By Ricky Skelton
May 12, 2015

I was travelling in one of Brazils tourist towns a while ago and withdrawing stupid amounts of cash every day to cope with it all. Back in the Big City later, I couldnt get any money out. Naturally wondering if Id spent all my money (or the banks overdraught money if you want to split hairs), I didnt think too much more about it. Then Blondie returned from a bank trip to tell me a story about a couple warning her not to use a certain cash machine as it had some odd wires coming out of it. We discussed the disgrace that is the security measures of Brazils banking system and promised to keep an even closer eye on the machines we use, and check them properly for extraneous devices, which I always do anyway.

Too late!

The same day I called my bank back home to see if my card was blocked. Apparently not, but Id run it up to the limit with the last couple of days of withdrawals. Hang on – run that one by me again… I hadnt made any withdrawals the last couple of days, but they can sometimes delay in appearing. So she checked some amounts with me, making sure they were legit. Two hundred thousand from the…

Whoa there cowgirl! Two hundred what? I nearly had heart attack imagining the unauthorised overdraught fees. How did I take out that much? I must have been drunk early that day… Still… 200k is a lot of reais.

… in Santiago.

Santiago is like Salvador, a place you have to check twice to see if it might be a Brazil one or another Latin American place. No, must be the one in Chile. I started sweating as she ran through the list of recent transactions, thankfully at the same time as Id been making withdrawals throughout the weekend. the card was still in my hand and hadnt left it except for withdrawals, some by Blondie – you dont suppose…? I didnt mention her to the bank, it might lead to awkward questions from someone who didnt trust my Brazilian lady as much as I do.

So all those frighteningly high amounts were only good old Chilean pesos, and as Ive never been to Santiago, it was all quite easy to point them out, cancel yet another card, and wait five minutes for the money to be put back onto my account. Just a couple of forms to sign later to state the fraudulent activity for the police, and Im in the clear. Marvellous. Good luck finding the thieves, and even better luck in trying to get the Brazilian banks or police to provide any help with that or even acknowledge that they have a problem. We called the possible banks, the denied any responsibility.

So as far as inevitably getting roubado in Brazil goes, having a card cloned is about as good as it gets for anybody with a gringo bank account. I can only imagine how much bureaucracy would be involved in the same situation with a Brazilian bank card. I imagine ten years of legwork for nothing to ever be refunded. The thought makes me shiver. I also have the feeling that as most of the card-cloning stories I hear from Brazil involve gringoes that there is definitely some huge scheme going on here, involving the banks and the staff of banks, a huge conspiracy to defraud us all of our dollars by some Brazilian jeitinho.

So I was all happy with life that afternoon, thinking that while having something stolen in Brazil is very common, having it stolen with no violence necessary, all valuables safely returned, and nothing but a painful wait for the correio to deliver the new card. And even better – surely, statistically speaking, having been robbed means that your chances of being robbed again in the near future dwindle somewhat, so the cloning puts back the inevitable and far more ugly type of robbery to a later average date, no?

This thought kept me amused for another couple of weeks, at least until I discovered that it had happened again with another gringo bank card. Im going at the rate of one every couple of months now…

You can visit Ricky’s blog at

Previous articles by Ricky:

