December, 2009. Its a very interesting story, the one about Brazil. I guess that coming from a latin country I had Latinamerica all figured out. Turns out that Brazil, as old as it is, is actually a very young country. Or better said yet, it is a new country with a very long history.
After being discovered in the 1500’s by Portuguese explorers, Brazil suffered as the rest of South America through the years of expansion of Catholicism, slavery, dictators and military regimes. The movie “The Mission” comes to mind. All that history is carried on to todays modern Brazil. A country struggling to emerge as a world major economy.
Today, Brazil is a full democracy and the current government, led by Mr. Lula is a left wing government trying to find its place in the world. He is definitely a character whose personality alone may have gotten Rio the Olympic games of 2016, and at the same time he managed to welcome Irans President Ahmadinejad in an official and very criticized visit.
I attended a Business lunch yesterday afternoon in the southern side of the city of Sao Paulo. A city with a current population of 22 million people. Traffic is chaotic at best, and according to our host 1,000 new cars are added to the Sao Paulo fleet every day.
The setting for our lunch was astonishing to say the least, a beautiful horseback riding club, completely equipped for horse jumping competition, riding trails, swimming pool and the obligatory club house and restaurant. The elite of Sao Paulo society roams the property, and I’m reminded that this is one of two clubs, the other one being the one reserved for the “creme de la creme” of Sao Paulo. In my opinion, everyone here is very well off.
This was one of those occasions where business was not to be discussed. A guy from our potential partners firm and a guest, who turns out to be a one time film distribution executive for LatinAmerica.
A 4 hour chit-chat session followed by lunch to finish, promptly, at 7 PM. Feels just like Mexico, yet Brazil as close as it seems to it, drags its history along. Of course the elites always complain about the state of affairs of their governments, I do to. But we are all complicit in the establishment of the rules we follow. Corruption seem as rampant here as ever. You think, knowing other emergent democracies, that this is the way politics and economics intermix. But given its history, Brazil has a unique social net. The laws here, have been designed to protect the people, as weird as that seems. After years of abuse, women are protected to the full extent of the law from abusive marriages, where this protection actually starts the moment a couple moves in together, not withstanding the actual civil status.
Also of notice is the fiscal structure developed here. Companies have to comply with very strict laws in regards to medical coverage, transportation and even meals supplied to their employees.
To avoid companies skipping on these rules and benefits, they are actually built into the tax collection at source and companies are required to deliver meal and transportation vouchers to the employees. 13 months of pay per year is standard, not that that’s totally bad.
Lay offs are usually followed by lawsuits that are ruled in favour of the employees in the majority of the cases. So people actually get jobs because they know they either cant get fired or if the do, the have some free salary at the end of the very short road to court.
Brazilians, by and large, seem to be a happy bunch. And in effect, they may have it right. People here, and you will have to excuse that I generalize, work the minimum required to cover their personal needs.
After that, Brazil is the place to party. And the size or setting are of no importance, as long as there is a good supply of beer or Cachaça. I was invited to one of such parties a couple of days ago, at bar located, to my big surprise, at a gas station. This is not the exception, but the rule, I am told.
Long narrow tables with plastic chairs all around. I am the last to arrive due to some unexpected work back at home that I have to finish, and given the 3 hour difference, it is 8.30 before I make my way to the bar. I am welcomed by a crowd of people I’ve never met before, yet the reception feels like we have been working together for a life time. They are all here, from animators, to cleaning crew, receptionist to technician.
People sing along with the entertainer. A massive guy with a good voice and decent guitar skills. The music is as contagious as the happiness in the room. We have the required christmas gift exchange. Every gift is given to a member of the team and a short speech is delivered along with the gift. Judging by the applause they all get over and over again, this bunch should run for local office.
On a far corner, a birthday party has started, and the guitar fellow promptly sings the portuguese version of happy birthday.
After an hour or so after my arrival, its over. We all say our goodbyes as if we will see each other the next day to continue our lifelong friendship. It is time to go home. Its been a long day.
So, who has it right? I’ve experienced two sides of Brazilian lifestyle. I am used to hanging out at nice places, enjoying the perks of being the entrepreneur. Meeting the shakers and movers is so chic, exciting and conducive for business. I know I’ve worked as hard as I can to be in this position.
And at the same time, the dusty bar at the gas station was such a great experience. People here seem to know how to enjoy life, regardless of their economic situation. I don’t know if they do it because that’s the way life is supposed to be lived, or because the celebration takes them away into another, more exciting life. I’m sure they know something I’ve missed for a long time.