In a world of increasing appreciation for cross-cultural competence, it is imperative to adapt to new cultures. Brazilians have a unique manner of handling things, that can surprise unprepared foreigners. This article will enlighten you about the "jeitinho brasileiro", and explain how it can affect your life and business in Brazil.
No. You cannot run away from it. In order to do business successfully in Brazil, it is crucial to have good relations with local people. So, if you intend to do business here, you should be aware of a very famous behavior of ours. That is something we call "jeitinho brasileiro", an expression that can be freely translated to "the Brazilian way of doing things".
Let us imagine a situation: there is a guy in a hurry, out for his lunch hour. He has only this precious hour to pay a bunch of bills, and they are all about to expire. Once he gets in the bank, he faces a two hour long queue. Desperation defines this moment. But, wait, he is a Brazilian. Far ahead, he sees a co-worker second in line. What do you think he will do?
You guessed right if you thought that our guy will insidiously skip the line, pretending he will talk to his colleague. This is the kind of behavior that can exemplify how the "jeitinho" works. It means that, regardless of the rules or systems in place, where there is a will there has to be a way around it.
Sociology calls it formalism, defined as a process for someone to reach something desired in spite of contrary determinations (laws, orders, rules etc.). You’re probably thinking: “well, but people do this little corruption acts everywhere around the world, what makes Brazilians so different about it”?
This is correct, formalism is practiced all over the world, but in Brazil it goes to unique proportions: people, institutions, companies, policies and even legislation have been influenced by it. The jeitinho is so ingrained in our daily lives that you can see examples of it everywhere: managing to get a seat when all the places are booked up, travelling with more luggage than allowed, driving on a road hard-shoulder, parking in spots for disabled people, successfully ordering something that is not on the restaurant menu etc.
Even with legal matters, if a Brazilian wants something that is not permitted, they will try to figure out a loophole until they find an alternative way. For us, "jeitinho" is like one of the first apprenticeships on how to get by in life, and we even practice it unconsciously.
A Survival Strategy
Since the colonial period, everything in Brazil is done without planning, what has shaped a society living in constant need for adaptation. Even today, it is rather difficult to see things running smoothly, so people have to always find a way in order to survive and get things done. "Jeitinho" is already an inevitable part of our country, even the ones who do not practice it, have to watch others practice it. To be frank, dealing with "jeitinho" requires lots of patience.
However, if you think of the country’s maddening bureaucracy and add the Brazilian tendency for acting with "jeitinho" into the mix, then we will have a combination that surprisingly works well. It is rather difficult to live in Brazil without a little malice. Unfortunately, honesty here is synonym of naivety.
This video shows a number of "jeitinho" examples. The scene in the parking lot is hard to believe, but it happens alot in Brazil.
Is jeitinho good or bad for business?
Actually it is both. "Jeitinho" is not always used to take advantage. There is another very important side, which is the capacity to deal creatively with life’s everyday complications, as we saw in the video above.
Heavy users of the "jeitinho" are flexible and do not easily give up while trying to find solutions. By the way, this is a very valued characteristic of the Brazilian workforce abroad. Also, Brazilians are so used to seeing things not working, that they tend to always double-check everything.
We have seen that "jeitinho" is a reflection of the precariousness of many Brazilian institutions and public services. This that is where many foreign entrepreneurs fall down,as they are not familiar with the jeitinho brasileiro, it is much harder for them to run a business in here, if they do not try to adapt.
Hold my hand and let us do business
Most foreign businessmen are astonished by the fact that, most of the time, they have to become friends with Brazilian entrepreneurs in order to do business with them. But the fact is that Brazilians cannot separate public and private dimensions. A businessman is the citizen and the company at the same time and being friends with the company hastes negotiations and increases trust.
When doing business here, everything flows better if you treat everyone with friendship. Many things in Brazil are done based on the exchange of favours. It is even widely said around here: “for my friends everything, for my enemies the Law”. Think about it.