Monday, May 28, 2012

Brazilian Charm at its Best

Sorry to have left such a downer of a post up for so long. Last week was a sort of perfect storm of bureaucracy, but things have calmed down and gotten better. I just haven't had time to write in the blog.

The good news is that things were worked out with the condomínio and we didn't have to pay anything extra (just a fine for paying the oldest bill late, but I figured it was easier to just pay the fine than to keep fighting to prove that the bill must have come before we moved in, just to save a few reais). I solved the problem by calling different people at different offices until I talked to someone who was halfway intelligent. (This was Ray's tip; it works like a charm!)

As for my visa, it turns out the first person who told me my application had been lost or never received was wrong, and after talking to two other people in different departments, I learned that everything is A-OK and on track. (I'm going to go with 2 out of 3 in this situation.) I had to go to the policia federal (where the immigration office is) here in Springfiledee and turn in a couple of things, but it was pretty painless. I hope I don't jinx myself by saying this, but it seems like I should have my RNE (permanent residency card) by the end of the year. Phew!  ::Crosses Fingers::

I also solved some other problems by using www.reclameaqui.com.br.  It's a great website where you can post complaints about companies. I think the people who run the site call the company and inform them of your complaint. I got a phone call from the company I complained about (NET), and they helped solve my problem! Amazing. If nothing else, there's a certain relief that comes from typing out your rant for a public audience (ahem, not all that different from blogging).

So my lesson of the week was that, in this country, the squeaky wheel gets the grease, too; you just have to be extra, extra squeaky, and you have to squeak in front of lots of different people in order to find someone willing to grease you up. hahaha.

OK so now that I've given you all that update, I wanted to tell you a funny story about Brazilian Charm. If any of you are in any doubt as to how Alexandre was able to woo me into moving to Brazil with him after such a short trip to the US, this story may help to clarify things.

Yesterday, we were on our way to the in-laws' house for traditional Brazilian Sunday lunch. The military police had set up a random checkpoint on the highway, and we got pulled over. No big deal -- Alexandre was driving (not me with my questionable use of my California license), and everything's in order with the car.

Of course, the police start out by being stern douches in order to intimidate anyone who may be doing something illegal. Alexandre has a shield that deflects douchey-ness. Nothing fazes him. He was sweet as pie with the police officer, using lots of "yes sir"s and "of course, sir"s.

Alexandre also has a technique that he uses any time he needs to talk to (read: please) someone who works with law enforcement: he finds an excuse to mention that he's a doctor, and he also finds a way to work his military service into the conversation. (Since the highway patrol and some police officers in Brazil are military, police officers and the army are bros, comrades, kindred spirits.) Then, the law enforcement person (whether it be a cop pulling him over, like in this case, or a patient with a chip on his shoulder, or an indifferent drone at the policia federal office) suddenly feels a new affinity for Alexandre. They seem to think, "hey! He's a doctor, so he must be serious and established and a good guy, but he was in the army, so he's "rustic" and down to earth, like me! Wow!" Then they become a little less douchey.

Anyway, this technique worked like...well, like a charm on this officer. The officer started telling Alexandre all about his life (while we're still pulled over on the side of the road, mind you), told him how his daughter wanted to study medicine but couldn't decide between ophthalmology and pediatrics, how he'd just moved to Springfieldee for work but he left his family in his hometown and only got to see them on weekends, etc. Alexandre said nothing about the fact that it was a little bit inappropriate for the cop to pull him over and proceed to make 10 minutes of small talk. Instead, Alexandre listened intently and was friendly and made appropriate, empathetic comments. The cop even went into a rant of sorts about how he hates that cops get a bad rap for being corrupt, about how civilians are just as corrupt for offering bribes, and how many cops do their jobs because the like it, not because they need it; how he himself had gotten a degree in engineering but decided to serve his community instead, and how he himself had turned down numerous bribes.

By the end of the conversation, the cop seriously said, "OK, your registration checks out and everything, don't worry. I work over at such and such precinct; feel free to stop by for coffee sometime!"

So the exchange started with "License and registration!" and ended with "Stop by my work for coffee sometime"!?!!? What the heck happened?!!?

Brazilian charm, that's what.

I don't know how Alexandre does it. But he is like a freaking Indian with a recorder, and all of us are nothing more than little snakes, helpless to his wiles and affections.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Mama Said There'd Be Days Like This...

Today was one of those obnoxious days that only caipirinhas can fix. We're going out with some friends soon for exactly that reason.

But in the meantime, I have some musings for you, fine and patient readers. The crap today (not much different from other crap I complain about) really made me wonder: Am I going to be able to deal with the mess of this country for the rest of my life? THE REST OF MY LIFE, arguing with incompetent drones who refuse to do their jobs? Paying for services that I can't expect to receive? Watching my back, double-checking, thinking for two, literally begging people not to pass the buck?

