10 things you should say in Brazil

I got inspired by this little kid’s message (and brilliant marketing stunt) and decided to share my insights on how to make yourself liked more by Brazilians (which is, by the way, the only effective approach to getting anything done).

1. “Parabéns” (congrats!) – use this to compliment on every achievement, no matter how trivial it may be

2. “Que legal! Adorei!!!” (So cool! Loved it) – similar

3. “Nossa, que calor, não aguento mais” (oh my god, I can’t stand the heat anymore) – temperature records are a favorite topic of conversation. Plus Brazilians think that all gringos come from cold places so they will be happy to know you are suffering a little extra.

4. “Nossa, o transito estava horrivel” ( oh my god, the traffic was horrible) – similar to the previous one

5. Profusely apologize for arriving late and justify it by saying you became Brazilian (they find this really cute)

6. “Caraca” (dammit) – saying this in a loud and surprised voice always makes people laugh

7. Thank people for everything and anything – being polite is highly overrated here for some reason so that’s a good thing to abuse. “Eu que agradeço” (it is me who thanks you), is a good one to use as often as possible as soon as you hear any sign of “obrigado” (thank you)

8. Talk about how much you love Brazil – this one is actually easy as often we gringos appreciate more things about this country than its natives.

9. Tell people that you are an avid fan of their football team – a good strategy is to ask first and then fill in the blank in “que legal! é meu time também. Parabéns!” (So cool! It is my team too. Congrats!)

10. Share personal stories at work. Colleagues love hearing about your life and family history, even more so if you are a foreigner. Making oneself a biotype of the private life of the exotic gringos scores a lot of points and proves you aren’t “cold” (a common reading that Brazilians make of what in the States would be called “professionalism”).

Brazilian Love for the USA

This week I had a meeting with a girl from another department. We introduced ourselves and chatted a bit (a must of at least 10 mins at the start of every meeting).

Then she asked where I was from.
To simplify things, when people here ask me that, I say I’m American, from NYC.

As soon as I said that, a huuuuge smile spread across her braced mouth. “I absolutely loooovvvvvvveee the United States”.

“Here goes..” I thought to myself. And she jumped into a 15 minutes verbal diarrhea on everything she likes in America: Disney (duh), shopping, food, polite people, clean streets, organization, the cold (wtf?!!). And much she doesn’t like living in Brazil.

Then she proceeded to say how she plans go spend the next 4 years studying business English so that she could move there. Even though her husband doesn’t want to live there nor her mother want to let her go. But hopefully, she is going to convince them.

These were some very painful minutes of cheesiness but also great practice in empathic listening.

I think the solution to US’s international public image should be appointing a bunch of Brazilians as PR representatives around the world. This may help improve the reputation (or, alternatively make it worse).

Talking “Bobeira” at Work

The other day, a colleague of mine asked me: “Grobby, why are you so serious all the time? You don’t always have to speak about serious topics. Sometimes we can just talk “bobeira”…

“Bobeira” means something like silliness or nonesense/bullshit. Bobeira is something very cultural. It can be quite fun when people exchange jokes throughout the work day but sometimes it can turn into a long marathon of cheesy comments – repeating things from soap operas, making gay jokes, imitating people they don’t like, etc., that makes it very hard for everyone to concentrate and be productive.

“Hmm..” I said. “I guess I say bobeira with my friends OUTSIDE of work and the serious stuff I keep for the professional environment”. I was trying to hint in not so subtle way what I think about their bobeira.

This was ,of course, not the right response. We, gringos, often are deemed as “cold” as we refuse to engage in some behaviors that may seem vulgar or unprofessional in our home country. The dilemma is often: do I stick to my old values or do I change them to fit in?

In addition to the internal dilemma, form is very important. Being direct about things you don’t like is viewed as aggressive. I therefore had to follow up with some humor to lighten up the atmosphere.

“Joao, you’ve asked for bobeira? Well, I see you have a drawing on your table (he had drawn something that looked like a snowman with a narrow cylinder on his head).. This thing on his head looks like a penis.. If I were Freud, I would say you are expressing some internal desires through it..”

“What?!! I’ve got no such desires!! I am happily married and would never have such desires”. Joao tears up the paper into little pieces and throws it into the garbage. The rest of team is almost in tears from laughing. Joao joins them shortly after.

Mission accomplished. Bobeira has been delivered.

This is one of those examples of why I love and hate working in Brazil.

White Corporate Lies

I absolutely detest lying. Being it white, black, green or purple lie, just thinking about committing it makes me cringe.

Of course, sometimes some white lies are necessary in order to protect the other party (Questions such as: “Do I look fat?”, “Do people not like me?” absolutely require clever maneuvering) but still they leave me uncomfortable.

In the Brazilian+Corporate world context I’ve learned to commit 3 (not mutually exclusive) typical lying crimes for which I will probably have to repent for the rest of my life:

1. Lying about time – in order to instill a sense of urgency to act in the utterly disinterested counterparty, I have learned to create imaginary deadlines for deliverable of my interest. The common one being: yesterday (as in: this was do yesterday but I’m doing you a HUGE favour by letting you submit a bit later)

2. Lying about importance – in an environment where everything is due yesterday and everything is extremely important, one cannot achieve anything if he or she says something along the lines of “oh, don’t worry, this isn’t super urgent, do it whenever you have a moment”. This type of response is guaranteed to get your request to the bottom of the pile. Instead, I’ve learned to invent elaborate stories about God, the President, the upcoming end of the world and whatever else that will lead the other party’s realizing that he or she should drop everything he or she is doing and get on working on my request. This lie absolutely must be accompanied by a heart drenching phone call (if in person groveling isn’t possible).

3. Lying about the source – I worked with a colleague who at any request of even the slightest change would invoke his director’s name (“I must align with X, because he doesn’t like changes”). I was very surprised that this guy felt the need to align such little things with his director. “Where is the sense of accountability??”, I naively thought to myself. Until, I realized that the colleague was the one who didn’t want changes and he cleverly used his boss as a factor we couldn’t disagree with (as he wasn’t in the room). This is another form of lying I haven’t fully adapted, but I sporadically use. Some of the variations of this are:
-Name dropping: “big shot XYZ is asking for this”.
Avoiding ownership: “sorry, man, I really understand your situation, but such and such is asking for it and I cannot do anything about it”.
Excuses for non delivery: “you know how it is working with ABC, I try to get things done but he or she is just to busy to get it to you”.

Am I a bad person? Or just a corporate politics survivor?

What makes us feel good about our work?

My efforts to encourage behavioral change at work are still undergoing.
This time I showed the team the following video that talks about how motivation is not about paying high salaries but rather making employees feel valued and giving them the sense that their work is meaningful.

I think it made people somewhat outraged because a lot of our efforts goes into garbage.

Instead of starting a bitching session I tried to stimulate thinking about the following questions:

1. How can we try to optimize our efforts (ex: not spend too much time on things that most likely won’t be used)?

2. How can we influence our leadership to focus more on better job design and be more tuned to our needs overall?

3. What are the lessons we can learn for our own future managerial styles?

I don’t know if I really inspired them to think further but they adamently asked me to show the video to our bosses and senior management and influence HR to put more effort on people development (good luck!).

I am trying to influence change from the bottom but it seems that people have this really strong need for guidance from above. This is not surprising , for the high power distance country that Brazil is.