By Leonardo Brito.
A few days ago, an open letter regarding Brazil by an American blogger gained some notoriety on social networks in Brazil. The gist of the letter is that Brazilians are the supreme problem of Brazil, and that the “Brazilian way” is the ultimate cause of our underdevelopment. The author concludes by saying that nothing will ever improve here while we still find it acceptable to arrive an hour late at dinner parties or to help out a family member that is having a hard time making ends meet.
The central argument of the letter is that Brazil is screwed up because of the way most Brazilians think – more specifically, because of how extremely vain, selfish and corrupt most people here are. It has nothing to do with the economic or political history or with the colonization process – it is all about the “Brazilian way”.
The author exemplifies this triad of evils in a bizarre hypothetical scenario: would you or would you not denounce a close friend to the police if he had hit a parked car while driving after a few drinks? The author explains that any citizen of a respectable and successful nation would promptly denounce their friend to the police, “out of a sense of justice and responsibility”.
This course of action is so grotesque and bewildering that the Portuguese version of the letter is completely different: in the translated version, the “civilized approach” is to “convince your friend to turn himself in” to the police, leaving out the whole “denounce your friend to the police” part, which is only present in the English version. This small discrepancy is very revealing.
Let us improve the strange parable by adding more realism to it. Let’s say that the car that was hit happens to be owned by a notorious drug dealer, and that the local police happens to be on the dealer’s payroll. This situation is far from unheard of, be it in Brazil or in “rich and successful” countries. We leave it to our readers to decide whether the “just and responsible” thing to do would be to deliver your friend to a swift execution.
Our modified version of the parable makes the problem with the letter’s tonic clear: it was written with another world in mind. The author writes based on his own cultural and personal interpretations of success, justice, responsibility, family, etc. He is trying to read Portuguese with an Engish dictionary. It will never happen. In their world, it might make sense to let a family member starve on the streets “to teach them a lesson” instead of taking them in (as the author puts in the letter). This is not our way, and we have no reason to change it.
The author concludes by urging Brazilians to “see things in a new way” – that is, their way – by finally accepting the “self-made man” myth, giving up on the archaic ways of valuing family over society, arriving on time at dinner parties (remember that time is money!) and so on. Verbatim: “the jeitinho must die”.
Yes, the jeitinho makes bad things happen. But it is also the best way of coping with the modern world we were forced into – this ridiculous, absurd, alien and meaningless world of self-made men, time is money and so on – without losing touch with reality and our own selves. We insist on it. We will be an hour late on dinner parties, and our hosts will never mind. The jeitinho abides.