What do Brazilians do to cope? I joke about alcohol as a solution to the frustration and the overpowering anger, but really-- is that the ONLY THING that people do? Drink their troubles away? Alexandre's solution (learned from his parents) is to just re-pay for things, to pay more for things, to pay people to do things for him, to leave things for me to do, to avoid contact with people as much as possible, even if that means just leaving a problem unsolved and seeing how long that works. What do people do when they don't want to throw their money away, or when they don't have money TO throw away? I like to plan vacations to feel better. They give me positive things to look forward to. My time vacationing often makes me hate Brazil a little less. But is that the kind of life I can expect, then? These huge highs and lows of maddening rage on one side and sweet relaxation and amazement on the other?

Will I be able to live in a society that is so really and truly "every man for himself"? I know I'll have good days again, that I won't think like this every day, but that's sure as heck how it's been feeling lately.

Both Alexandre and I can make more money working in Brazil, which is why we have stayed and why we plan to stay so far. But things can't stay the way they are. Since I can't singlehandedly change Brazil's sorry excuse for an education system, nor can I change the rampant apathy that is apparently acceptable in the workplace and in society as a whole, I need to find a way to change myself and my perspective. Does it just mean accepting the fact that life is going to be lived at about 65% of its potential? Does it mean that I need to always account for time wasted on trying (and usually failing) to solve problems that other people cause for me? Does it mean entering into every new venture/situation/agreement with the expectation that it's probably not going to work out? Does it mean giving up on the idea of ever living in a reciprocal, empathetic community again, or in a place where people really and truly believe the expression "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you," not because the Bible says it, necessarily, but just because it makes things easier for everyone?

I never used to be this angry/pessimistic/cynical/grouchy. But this godforsaken place is sucking away my morale.

Holla if you've had days like this.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Adventures in Bureaucracy

Ah, this has been a fantastic week. I got my Pantanal tickets, which actually WAS fantastic, but on that same day I found out that there is MORE drama with my visa, drama which is purely the fault of public employee incompetence. I'm just about ready to throw in the towel and live here illegally. It seems as though the only foreigners who haven't had visa problems are the ones who got married and submitted their paperwork in their home countries. The employees of the Brazilian government just simply can't handle all the thinking (see my post on the Belps, which explains why).

Anyway, then I got sick and decided to go to work today anyway. I have a big group on Thursdays and I didn't want to lose the money. (I also have class with "J", a student who found me through the blog and who I genuinely enjoy teaching! I didn't want to cancel on her. :)  But thennn I got on an insanely crowded bus and found out that some of the bus companies were on strike. (Buses here are partly privatized by a few different companies.) I was lucky that the lines I needed today were still actually running, but they were madness because of all the lines that weren't. Packed with people, lines running late, people shouting and pushing and arguing with each other and with the bus driver. What is this, Sao Paulo? Uh-uh. Pfft.

Then, an amazing email exchange today was really the kicker.

We've been having some drama with our condomínio (kind of like the HOA people: the agency that bills us every month for communal charges in the apartment complex). Since we've moved in, our bills have been sporadic; sometimes they have different names; sometimes we don't get one, etc. I think it's the fault of the people who deliver the mail (the doormen), since the numbering system of our apartment complex is a little confusing (though you'd think the doormen would have it down by now).  Anyway, we got a letter saying we were behind on some bills and that they would be sent to a collections agency. I was almost certain that we'd paid every month, so I called to ask what was going on. The lady said we hadn't paid for 3 months (I had receipts to show that wasn't true), and she said that one of those months was February. Well, we moved in the last week of January, and we didn't get our first bill until the first week of March. She explained that different people would email me different bills that I could print out and pay (logical). But she was a little nicer and told me to call back if I found proof of payment of any of them.

I need Alexandre to print out bank statements from February to check whether we actually paid the bill that month, but the ATM can only print the statements from the last 30 days, and the bank is only open 5 hours a day (again, logical) during his workday. But in the meantime, I got a strange email from the condomínio. I'll let you guys enjoy it:

------------------------------

Email Subject (Translated): Email #9476049767

From: DumbCondomínioGirl@condominio.com
to: Danielle
9:51 AM (10 hours ago)

Bom dia,

Segue anexo boleto,

At,
[generic signature that includes her email address; one of my pet peeves, when people include their email address in email signatures]


Translation:

Good morning,

Please see attached bill,

Sincerely,
------------------------------


Well, the bill only had a pay-by date, and it didn't have any dates referring to what month I was being charged for. It was also 100 reais more than our normal bill.  Also notice that the email had a title that was useful only to her. (Plus, I think she forgot a "t" in the abbreviation of "atenciosamente", though I may be wrong.) So I wrote our friend "Dumb Condomínio Girl" back:
 ------------------------------

Email Subject: Re: Email #9476049767

From: Danielle
to DumbCondomínioGirl@condominio.com
2:46 PM (5 hours ago)

Olá,

Esta conta é do mês do fevereiro? É para as datas de 1/2 - 29/2?

E por que é mais alto do que o normal? É porque está atrasado? Nós mudamos para este apartamento em fevereiro, e nunca recebemos esta conta. Pode me informar das datas de quando foi enviada?

