To the test: Which is worse – Brazilian or German bureaucracy?

To the test: Which is worse – Brazilian or German bureaucracy?

On this blog I have talked a bit about Brazilian bureaucracy, mainly when it was about getting my “permanência”, the work permit or other official documents. My experiences with cartórios, the Federal Police or the Brazilian Embassy in Germany have been quite good so far. I can not complain. Service has been mostly friendly, often competent and sometimes fast. But Brazilians like to complain about their bureaucracy and after two years in Brazil I understand why. I witnessed how difficult it can be to register a car in the name of somebody else while finding proof that the leasing finance with the bank had successfully ended some months ago. The crazy part about many of these tasks: nobody seemed to know how to achieve them. There were as much different information as you asked people (something I know from Germany as well – just try to get your Danish marriage registered in Germany. But it is fascinating that in Brazil you can find professional help: the job of a so-called “despachante” is to get things done in the administration. These people know who to talk to, where to ask and which way to get things done fast. It seems crazy to me, but in Brazil this is a well established profession. Thankfully – my German side would say – something like this is not necessary in German bureaucracy, where everything is in order and well documented. But let’s make the test. I had the chance to experience German administration some weeks when visiting the German Consulate in São Paulo.

The German Consulate begs to differ

I had to visit the German Consulate to apply for a German birth certificate for my son. This seems like something that happens regularly, so I expected and found some well prepared information on the website of the German Embassy describing the whole (pretty complex) procedure and all the documents I needed. But after reading through the description for an hour or more I was confused. The description was vague in regard to two important questions. So I wrote an email to the Consulate and I was pleasantly surprised when I received a detailed and very friendly email back within just two days. As I was told the German Consulate had another interpretation of the law than administration in Germany – which is awesome because it would save me a significant amount of time and even more money, because I didn’t need to organize one more document. But: how confusing is it to have differing legal opinions about an issue as basic as a birth certificate? Your success depends on who you talk to. This experience I have also made in Brazil quite frequently. So when it comes to clarity of the procedure it’s a draw: Germany – Brazil: 1-1

German vs. Brazilian costs

With a list of documents I needed to provide – including translations from a sworn translator who was luckily a lot cheaper in Brazil than in Germany and many (MANY!) additional documents from me, my wife and my son – I had to think about making copies. Documents have to be provided as originals (from which notarized copies would be made for 15 Euros a piece at the German Consulate) or as notarized copies made in a cartório. An additional set of simple copies also had to be included.

15 Euros per notarized copy is about 60 Reais at the moment. This is for ONE notarized copy at the German Consulate. I needed about 15. At the consulate this would add up to almost 1000 Reais! Crazy. But the Consulate accepted notarized copies, so I went to the nearest cartório where I was lucky and did not have to wait for more than 2 minutes. I paid 55 Reais for ALL 15 copies. When it comes to costs, Brazil clearly wins (which is not really a surprise). Germany – Brazil: 1-2

There are rules!

At the consulate I was handed out another sheet of information that explained in detail how I had to sort the documents before handing them in. Originals first, then notarized copies, after which the simple copies had to follow. They even gave the order of the documents and I spend the first 10 minutes at the Consulate sorting documents, putting them in order before I could finally hand them in. This would not happen in Brazil, where you don’t sort. You let someone else do the sorting. Germany – Brazil: 1-3

Waiting in style – Brazil vs. Germany

The waiting-room at the Consulate felt incredibly German. The temperature was perfect – not freezing cold or crazily hot – and the TV on the wall was playing Deutsche Welle with the sound turned so low that people in the room only dared to whisper. Silence – a rare pleasure in Brazil. It was almost relaxing, and the waiting did not even take long. The only thing I was embarrassed of was a poster in the corner from the German Chamber of Commerce praising the job training in Germany with the words “Wir machen Weltmeister” (we make world champions). That´s a bit tasteless in Brazil. But in contrast to the often packed, crazily warm (or cold) and uncomfortable cartórios it was a clear win for Germany.
Germany – Brazil: 2-3

The good feeling of competence

Talking to the Consulate representative was a pleasure. He was friendly (lucky me because the Brazilian woman next to me was treated rather poorly) but most of all, he emitted this aura of competence that makes you calm and feel in good hands. He knew what he was doing, he could answer all my questions and even anticipated them. It felt more like a small-talk than the application for an official document. I am sure the process will run exactly the way he explained it to me. Oh I wish it would always be like this: Germany-Brazil: 3-3

“Das dicke Ende kommt zum Schluss”

