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So, they found a sack of body parts in my hood


One of the things I took comfort in about living in Brazil is that the country didn’t seem to have the kind of twisted, sick criminals that randomly appear in nice, quite neighborhoods in the US. At least none that tumbled into the Sao Paulo bubble that I live in.

But on Sunday morning, someone found a bag of arms and legs down the street from where I live. Later that day, they found the trunk of the body in another bag down the street. The police were unable to tell if it was a male or female.

It gets worse. The fingers were cut off and the skin was removed where they suspect there were tattoos. The person who cut up this body didn’t want anyone to know who it was. Clever, you might think. Not so clever… because the person forgot that every single building has a camera.

I was slightly comforted with the idea that perhaps a car passed through our street tossing bags out the window while speeding by. But that’s not what happened.

The police got all the film from the buildings around where the bags with body parts were found and discovered that some young man dragged a cart around, which was covered in a woman’s clothing. He pulled his packages out of his cart and left them around town.

Yesterday, they found the head in the central area of the city.

I am not naive enough to think this stuff doesn’t happen, or worse. But once these events start to add up, (see Monsters on Motobikes), the scale starts to tip out of favor for Sao Paulo.

You can read about this in Portuguese here.



Posted in Living in Sao Paulo, What the h*ll is that? | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

They were shooting at my home…it was time to leave!


An insider expat who has been sharing her experience in Venezuela and finally had to get out.

Originally posted on Vivo en un Mundo Loco:

I am back in Norway trying hard to understand how things could go so terrible wrong. Since my last post the situation in Venezuela kept getting worse every day. It was after the National Guard had been shooting and throwing gas bombs at my residence I made the decision to leave the country.

As I try to write about what happened (and is still happening) I cannot keep the tears away, I am heartbroken. I have learned to love Venezuela, even with its obvious flaws. I have met people who have touched my heart in ways i cannot describe. I have left a country and it’s people who are desperately fighting for their freedom, democracy and a better future, but at what cost?

Innocent people are being killed, hurt and taken to prison where they are treated with violence and torture. Why? Because they using their right to demonstrate against…

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What Can Carnaval Tell Us About Brazilian Business Skills?

In Brazil, each Escola de Samba, or Samba school, works all year long to develop their portion of the Carnaval parade. The people who put together these elaborate affairs are not the wealthy of Brazil. In fact, some of the schools are located in favelas. This portion of the Brazilian population is able to implement productions that put Broadway to shame. Yet, we can’t get a stadium ready to safely hold patrons for the biggest futebol event in the world.

The people who clean houses, service cars and ring up groceries participate in, execute on and somehow fund annual plans for a contest that involves choreography, musical scores, costume design and three dimensional art.

What do we learn about Brazilians business skills looking at carnaval? Brazilians…

1. …are very creative.

From concept to colors, the creativity that goes into these events is remarkable.

2. …can design and execute a one-year plan.

It takes a heck of a lot of planning to pull off this type of production. Plans that must include both short and longer term strategies, as well as action plans with detailed tactics and designated tasks.

3. … can lead the masses.

Somebody at each school has to be directing the process. That means organizing hundreds of people over the course of a year, at various points, to all achieve one objective. That means decisions are being made in advance.

4. … can take direction.

Based on the results, participants are ready and willing to follow orders, orders that have got to be direct and specific.  Not only are they being led, but they are working together. This kind of result doesn’t come from each doing their own individual thing.

5. … have a sense of humor.

União’s put on a gorgeous “Toy Story” themed event full of gigantic, beautiful characters with dancing rubix cubes and dolls, etc. It was a wonderful and exotic display of childhood happiness.

toy story float

Courtesy of Globo.

However, did anyone else catch that there was a huge, knife wielding, Chucky doll on the back of one of the floats?


Courtesy of Globo.

Now that’s funny.

Let’s face it, business leaders and politicians in Brazil most often come from wealthy families. Nepotism runs deep in this country. Everybody who is anybody has got an uncle who can make things happen for them. Yet, what do we learn about Brazilian business skills when we examine the actual business or environment? Brazilians…

1. … struggle with project management.

