February 2, 2014, by Guest blog

The ‘jeitinho brasileiro’

Post written by Ben West.

Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais, Brazil

So, 1 week into my study placement in Brazil, and I have already learned so much about the culture here. I can’t write about everything – the fact that everywhere you go there is grass and trees and fruit and building works and very few people – so I have chosen to focus on something truly cultural and specific to Brazil: the ‘jeitinho brasileiro’.

The ‘jeitinho’ (pronounce jay-cheen-yo), I guess, is best translated as a ‘little shortcut’, but there’s much more to it than that. It is a way of thinking that is deeply-rooted in the mind of Brazilian people; it is, put simply, the ability to do things in the quickest and most-straightforward way possible, regardless of what the rules or the law says. In Britain, we follow the rules and we follow the law; this is the perception that the Brazilian people have of the British. In Brazil, whilst the law exists and is followed on most occasions, the ‘jeitinho’ allows for some leverage either side. One example I was quoted by the dad in my host family was as follows: imagine that a dress-code states a maximum of 5 pieces of clothing – immediately, a Brazilian thinks that 5 pieces is not enough, and so they decide to apply the ‘jeitinho’. They begin to play with this rule of ‘5 pieces of clothing’ and generate their own rules as to what ‘clothing’ might mean, and thus, end up wearing 10 pieces of clothing but only 5 pieces of their definition of ‘clothing’.

Granted, it’s a difficult concept to understand, and for a foreigner here in Brazil, it will take some time to adapt to this idea of ‘jeitinho’ and force myself to think that, wherever there is some kind of rule or regulation, Brazilian people are always actively thinking how to go around it. The ‘jeitinho’ does, though, work positively, according to the tales of my host family. For example, you break down on the street and somebody comes to help; the person who has broken down gives the person who helped them a small token of thanks – say, a gift of some sort – and this also functions as a ‘jeitinho’. I suppose the word incorporates several different strands – a bribe, a shortcut, a way of thinking – which, in itself, is difficult to understand for anybody who isn’t Brazilian.

Posted in Cultural challenges