This German saying translates literally to “the thick ending comes at the final” and it means that the worst always happens in the end. For me it was the question of how long the whole process would take. Remember: I was making fun of the application for a permanência in Brazil which took over a year. At the end of our conversation in the embassy the friendly and competent Consulate employee informed me, that the whole process would take anything between a couple of months and up to 3 years. Three years?? He explained, that all applications from around the world are being sent to a central registry office in Berlin, which handles all births, deaths and marriages of Germans outside of Germany. And at the moment there is a backlog of 12.000 applications in Berlin, he said, only for registering the births. This can only mean two things: either many (many!) more Germans are being born outside of Germany than expected, or the German administration is maybe not quite as structured and efficient as I would’ve liked to believe. 3 years for a birth certificate vs. 13 months for a permanência. Maybe the German and the Brazilian bureaucracy are not so different after all. An so the competition ends in a tie: Germany – Brazil: 4-4. Sorry about that. We have to look at a different field.

Surprising discovery: Why not eat banana peel?

Surprising discovery: Why not eat banana peel?

Poisonous peel and other banana mysteries

It is said that travelling broadens your mind and educates the traveller. And while this sounds like a very good excuse to book the next vacation, I firmly believe it is true. Having spent a wile in the US made me clear, for example, how German I was and it made me like some qualities you associate with Germany and that I was very annoyed of before. And maybe it’s not the worst result of being abroad, to see your own culture in another light, to understand that most things work very differently in other places of the world. There are always more possibilities in the world than you might think. Take banana peel for example.

Home of the sweet banana

When I’ve been to Brazil the first time I realized that I didn’t know a lot about Brazilian or tropical fruits and that was even true for one fruit which is a basic nutriment in Germany: bananas. Because in Brazil there is a variety of Bananas, I didn’t know existed. In Germany people are only used to one kind of banana (close to the Brazilian “banana nanica”), in the last years baby bananas have also become popular (the “banana prata”) and as something very excotic: cooking bananas (“banana da terra”). My first surprise in Brazil was to find out that bananas can actually be very sweet and full of taste. Because bananas shipped to Germany are usually picked green, they ripen on the ship and they lack taste. But not only are bananas sweeter and richer in aroma, there are also more varieties than the ones above. “Banana maça” for example is a small banana that tastes like apple (therefore the name) and “banana pacova” is a relative to the “banana da terra” mostly used for frying.

Peel it – banana peel is good to eat

Another banana surprise I’ve made just recently: banana peel is edible and nutritive, rich in vitamin, fibres etc.. Imagine my surprise after mindlessly throwing away banana peel for decades. And even more so since bananas in Germany come from giant mono-cultures that require heavy use of insecticides, pesticides and what else, banana peel is said to be almost poisonous and people are advised to wash their hands after peeling a banana before eating the fruit! Yes, you can eat banana peel and it seems to be a versatile food as well. It does not only make delicious sweets and cake (English recipe), you can also use it for salty dishes in a curry (English recipe) or even as a substitute for meat or to make a tea. You can find 5 easy recipes here.

Banana peel hamburger at Quiosque do Romildo – Canal 6

To complete my discovery of banana peel as a food resource, I’ve also recently found out that there is a possibility to try it in Santos. Even more exciting, it is one of the quiosques in the beach park which are normally and unfortunately known for their identical and pretty low quality, greasy food. But “Quiosque do Romildo” at Canal 6 (here is their Facebook page) seem to be an exception to this rule. Their “Banana peel hamburger” was the winning entry in a competition for better food at the beach quiosques and it gives you an excellent opportunity to try some “new” old food. The banana peel has an interesting but not very strong taste but a much more soft texture than real meat. This was the only problem with the banana peel burger at Romildo’s: the taste was good, but they used a bread which was quite stiff – not soft as a normal hamburger bun – and this way the bread mashed the banana peel burger. But hey, it is definitely worth an experience.

Please take my money – How it can be difficult to pay your bill in Brazil

Please take my money – How it can be difficult to pay your bill in Brazil

Brazil is in an economic crisis, but I can’t be made responsible for that. I will not be accused of harming the economic cycle by taking money out and putting it into saving accounts, investment fonds or other non-productive money nonsense. Not at all! I spend all my money, sometimes even more than that. And when I spend my money I don’t want to spend time worrying about the whole process. Take my money, give me my product and we are done. But guess how paying your bills works here in Brazil… Exactly. Let met tell you the story of how I almost gave up trying to pay for an online purchase, because nobody wanted my money.

