Germany or Brazil? You smell the difference

Germany or Brazil? You smell the difference

One way to know that you are back in Europe and not in Brazil anymore? Imagine what happened to me the other day when we were visiting friends. I had my baby boy on my lap after he had played with my friend’s children. Suddenly I smelled a not very strong but pretty unpleasant whiff of what I assumed was the result of my baby filling his diaper. I held him up and smelled his pants, but I wasn’t sure, because the stink was not strong. I looked at my wife and said „I think we have to change his diaper.“ But my friend’s wife smiled, pointed towards the kitchen where her children hat just started to prepare a slice of bread to eat and she said: „I think this is the French cheese in our fridge.“ It was. How I missed this – not the smell, only the cheese.

Endless Winter

Endless Winter

An Endless Summer has now become Endless Summer / Endless Winter. Why? Because for the moment we have moved back to Germany and just as the weather in Santos – where a random winter day can easily be a sunny day with 30° or more – seems like an endless summer to Germans, the weather in Germany seems like an endless winter to many Brazilians. Many greetings from Berlin where the current temperature at 10:40 in the morning is a stunning 5.5° with a freezing 2.5° during the night. Yesterday some snowflakes mixed with the rain. Winter is coming.

The lovely picture above is from Coanri/Rita at Flickr.

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.

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.

Happy Advent time or: Christmas traditions (#2)

Happy Advent time or: Christmas traditions (#2)


Nikolaus I asked some students of mine about traditional Christmas food in Brazil. Usually they say, that there is no such thing as a traditional Christmas food. Panettone is a traditional cake you will find mostly during Christmas time and many families eat turkey. And since it is summer and usually very hot, fruits are eaten a lot too. Seems very healthy and light, especially when you compare it to Germany. Christmas preparation in Germany traditionally starts with the St. Martin’s goose and continues with cookies, “Stollen”, and chocolate in all variety and from. You better like chocolate in Germany, especially on December 6th because this is when Nikolaus comes to your house.

December 6th is the Saint’s Day of St. Nicholas (Wikipedia) who had a reputation for secret gift-giving which led to a funny form of celebration (Wikipedia) which I know best as putting candy (mostly chocolate of course) in the (empty) shoes of people. The whole ceremony goes like this: children are told that during the day or evening St. Nikolaus will come to their house together with his servant “Knecht Ruprecht”, who carries a burlap sack and a rod or a piece of wood. If the children had been good in the past year, they will receive gifts, if not they will be beaten by Knecht Ruprecht. And this is why in the beginning of December you can buy small burlap sacks filled with chocolates in many German stores, to give yourself (or your kids) an extra treat. And even though I have found burlap sacks and socks (which are sometimes used instead of shoes) in Brazil, nobody seems to know the tradition of giving candies.

Advent Sunday and the Christmas wreath

Advent Sunday and the Christmas wreath Advent time in Germany is a cold and dark time. This can’t be stressed enough. Today, December 20th and one day before the shortest day of the year, sunrise in Berlin had been at 8:15am and sunset at 3:54, which makes daytime a breathtaking small 7 hours and 40 minutes. That is less than a usual workday. You get the point, advent time is dark. And this is where the concept of “Gemütlichkeit” comes into play and it is only very roughly translated into coziness. “Gemütlichkeit” describes the effort to make your surrounding or your life comfortable and nice, to slow down a bit and enjoy life. And advent is a time to make your life cozy. This can be achieved with decorating your home, baking cookies (nothing nicer than the smell of fresh baked cookies on a Sunday afternoon in the house), but there is also the tradition of celebrating advent Sundays with coffee, cookies and Gemütlichkeit as well as having and Christmas wreath. The Chrismas wreath I see here in Brazil as well, but it is only used as a decoration usually hanging on doors. In Germany there are candles on the circle of fir-tree twigs and they are lit, starting the fourth Sunday before Christmas with the first candle, the third Sunday with the first and second and so on. In the end you have a wreath with four candles in different degrees of usage and nothing symbolizes the waiting for Christmas better than the view of these four candles.

Up next: what I really like about Christmas in Brazil.


Picture by Liesel – some rights reserved: CC BY-SA 3.0

Happy Advent time or: Christmas traditions (#1)

Happy Advent time or: Christmas traditions (#1)

December is a peculiar time in Brazil, because everything is heading towards Christmas and this just doesn’t feel right in the Brazilian weather (as the head of the heard wrote and I have to agree). And that the holiday has mainly become a shopping event is not different here in Brazil than in Germany (or any other western county, I suppose). So there are Christmas decoration in the streets and in the shops, Christmas itself is one giant feast of consumerism and there is no store, that does not have a bearded Santa or some snowmen or a some other Christmas related stuff. It is quite disconcerting to see all this cold-weather-based images (Santa in a heavy jacket, snowmen, snowflakes and so on) in the heat of the summer or on the beach. But since I have never been a big fan of Christmas, I don’t mind the lack of Christmas mood on my side.

Christmas Mood

>In Germany people wish each other a “besinnliche Weihnachtszeit” or simply Marry Christmas. “Besinnlich” means contemplative – to calm down, to reflect upon yourself and your life – and so the time before Christmas could be a time to take things easy before the big feast. I find this very amusing, because it is quite the opposite: the most hectic and stressful time of the year. At work people have to finish things before Christmas, which for some companies is also the end of the year, or because between Christmas and New Year’s Eve things slow down considerably. Then there is the stress of shopping, buying things for your family, relatives and friends in stores that are packed with people who have the same idea. Then you have to start to prepare Christmas, because in Germany people bake special Christmas cookies in December or the traditional and very tasty “Stollen” – a sweet bread made with dried fruit and often marzipan, resembling the Panettone you can find everywhere in the State of São Paulo during Christmas time. And even though there are some traditions I do miss in Brazil, lets start with the opposite. Let’s start with the notorious Christmas Market (“Weihnachtsmarkt”).

Christmas Markets in Germany

December in Germany is cold and dark, when you work normal office hours there is a good chance that you won’t see any daylight outside your office. Then there are the clouds, the absence of sunlight. With this in mind it makes a lot of sense to me that people decorate their houses and gardens with lights, trying to make the long, dark monthes a little brighter. But I have never understood the tradition of Christmas Markets which you can find in every city, usually there are even a couple of them on public places or in front of shopping malls.

Christmas Markets are decorated for Christmas (of course), wooden stalls with many lights sell overprized crap or identical and low-quality food as well as warm wine, which is treated as a tradition but does only one thing: cause headache. Why people want to meet outside in the cold to drink a usually terribly tasting drink which will most likely caus a headache the next morning I could never understand. But I cheerfully appreciate the absence of Christmas Markets here in Santos and I beg you: please Brazil, don’t start with this nonsense!