Brazil: A Quick and Dirty Guide to Brazil and Brazilians – Part 1

By Robert Eugene DiPaolo
August 4, 2014

If you’ve never been to Brazil and are planning to go or if you are living in Brazil and struggling to make sense of your experience, the following which I’ve called A Quick and Dirty Guide to Brazil and Brazilians should be of some help. Don’t worry if you are living in Brazil and have yet to make sense of your experience, you are in good company. Lots of people have (and are having) the same experience. I would recommend 1808 The Flight of the Emperor; How a Weak Prince, a Mad Queen, and the British Navy Tricked Napoleon and Changed the World. 2007, Translated from the Portuguese in 2013 by Andrew Nevins. Not because the translation into English is great. It’s not. It’s wooden and would have been better done by a native English speaker. But the fact that it was not also provides you with further insight into how Brazilians think, or sometimes don’t think. This could have been an excellent book, which I would have been able to recommend without the caveat with respect to the translation into English.

But before we get to that, let me tell you how I ended up in this country. But before I get to that, let me tell you a joke a Brazilian told me the first time I came to Brazil. It’s a funny joke, which I think will help you understand my quick and ditty tips on how to survive your trip to, or existence in, Brazil.

God made Brazil and thought my God (yes, I know it’s sort of funny God saying that, but that’s how the joke was told to me, so…) what a beautiful county, gorgeous beaches, wonderful fruit, marvelous landscapes, no natural disasters, etc. It’s not fair.” So, in order to balance things out, he created Brazilians!

Really, a Brazilian told me this joke, which I used to think that was a just joke, but it is far closer to the truth than I would care to try to explain, but I will try as that’s the whole point of this column and this column in particular. So, here goes… But, first, back to why I came to, and have remained in, Brazil.

When I first came to Brazil I was as excited as a five year old whose innocence had yet to be stolen by the harsh realities of the world in which we exist. It was 1997. I, a boy from a small town in Ohio, had lived in NYC for three years and was sent to São Paulo (SP) by the law firm for which I worked. I knew nothing about Brazil, and as the joke goes I thought that Buenos Aries was the capital of Brazil and that Brazilians spoke Spanish. SP seemed like NYC, which I loved, but on speed. What could be better than that? I didn’t know about the crime, the violence or the prostitution (which is legal in Brazil), etc. Yes, it’s true, prostitution is legal in Brazil. It’s being a pimp that is not legal. This leads to some fairly bizarre situations, which only make sense if you understand the laws regarding prostitution in Brazil. So, there is a lot of prostitution in Brazil. Just like there was in 1808. And it’s not hard to find if that is what you are looking for, and for good or bad, many people who come to Brazil for work or pleasure are looking for just that. I was a just naãve boy from a fairly small city in Ohio, working in NYC, who liked discovering new places and doing new things. I was like the proverbial kid in the candy shop. I thought Brazil was the perfect place. The people were overly friendly. The food fresh rather than processed. What wasn’t there to love about Brazil?

What happened next was an accident. Believe me! Since I had done one transaction in Brazil, I was now the so called expert on Brazil at my firm, and I was asked to do another transaction in Brazil. This time for an internet company, which was another money losing, but venture capital rich that was soon to list its shares on NASDAQ (a branding experience during the 1.0 era) and was buying up companies in Latin America like there was no tomorrow. If you ask me the whole 2.0 looks and sounds a lot like 1.0, despite all the talk about this time it’s different. Whenever someone tries to tell you, but this time it’s different, don’t believe them. Better, do the exact opposite. On the other hand if you really believe Facebook is worth 85 times more than its earnings (yes, 85 times!) go ahead and buy the stock. Or worse, Twitter, which doesn’t make any profit, is a money losing company that like its distant cousins in the 1.0 world went public without having made a profit. Like I said it all sounds and feels way too familiar to me, and I lived through 1.0. Or, as I like to say, I’ve been there, seen that, done that and don’t believe this time it&rsquot;s different no matter what Larry Summers says!

I went to Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Colombia and even to Spain, doing deals for this company that made no financial sense (counting eyeballs – what kind of metric is that?) to me, but what the heck, I got to go to a lot of new places on someone else&rsquot;s (the client’s) dime. Then the most amazing thing happened. A Brazilian company which was on the other side of one of this internet company’s transactions called me to ask me if I would be his company’s lawyer since it was receiving a sizable venture capital investment from a prominent US investment bank. And I will be honest with you, he did not call me because I was the best US lawyer he knew. He called me because I was the only US lawyer he knew, and he wanted me to work for his company. That is probably the highest compliment a lawyer can receive. To be hired by someone on the other side of the table after that deal was done.