Paying your bills – my German reference

As most of you know I am German and I lived in the US for a while, so these are my references. And when it comes to paying a bill, things are usually quite easy in Germany. You enter the account number and the bank ID as well as the name if the recipient and the amount of money and off your money goes. The whole process should not take more than half a minute, regardless whether you do that online or at an ATM. For online shopping you can pay with credit card or with a direct debit from your checking account. For regular payments like your rent, insurances etc. you can give a direct debit authorization and the company will take the money out of your account every month – and you just have to check if it everything was correct; if not you can easily get your money back. Oh how I miss these times.

A book of payments in Brazil

Two things struck me as odd very early when I came to Brazil: first were the long lines in front of lottery shops and that these people were going there to “pay bills”, as was explained to me. The second odd thing was the booklet I received after signing up for a health plan. This booklet had some useful but many more irrelevant information and it had twelve bills for each month of the coming year. Each bill I had to rip out, carry to the bank (or the lottery store) and pay there. (As you can see, I don’t use online banking, because I chose to stay with an account for which I don’t have to pay money. Online banking works pretty well and smooth in Brazil, for example you can just scan the bar code with your smartphone and a transfer will be generated. But as many people in Brazil I have to go to the bank and pay my bill there.) Paying your bill gets even more difficult when you keep in mind that you should not miss the due date of your bills, because fines are hefty in Brazil. For my health plan the process seemed complicated to me, especially since the amount of money was the same each month. Little did I know then, that there are more complexities when dealing with banks and payments in Brazil.

The importance of a bar-code

An invoice in Brazil has many information on it, most of which I have no idea why they exist. And it has a bar-code on the bottom, which contains the number of this bill and all necessary information and it is super important. In theory (as in so many cases in Brazil) this should make things easy: ATMs are equipped with bar-code scanners (and for online banking you can use the camera of your cellphone to scan it), then you confirm the payment and… voila. It is very comfortable. But let’s take the slow path, because many things can go wrong.
First and most disturbing was that at the time when I had to pay my bills, everybody has to pay their bills. It is usually the end, the middle or the beginning of a month and this means you have long lines not only in front of lottery stores, but also inside your bank in front of the ATMs. And if you want to pay at a person inside the bank, there is an even longer line for which you have to take a waiting number, pass through a metal detector etc.. Expect do spend not less than half an hour (for paying a bill!). And bring a book, because some banks don’t like you to use your mobile phone inside.

When dealing with an ATM things might also not be as smooth as you expect. Sometimes the bar-code scanners can’t read the code, and instead the machine asks you to enter a 32-digit number, which contains the same information. Good luck doing that the first time. And then there are all the times, when the ATMs are not working at all. Why? Nobody knows. “The system is not working” is a sentence I have heard a lot in Brazil. Funnily it mainly refers to computers.

When paying a bill takes three hours and a lot of nerves

Now it’s time to tell the story of how I almost could not pay for my online purchase, because me and the Brazilian system of paying bills didn’t seem to get along. It all started with an online purchase. One of the nice things in Brazil: when you pay everything at once you usually get a discount. For this product it was 15% – quite a bit, since it was a little more expensive. The only problem was, that in order to get the discount, you couldn’t pay with a credit card, you had to use an online payment system that I had never heard of, or you had to print the bill and pay in your bank (or a lottery shop – see above). This I did and I expected no problems, but everything went downhill from there.

Since the purchase was expensive and a present from Germany, I wanted to take some money from my German account and put it into my Brazilian account. But for some reason my bank (Banco do Brasil) didn’t accept my credit card to take out money anymore (which it had accepted for the last 1,5 years without a problem). Instead I received a message: “Daily limit exceeded.” That was total bollocks or simply a lie. Because as I found out soon, another bank accepted my card without a problem. Then I only needed to put the money in my account and pay the bill on one of the ATMs. Only problem with this: for some reason (nobody ever explains these things or gives you a heads up) my bank did not allow any deposits for a while. (I found that out after standing in front of an ATM puzzled, because one button on the display hat simply disappeared. But many Brazilians were standing in front ot the ATM trying to deposit money without success as well, so I didn’t feel quite as bad.

My next plan was to go back to the first bank, take out a little more money from my German bank and pay the bill inside the bank in cash. After all you should be able to pay at every bank, right? So I took out more money, went inside the bank only to be informed that this bank did not have a cashier, since it was only a small branch, but I could pay my bill with their cooperating partner in the nearby shopping mall: a paper shop. Hmmm. I wanted to pay a bill with an amount of money that I felt unpleasant to carry around, especially in a country where you avoid to take cash at all because of robberies. Did I trust a paper shop with this? I knew that a big branch of this bank was just two hundred meters away, so I decided to go there to pay the bill.