It’s not that Brazil businesses don’t get things done. They do. But they most often get things don’t at the last minute at twice the cost.

2. … avoid formal and efficient processes and procedures. 

Anyone who has opened a business in Brazil or has tried to implement procedures within a corporation knows what I’m talking about. It can be very difficult to get commitments to move forward in the same direction.

3. … sidestep deadlines and deliverables.

It seems that Brazilian business people always assume your deadline is padded. If that is not the case, then it must be a complete disregard for your deadline – but I choose to believe the former. Again, it is a commitment issue.

So why can’t businesses have the same strategies as the carnaval crowds? Could it be that we have the wrong people running things around here?

Posted in Brazilliant, Culture Conflicts, Expatriate Info & Advice, Foreigner Insights, Tourist Info | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

What’s Holding Brazil Back?

It seems like an ideal equation. An abundance of natural resources, multiple emerging middle classes, democracy in one of its purest forms (on paper), people who can dance… So what is the problem? Why can’t Brazil forge ahead?

Here is my opinion, to which I welcome your insights and arguments. In advance, I ask your forgiveness for any generalizations.

1. No respect for the working class 

A couple weeks ago, I was standing in line at the snack bar at our club waiting to order. Next to the line was a young woman barking orders at the people behind the counter. The man taking orders called out a general request for everyone to please get into the line – aimed at her. She ignored him and shifted her demands to another employee. I called her out. She responded with a whiney stream of excuses. I told her to talk to the hand.

This is not an uncommon scene. The middle to upper classes in Brazil engage with the working class (defined for the purposes of this post as those generally in the services industry, including those people who work at the Pão de Açucar) in two ways. Either they treat them like dirt, or they offer up some condescending friendliness, later congratulating themselves on the contribution they’ve made to society. As an outcome, when someone of the working class is actually treated with respect, it is often regarded with suspicion. Combine this with the government’s attempts to give people more power and rights, and things begin to get dangerous. An expat friend of mine described the consequence of this shifting of attitudes, the coupling of being empowered with still being looked-down upon, to a tee. It results in… rage. (Yes, go ahead and picture that one chilling scene with the monkeys from the film 28 Days Later - I did.)

Why is this an obstacle? Powerful countries are built on the masses working to achieve their dreams. If people aren’t encouraged to work hard for something, a country stays stagnant.

2. Little respect for teachers 

While in most developed countries, teachers are revered as heroes (at least in the movies), my expat friends who have found themselves in teaching position have been shocked to be considered one step up from a babá (nanny). This is especially prevalent at the schools where the average wealth tends to be higher (except for the British run schools) – and where the kids will eventually have more impact on the way the country goes. But even in the Brazilian schools, it takes a lot to collect respect from students. So let me ask you this – if kids don’t respect what the teacher says, how the hell are they going to learn anything?

3. S-Mothering

I had to have a tough conversation with a professional, 30-something client of mine about what he was going to have to do to achieve his stated objectives. The next day I received an email from… you guessed it… his mother. The mother, in a typical passive aggressive way, made a series of excuses for her son and tried to turn the tables on why he couldn’t get his shit together, including a couple digs about my American tactics. This is the stuff that sitcoms are made of, yet I wasn’t totally shocked that a Brazilian man’s mother might infringe on his professional life. Brazilian mothers have a tendency to distance themselves from their kids during those troubling years – like when they are infants – leaving those kinds of upbringing nuisances to uneducated people who come from the countryside and are treated like slaves (see 1. No respect for the working class). Then, once their kids are teenagers, they forcefully inject themselves, attempting to control every aspect of their offsprings’ lives. This lasts generally until their own expiration. What kind of message does this send? I have no idea, only that it results in a serious handicapping of adults. Adults who may find themselves in charge of something important purely by nepotism. Adults who will be forwarding all their uncomfortable emails to their mothers.