Understanding Brazil: Pizza
Around Brazil: Porcaria de Janeiro
Understanding Brazil: Holding Hands
Understanding Brazil: Statues & Self-Worth
Understanding Brazil: Mosquitoes Part II
Understanding Brazil: The Pub
Understanding Brazil: Protesting
Understanding Brazil: General Elections
Around Brazil: Oktoberfest Parade in Blumenau
Cultural Brazil: The Alambique
Around Brazil: Whale-Watching in Santa Catarina
Brazil: Tainha Time
Deported from Brazil? Part 2
Deported from Brazil? Part 1
Brazil: The President in Florianpolis
Swine Flu in South America?
The Best Club in Brazil…?
The Great Brazilian Animal-Off (Land)
Understanding Brazil: Giving Directions
Understanding Brazil: Driving
Understanding Brazil: Farra do Boi
Brazil: Catching Flu’
Around Brazil: Garopaba
Understanding Brazil: Funerals
Brazil: Bernie the Berne
Around Brazil: Journey to the Amazon Jungle
Around Brazil: Crazy Town Ceremonies
Around Brazil: Crazy Town
Around Brazil: Manaus
Around Brazil: Santarem & Alter do Chao
Around Brazil: Amazon Swarms and Amazon Storms
Understanding Brazil: Playing Pool
Around Brazil: Gurup
Around South America: Peninsula Valdes
Around South America: Patagonia
Around South America: Montevideo, Uruguay
Around Brazil: The Amazon
Around South America: Bariloche, Argentina
Understanding Gringoes: Drinking
The Great Brazilian Fruit-Off Part 2
The Great Brazilian Fruit-Off Part 1
Understanding Brazil: The Kids
Brazil v Argentina: Buying Beer
Understanding Brazil: Mosquitoes
Around Brazil: So Luis
Teaching English in Brazil
Around Brazil: Lenois Maranhenses
Understanding Brazil: The National Anthem
Around Brazil: Barreirinhas
Around Brazil: Jericoacoara to Barreirinhas
Understanding Brazil: Shopping Centres
Around Brazil: Jericoacoara
Around Brazil: Chapada da Diamantina/Lenois
Brazil vs. Argentina: Statues of Christ
Around Brazil: Salvador
Brazil vs. Argentina: The Buses
Around Brazil: Morro de São Paulo (& Itabuna)
Understanding Brazil: The Workmen
Around Brazil: Praa Pateo do Colegio
Around Brazil: Porto Seguro
Around Brazil: Rio de Janeiro to Porto Seguro
Around Brazil: Cristo Redentor
Understanding Brazil: The Sellers
Around Brazil: Ilha de Gigoia
Brazil Journeys: São Paulo to Rio de Janeiro
Understanding Brazil: Dogs Part 2
Brazil: A Lie-In in Downtown São Paulo?
The Best Job in Brazil: Ankle Specialist?
Understanding Brazil: Dogs
Brazilian Places: Ilha do Santa Catarina (Floripa)
Classic Brazilian Journeys: South to Florianopolis
Understanding Brazil – The Shower
Brazil: Boats on the Amazon
Brazil: Understanding Novelas
Brazil: Bus fires in São Paulo – always a bad thing?

By Ed Catchpole
May 12, 2015

Brazil’s intelligentsia has often considered the question “who are Brazilians?” This was an important issue in the 1920s when the character of “Macunama”, an anti hero who had absolutely no moral fiber was created by Brazilian writer, Mrio de Andrade. Macunamaappeared at exactly the time that a new definition of what it means to be Brazilian was needed.

New immigrants were arriving and contributing to a new profile of Brazil which led to the conviction that imported labor was much better than the existing Brazilian workers.

Some scholars at the time argued that slaves had an inherent horror of labor and the native indians a knack for laziness. In this context the Lei de Gerson (to take advantage of someone or something) was a reaction to the dedicated and productive workers required when, firstly Brazilian agriculture, and then its industry needed to compete in the international market.

These wheeler dealers have become part of the folklore of an imaginary country with a slave soul, the antithesis of the European model which was perceived as full of rules.

They were viewed as shrewd, smart, lived by “jeitinho” and most importantly could find a “way around” anything. They made money through unofficial means; playing billiards, betting on horses, and in some cases surviving as gigolos. Over time, this imaginary rogue has increasingly become viewed as a criminal, but not before his associated folklore took hold of the national psyche.

A more marked expression of jeitinho came in the 1970s, in a landmark commercial for Vila Rica cigarettes. It was a time when nationalism was very different to the 1920s, a green and yellow pride and a megalomania fueled by the dictatorship. Against this backdrop a national hero and triple world cup champion midfielder Gerson coined his most famous phrase “You like to take advantage of everything too, right?”

(The above text translated from the article Lei de Gerson at Istoe Brasil, 1999)

The commercial did not have negative connotations at the time but later became the Lei de Gerson (Gerson’s Law). “It was very widespread jargon back then and the advertising captured the popular imagination,” says Historian and Researcher Maria Matos Izilda. “The Lei de Gerson served as yet another element in the definition of the Brazilian identity and a more explicit symbol of our ethics… or lack of them,” adds the historian.

Lei de Gerson works like this; if you have a regular job and pay your taxes you are an “Otario” a sucker. If you can somehow gain advantage (money) finding a way around your circumstances without necessarily working you are “Esperto” or smart. To put this esperto guy into context you might recognize him in the character of Captain Jack Sparrow, an anti-hero who uses wit and deceit to attain his goals.

Unfortunately, this also means there is usually a victim because someone has to get tricked for the jeitinho to work and those victims are nearly always other Brazilians. To me it explains why Brazilians are so reluctant to trust people they don’t know very well.

The recent protests are an example of how frustrated Brazilian are with Lei de Gerson and jeitinho which is the root cause of most political corruption and scandals. Billions of reais of government money are wasted every year through esquemas “schemes” that rely on these cultural traits.