Translation:

Hello,

Is this bill from February? Is it for the dates 2/1/ - 2/29?
And why is it higher than normal? Is it because it's late? We moved into this apartment in February, and we never received this bill. Can you tell me the date when it was sent?

------------------------------
Notice that I ask a series of questions. I figured the questions were pretty straightforward. Wouldn't you agree? They should be especially easy for someone who works for the company and works with rentals and billing all the time, also someone who should know my case.

Our friend Dumb Condomínio Girl sent a very helpful response (I've left the punctuation intact):

------------------------------

Email Subject: Re: Email #9476049767
From: DumbCondomínioGirl@condominio.com
to: Danielle
4:57 PM (3 hours ago)

Boa tarde ,

Referente o mês de fevereiro ,



Translation:

Good afternoon ,

It's from the month of February , 
  

------------------------------ 

Ah, Brazilian Belps at their best. I really wanted to give her the benefit of the doubt: maybe she pressed "send" on accident. But I wanted a reply that would cover all of my bases, both the benefit of the doubt AND the proper snooty reply in case she seriously though that email was sufficient and in any way helpful.

So I replied:

------------------------------ 

Email Subject: Re: Email #9476049767
From: Danielle
to DumbCondomínioGirl@condominio.com
5:02 PM (3 hours ago)


Isso é sua resposta completa?


Translation:

Is that your complete answer?

------------------------------ 

Now have a look at her amazingly amazing response:

------------------------------ 

Email Subject: Re: Email #9476049767
From: DumbCondomínioGirl@condominio.com
to: Danielle
5:08 PM (3 hours ago)

Boa tarde ,

O boleto enviado por e-mail e referente o mês de fevereiro .



Translation:
Good afternoon,

The bill sent via email was for the month of February . 

------------------------------ 

WOW. There's really no way to know if she honestly thought she was being more helpful the second time around, or if she was just being a smart ass. So I sent her ANOTHER reply:

------------------------------


Email Subject: Re: Email #9476049767
From: Danielle
to DumbCondomínioGirl@condominio.com
5:11 PM (3 hours ago)

Perguntei sobre a questão do valor da conta. A senhora tem esta informação? A senhora pode me informar quando esta conta foi enviada? É importante saber se for a responsabilidade do morador anterior.

Translation:

I asked about the issue of the amount of the bill. Do you, ma'am, have this information? Could you, ma'am, please let me know when this bill was sent? It's important to know if it is the responsibility of the previous tenant.

------------------------------ 

Well, I guess that email required too much thinking for her (either that, or she clocked out for the day). But tomorrow morning, I'm going to call her office. I'm going to say that I got an email telling me to talk to the head of the billing department (her department) about a problem I'm having. The dumb receptionist will transfer me to this girl's boss. I'll ask him for his email and forward these along. 

At the end of the day, these damn bills aren't even in my name -- they're in the owner's name (at least some of them are). If THIS condomínio office doesn't resolve the problem, I'll call the OTHER condomínio office (the one who made the contract between us and the owner) and I'll let them know what's going on. Then it becomes the owner's problem and the owner's credit on the line. 

If all these damn people are going to pass the buck, then so am I!

Grahhh I need it to be Friday and I need to not be sick so I can partake in blogger Alex's advice of solving problems like these with copious amounts of caipirinhas.
 

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Pantanal Mesmo!

So, we did it! Thanks (or no thanks) to you guys (sorry blog friends, I thought I'd get a lot more feedback on that last post), we found a great vacation package to the Pantanal!

So in just a few short weeks, Bianca and I are going to do this:




And this:



And this:




And we're gonna relax in a place like this:


Or maybe one like this:
photo credit Joe Fuhrman


And we're gonna see this:



And this:





And if we're really lucky, this:




And this, too, and not in a zoo:



And Bianca is terrified that we'll run into something like this:



I'm kinda hoping we'll see one of these, so I can take a picture with it making a "zot!zot!" hand sign:


And it's going to be amazing. Probably my best vacation in Brazil so far. I've already decided.



Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Pantanal?

So my friend Bianca and I (you may remember her from such posts as our first meetup in Sao Paulo and the unexpected birding trip to a lake by her house) are thinking about a trip to the Pantanal. In case you don't know what it is, it's a special ecosystem. It's just south of the Amazon, and it's one of the biggest wetlands in the world. It's famous for ecotourism, because you can see lots of animals there, especially birds! According to Wikipedia, there are approximately 1,000 different bird species there! There are also jaguars and otters!

This post is a call for information: have any of you been there? Do you recommend the southern area or the northern area? How do you decide where to stay? There are so many options. It's hard to know where to start.

While I wait for your tips and recommendations, I'll be studying up on the bird species. I want to be able to recognize them on sight!  So far, I'm most excited about hopefully seeing hyacinth macaws and the blue-crowned motmot.




The motmot is actually not very common in the Pantanal, but a girl can dream, can't she?

Thanks in advance for your ideas!
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