When I arrived at the main branch the bank employee at the security gate between the room with ATMs and the inside of the bank looked at my bill and informed me, that I could of course enter the bank and pay the bill, but since it was beginning of a month, he warned me that I would have to wait in line for a significant time. He suggested I go to a payment and credit card agency nearby, where paying bills was also possible. “Really?” I asked, and he nodded. “No problem”, he said, “it will be a lot faster.” Since the whole procedure had already taken almost an hour, I decided to remain positive and went there.

Of course I had to wait in line again, but the line was only one old lady in front of me, who took forever to pay some bills. After fifteen minutes it was my turn (finally), I handed the bill to the girl behind the computer and took the money out of my bag. Only to be informed a minute later that there was a problem with the bill. “What problem”, I asked. “The bar code scanner can’t scan the bar code. Sometimes that happens, when you print a bill with your printer at home”, the girl explained. “Then our scanner has difficulties scanning it.” “Can’t you just type in the numbers above the bar code, because the barcode is nothing else but these numbers”, I suggested. This is what you do at a ATMs. “Sorry”, she said, “only a bank is allowed to do that.” I tried to argue, but without success. I had to walk back to the second bank, stand in line for 45 minutes until I could finally pay my bill. Oh wait, there was one more funny incident.

Since I had to pay this bill anyway, I had decided to take the electricity-bill for my apartment with me and pay both bills at the same time. That’s easier than trying it at the ATM of my bank, I thought. But guess what. “This bill you cannot pay in our bank”, I was told, “only at Lottery store or at your own bank.” At this point I was so worn out and could not help but laugh in the face of the cashier, who in return looked confused and puzzled. I asked him why that was, but I forgot what he answered. And it doesn’t really matter, because there will always be some reason for things not working. There always is. So I thought to myself: “Screw you Banco do Brasil. screw you Bradesco. screw you MagazineLuiza. I will just stop buying things at all.” The banks finally made me turn away from capitalism. Who would’ve thought?

Note: The title picture is taken from Rodrigo Denúbila on Flickr. Thank you very much!

Paçoca de Carne Seca

Paçoca de Carne Seca

This is the first post of the new “recipes” section, in which I collect recipes I have cooked and found delicious enough to share. And the first one is a recipe of two of my favourite Brazilian ingredients: “carne seca” and “mandioca” aka sun-dried beef jerky and cassava. And  above all it is pretty easy to prepare. I found the original recipe and the picture I’ve used on the wonderful blog São Paulo Antiga and I have only changed it a little bit.

One pack of carne seca (beef jerky), about 500g. You need to water it over night and change the water at least 3 times to take the salt out of it. Then I cut off the fat, the meat in smaller pieces and I cooked it in a pressure cooker for 35 minutes. After this take the meat and pull it apart (this is so Brazilian to me).

While the carne seca is cooking peel your mandiocinha – I used about 500gr. Mandioquinha is a South-American vegetable somewhere between a carrot and a celery root but with a much fine taste. It’s colour is this of a yellow potato. Cook the mandioquinha in water – I used a cube of vegetable seasoning as well, but you can use just salt as well. When the mandioquinha is soft (it doesn’t take more than 15 minutes) poor out most of the water, leave only enough to make a nice and creamy purée out of them. Add a table spoon of margarine (or olive oil, of you prefer). Voilá, your purê de mandioquinha is ready.

Now take the little threads of meat and throw them in a frying pan, together with a cubed onion and clove of mashed garlic. Fry until the onions turn brown, add about 200gr of “farinha de mandioca torrada” (toasted cassava flour) and fresh parsley (I’ve used a whole bunch of it). Season it with salt and pepper. Ready. It can’t get more Brazilian than this.

This recipe serves 2-3 people and takes about 45 minutes to prepare.

A special thanks to São Paulo Antiga for the inspiration, the original recipe and the picture.

My online shopping experiences in Brazil – complicated payments and slow delivery

My online shopping experiences in Brazil – complicated payments and slow delivery

One of the biggest surprises when I came to Brazil about two years ago was how little online shopping is a thing here. This has changed since then, but it it still far from the easy and fast process many Europeans are used to. Maybe one of the reasons is that there is no Amazon or Ebay in Brazil. Even though I have a very ambivalent relationship to Amazon, as I do to every tax-evading multinational cooperation with bad working conditions, I have to admit the Amazon has set some standards when it comes to online shopping. Nowadays it is quite usual in Germany that you order something online and it will be delivered to your house within 2 or three days – overnight delivery costs extra. Payments are made with credit cards or by direct debit, which means the company is allowed to collect the money directly from your country. It’s easy, fast, no hassle and people are used to it. Once again I found out that Brazil is different.