4. No regard for rules

In 2013, the people of Brazil took to the streets in outrage of what the government had been doing with all the money it had collected from its citizens. Corruption, mismanagement of funds, and the breaking of rules were all on the list of complaints. Yet, as pointed out by reader Andrew Francis, this is all a little hypocritical. An average Brazilian breaks more rules than I can imagine on the typical day. Disregarding traffic laws, insurance fraud, passing points for driving infringements onto others… most never bat an eye when trying to get around or out of something they don’t want to do. The classic name for this behavior is jeitinho, and considered a cultural cuteness, but when compiled, its impact is detrimental to society. How do you control chaos when no one bothers with the rules?

5. Misplaced priorities

Did you happen to watch the Rio de Janeiro carnaval parade on TV? Maybe you sat in the Sambadrome in Sao Paulo and witnessed the thousands of people that danced along the route, dressed in costumes that would have put Marie Antoinette to shame. How nice that all those favela dwellers spend their year putting together this kind of show, gathering funds to create a world-renowned event. Did you know that one of the costumes marching behind the float in the parade, I’m not even talking the ones on top of the floats or the headliners in front, can cost more than a month’s salary of the average laborer? And its not like they are going to use it again next year – oh no! (Totally taboo.) I like a good carnaval as much as the next person, but in a country where so many sub-societies are in distress, is this the best place to be putting resources? How many public hospitals and schools could one carnaval support? Just asking.

Yes, political problems are at the top of the list as to why Brazil has been held back. But I believe that cultural issues should be seriously considered as well. Which is more easily shifted? I think it is a tie.

Posted in Culture Conflicts, Expatriate Info & Advice, Foreigner Insights | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 42 Comments

Perua Escolar Perigo


In Brazil, there are these mini buses that take kids to school and back home. (Update: as reader João Deiró pointed out in the comments, these buses are actually run by private companies. But is it too much to ask that the school, who hands out a list of these companies when you register your child, might take a little bit of responsibility in ensure the drivers are safe? Or at least tell the parents when someone reports the driving to be dangerous?) Since living in  my neighborhood, we local foreign mothers have witnessed:

  • bus windows made of plastic and duct tape.
  • nearly being hit while crossing the street as one blows through a red light (on multiple occasions)
  • children inside doing a variety of dangerous things, from hanging out the window to handstands

A mother of my child’s classmate wanted my daughter to go to her house after school and play with her daughter. I agreed, until she told me that her daughter rides home within the confines of a perua escolar. I told her I didn’t want my daughter riding in one of those, and she rebutted with the fact that the driver was a nice guy. I explained that, just the day before, one had grazed my skin as it flew past me, having ignored the street signal. I got a look that indicated she understood I was one of those uppity American moms. Needless to say, I took both my daughter and hers to their home in a cab.

Why is this a socially acceptable danger? I constantly see signs on the street instructing people to wear seat belts, which are even required for dogs traveling in cars. Why is the safety of students being compromised?

Finally, today, I got tired of it. I was walking to school to pick up my daughter and one was stopped in traffic. Inside, children were standing and jumping up and down. I stopped to stare and the driver noticed me watching. I raise my hand in a motion to mean, “What the f**k?” He quickly called to the children to tell them to sit down. I noted his license plate.

At school, I hunted down his death mobile and found it parked on the street in front of school, but empty. I asked one of the other perua escolar drivers about his whereabouts and was informed he was inside picking up more victims.

I marched into the school to report him.

I didn’t get very far. I went into the main office and the woman who received me sent me to the director, who was at lunch. She then brought me to another person, who was unfortunately having some kind of spell but refused to sit down…

I left my name, number and the driver’s license number of the perua. We will see if anything comes of it.

Posted in Culture Conflicts, Daily Escapades, Foreigner Insights, Living in Sao Paulo, What the h*ll is that? | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

What You Can Buy on the Beach in Rio

This gallery contains 11 photos.

Did I mention that I drove all the way from Sao Paulo to Rio de Janeiro? I’ll admit, after avoiding this type of task for so long, I’m feeling very empowered. We’ve spend the week back and forth between my … Continue reading

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So, I drive now…

This gallery contains 1 photo.

Yes, it is true. Some of you may recall that I have spent the past three-and-a-half years avoiding driving in Brazil at all costs. I even let my New York driver’s license expire, rendering it impossible for me to legally … Continue reading

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