Once again, I felt like a kid in the candy shop. And more to my amazement, this kept happening, over and over again, and before you knew it, I had two jobs, not one! The first, doing all the work the law firm asked me to do. The second, doing all the work I was bringing to the firm as a 6th year associate. Yes, as a 6th year associate! Unfortunately the junior partners at the firm were not too pleased with being out done by a 6th year associate, but that is another story, which I hope to get to one day. In the meantime, if you are interested in reading about my experience as a white collar slave working in BIG LAW NYC circa 1994 – 2004, you can read about it in my blog The Slumbering Dogmatist, which can be found at this following link – Enjoy!

But, the more work I brought in, the more difficult the partner who was head of my practice group, let’s call him “Marty” as such name would befit him, made my life. Really, it was as if I was doing something wrong by doing exactly what I said I would do when I decided to join the firm. Isn’t more work a good thing? I didn’t get it then; I don’t get it now. But that&rsquot;s what happened. And trust me, Marty made my life hell. I was told I was a bad sheep more than once, which was okay by me since I didn’t want to be a sheep, good or bad, but have been accused of being the black sheep of my family!

So, after being a white collar slave at highly regarded law firms for nearly a decade, I decided I needed a break from the 12+ hour days, working the weekends, and if lucky using one of the four weeks of vacation I supposedly had. And in the US, unlike Brazil, if you don’t use it, even if no fault of your own, you you lose it. So, you do the math. Ten times three! Thirty weeks of my life stolen from me, for which I was not compensated. Wow! That really is a long time. More than a half year. In any event, after 10 years of being yelled, screamed, and hollered at by philistines – that is self-important partners without a shred of sophistication whose avocation was humiliating associates and if they brought in enough business, their fellow partners as well – I was not sure I wanted to join their club and was told that in order to do so at my fourth law firm that I needed to prove myself all over again. This was a law firm that had not made anyone a corporate partner in 10 years. And at which I was a senior associate in the corporate department. That is life. At the time, I just felt lucky to have a job doing what I enjoyed.

So, after working in BIG LAW for nearly a decade, and being told by my last firm that you have been here two years, we have not made a corporate partner in 10 years and you have a lot of people in your class who have worked here since they were first year associates, so… In short, I was told that the chances of my becoming partner, well to be honest they were not so good, unless I essentially worked around the clock and continued to put my professional life ahead of everything else. So I decided to take a self-designed sabbatical for four months, which I would spend in Brazil where I had friends and clients, in order to make new contacts, work on my Portuguese and think about what to do with my life, with the full intention of going back to NYC to look for another job after. That was nearly a decade ago and I am still in Brazil.

So, I took a sabbatical for which I footed the bill and was told if you don’t come back in four months, don’t come back. I didn’t go back. Good or bad choice I can’t say, but I don’t regret it not for one day. Most lawyers in NYC are *%#$@*& ! Because they become crazy after so many years of working crazy hours, not being able to spend time with their families (most partners I had the pleasure of working with, were on their second or third marriage) and having to deal with knuckle headed associates, most of whose names they never bothered to learn or remember, since the turnover rate at large NYC law firms is very high. I think you get the point. And I know since I used to be one of them. Lawyers in Brazil on the other hand are like peacocks showing their feathers with pride, but that is about it. As far as skill or competence, I will resist commenting further other than to say some are good. In fact some are very good! It’s just a matter of finding them. And if you do, count yourself lucky. Well, I’ve told you a little about Brazil and about how I ended up living in here to help you understand the tips I will give you to help you understand Brazil and Brazilians. Next time I will provide you with the tips. Thanks for reading! You can follow me on Twitter at @BrazilCircus. You can also reach me by email with thoughts, comments, ideas, etc. at

2014 Robert Eugene DiPaolo

Previous articles by Robert:

Brazil: The Beautiful Circus – Conjugating the Culture of Brazil
Brazil&rsquot;s Surprising Expansion of the Legal Definition of a Tax Haven
Getting a “Permanent” Visa in Brazil
Doing Business In Brazil: Part 5 – Acquisitions, Investments and Joint Ventures
Doing Business In Brazil: Part 4 – The Despachante
Doing Business In Brazil: Part 3 – Starting Your Business
Doing Business In Brazil: Part 2 – The Variety of Brazilian Companies
Doing Business In Brazil: Part 1

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