did their job; the evil neighbors learned an important lesson on living in a society, and I feel hope for this country once again.
Join me in the crusade! Or revolution! Or protest! Or whatever metaphor you prefer! Speak up!!!!!!!! It just might work. I'm living proof.