Shopping online in Brazil

Don’t get me wrong, shopping online is not impossible in Brazil, even though it doesn’t seem as popular as for example in the US. There are price comparison portals like submarino or buscape there is the eBay equivalent and all the big chains have online shopping websites and offer home delivery. But it does not quite reach Western European standards. Let me give you two examples.

Buying things online – prepare to wait

Twice I have bought business cards online and once a FC Santos jersey. Both times it seemed cheaper and more comfortable than going somewhere in Santos to buy these things in person. The online stores were absolutely professional, fast and easy to use. You had to register to buy your goods, but that seems rather normal, I only know very few stores, where this is not necessary. And while shopping seemed easy, the delivery times are crazy. On average I had to wait between 10 and 18 working days – which means 2 to 3 and a half weeks – for the products to be delivered. That is after the payment was received by the vendor (which can also take some time). In a country where your groceries can be delivered to your home by the supermarket at the same day, this seems ridiculous. But that is not the only problem. Because there is the problem of paying your bill.

The problem with paying your bill in Brazil

Buying something online is easy, as long as you use a credit card. This way you enter you data, you are billed almost immediately and things are good. (If you have a Brazilian credit card you can also chose to pay in instalments, but that is another story). But that is not always the cheapest way.

The product I bought online was a bit expensive, so it made sense for me to look for the cheapest option. It turned out, that the cheapest way to buy was via the online store of a big chain, paying everything at once (no instalments – I hate them anyway). To get the 15% discount on the normal store prize I had to pay via bank transfer. In Brazil this means you have to print a bank transfer invoice with a bar-code on the bottom, you have to use your online banking or the bank’s ATM to scan the bar-code (alternatively enter a number with at least 30 digits) and this should do the trick. It should, because this is not as easy as it sounds. Because the scanners on the ATM’s do not work (and try to enter this really long number without messing up, because if there is an error, you have to start from the beginning again), there are long lines at the banks sometimes (because everybody needs to pay their bills) and, let’s face it, sometimes things just don’t work at all.

So the problem with e-commerce in Brazil is not that the shops are not prepared, it is the complex payment system that you have to live with (oh, did I mention the up to unethical 160% of annual tax you might have to pay when you fail to pay one of your instalments or a bill?) and the incredibly slow delivery. I am wondering if Brazilians actually enjoy and use online shopping, because at the moment it seems to be quite the contrary to what it should be: it is difficult and slow.

Father´s Day – Dia dos pais – Vatertag

Sometimes I am asked: “What is the biggest difference between Germany and Brazil?” Since I am not a friend of Top-10-lists or Best-Of-Selections I usually answer, that there are many differences, some of them bigger than others. And one of the biggest happens in Brazil on every second Sunday of August: Father’s Day.

Dia dos pais – Father’s Day in Brazil

Brazilians are usually very family oriented so it is no wonder that they celebrate Father’s Day together with their family. And Father’s Day is big in Brazil, not quite as big as Mother’s Day, but you see TV ads and special offers for weeks before. On the day itself fathers receive a gift, in some schools the children prepare a song, a card or a small event for the fathers. And the day fathers spend together with their families, eating, drinking, having a nice time. This may not seem like a very special Father’s Day, but for a German it is.

Vatertag – Father’s Day in Germany

The difference between Germany and Brazil is quite obvious when it comes to Father’s Day, because there is no such thing as Father’s Day in Germany, at least not officially. That is true. While Mother’s Day seems to be celebrated everywhere in this world, Father’s Day isn’t. This must’ve bothered German men for a while, because unofficially the holiday for the Ascension of Jesus in May is used as an unofficial “Father’s Day”: Gents’ Day.

On Gent’s Day in Germany men meet in groups of friends to go hiking, making a bicycle trip or just to walk in nature – and to get seriously drunk while doing that. This is true. Groups of men pulling a small cart with a keg (or two) of beer is nothing unusual to see on “Herrentag” (Gent’s Day). And while many men love the excess, others dislike it the same way. So “Gent’s Day” is not celebrated by everyone in Germany, for some people it is just one of the many holidays in the month of May that you enjoy and don’t really care where it comes from.

So in short: there is no comparison to the celebration of fathers between Germany and Brazil. And maybe the same way there is no comparison of fatherhood and family in Brazil and the more individualist and friendship based lifestyles in Germany. Which one to like better requires a very individual answer, I experienced and came to like both. And the difference makes it very obvious how family oriented people in Brazil tend to be. And this is one of the biggest differences to Germany.