In fact, many, many Brazilians do not subscribe to and deeply dislike this character trait. The thousands of companies operating in Brazil would not tolerate its official use by their employees and Supreme Court Justice, Joaquim Barboza, gave it no credence in his decisions in the Mensalo case. But it is still very ingrained in Brazilian society and bound up in its folklore.

However, it has to be said that some Brazilians still admire such people and regard the perpetrators as heroes and their victims as gullible saps who should have seen it coming.

Previous articles by Ed:

Brazil: Mr Fancy Pants
Brazil Pass Notes No. 1 – The Basics
The United States of Brazil
Brazil: Dont Stop the Party
Brazil: Super Toucans and Little Freddy Seaside
Brazil: Adventures in Portuguese

May 12, 2015

This week in our continuing Foreigners Through Brazilian Eyes series we have an interview with Denise S. Read on as Denise tells us about her impressions of foreigners, and gives some helpful advice also.

1. Where are you from in Brazil and what do you do?

I was born in the south of Brazil, in Porto Alegre. I am a “curious” person so I have worked for international banks and imports/exports companies, later I taught English over many years. I am now studying at a Faculty of Music and I am a blogger, as well.

2. What are the main obstacles for foreigners in Brazil?

I think the language is the main barrier, in my opinion, for foreigners in some parts of Brazil. Also, bureaucracy. Very slow. And Brazilians greet people warmly. This is something that can also be seen as impoliteness, I suppose.

3. What are common mistakes that foreigners make in Brazil?

Many people think that everybody is poor, in Brazil. And that everybody lives in Rio. Or only go to beaches, instead of working.

4. What characteristic of other nationalities strikes you as the most different (eg. sense of humour, formality, dress)?

Well, it’s a tricky question, cause I am seen in Brazil somewhat as a foreigner, because of having some characteristics of other nationalities, but some I have from my family, not all from Brazil. Let’s say, some Europeans don’t greet with kisses, rather a handshake or just waving. When I greet people in Brazil this way, they find me a snob. Don’t ever try to explain it, they will find you impolite anyway. I think British are punctual and I like it. I like the way some people care for the environment in some countries in Europe.

5. Which English accent do you prefer and why (eg. Scottish, American, Australian)?

I studied at a North American school for a decade, so living in England and hearing the British accent was quite different for me, to “adjust” to some of their accents. Although many disagree and see some accents as “low level”, I find it very nice to hear accents in the UK. Scottish, for example, and Liverpudlian. I love those accents! I also like the Irish accent.

6. Favourite place travelled abroad and why?

If I have to pick just one place I will choose Wales. The whole country. It’s a place with rich history, polite and sweet people, amazing views along the coast and valleys and I feel at home there.

7. Favourite foreign food?

I am a fussy eater, unfortunately. And on the top of that, I am vegetarian since childhood. It makes it all very difficult for me to find food that I really like, in any part of the world. Brazilian food never said a thing to me. I used to eat Spanish dishes in my family, so I guess Spanish food doesn’t count on my report. I like simple dishes like avocado salad, caprese salad, coleslaw, fruit scones and clotted cream. Yorshire pudding is a must and Italian dishes, but alas, in the south of Brazil, hugely colonized by Italians, that would be a no-brainer. Swiss cheese like Tte de Moine is great. I also like some dishes of the Indian cuisine, like pilau rice and samosas, and Cornish and Greek pastries, such as tsoureki, trigona, bougatsa, etc.

8. Favourite foreign band, book and movie?

The Beatles. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. But I’d like to mention Balzac, as well. Movies… it’s difficult. I like old movies, from late 30s till the 50s. Then I have so many to name that it would be unfair. But alas, I will name one: Cleopatra. I am a huge fan of Bollywood, as well.

9. Can you share an incident, misunderstanding or culture shock that you have experienced with a foreigner?

In Germany the landlady used to check my garbage bags to see whether I was doing it right, separating organic from dry garbage. She then rang the bell to tell me that she opened my bags in the trash bins and didn’t like one item that I have placed there. I never heard of someone who would open the garbage bags of another person, get in touch with torn paper, other intimate women’s stuff and etc. it sounded disgusting to me, but she was protecting the environment, I guess.

10. What are 2 things you would recommend for a visitor to do in Brazil to better understand Brazilian people and their culture?

I think just bear in mind that bureaucracy is really ridiculous, and try not to stress over it, and that when people greet you warmly, they mean to show you are welcome and they want you to enjoy your time with them and in Brazil.

You can email Denise at, and read her blog

If you are Brazilian, or know a Brazilian, who has traveled abroad or has considerable experience with different nationalities here in Brazil, we would like to hear from you. Please send an email with contact details and a brief description of yourself to