Coisa Estranha #4: flanelinhas

There’s a lot of funny things about Brazil that I am hesitant to comment on as an outsider, for fear of of potentially offending someone or because I don’t fully understand the laws or level of corruption in the government. There are some things, however, that are simply too ridiculous for me to not comment on.

One of these is the flanelinha. In short, he’s the guy you pay to watch your car when you park on the street.

A flanelinha in action. (Text reads: "Let me know when I hit the other car." "10:45")

A flanelinha in action. (Text reads: “Let me know when I hit the other car.” “10:45”)

For the longest time, I didn’t question it when my boyfriend or friends would return to their car parked on the street and hand some seemingly random dude a R$5 bill. Finally, I asked my boyfriend “Why exactly are you giving this guy money?” His response: “Because if I don’t, he will remember me and probably fuck with my car the next time I park here.”

I was dumbfounded. What I actually meant was, what service are they providing? Turns out, nothing. The term flanelinha comes from flanela, the rag they use to wash your car. Except they don’t actually wash your car. Unless you ask them to, which obviously comes as a separate charge. In essence, you’re paying them to watch your car, not wash.

But they don’t even watch your car. If someone were to come along and try to steal the car from under their noses, it’s unlikely they would call the police. Why not? Because…

This is completely illegal. This is not a “job” you can get by registering with some governmental division or some parking company. These guys just show up one day, claim a street to be their territory, and stand around collecting cash from the average commuter who just unfortunately needs a place to park. It’s not even a real job.

Of course, the police can’t be bothered to tell them to screw off, so people just go about their day, paying people for illegal services they aren’t actually providing. Because this is Brazil, and that’s how they do things here. You can’t really complain, though. All you can do is shrug your shoulders, hand them some cash, and mumble “that’s weird.” At least it’s cheaper than the parking structures.

Want to read about more weird things in Brazil? Check out Coisas Estranhas #1, 2 and 3.

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Coisa Estranha #2: não jogue papel no vaso

When you move to a new country, you usually notice a lot of things that are very strange right away. Or, sometimes, there are socially accepted rules and procedures that you don’t immediately notice because you don’t understand the nuances of the language or you simply don’t like reading signs.

This is one of the latter.

It’s been almost 6 months now since I moved to Brazil, and I am embarrassed to say that I have just learned about this rule. As it turns out, my parents did a great job potty training me 23 years ago, and I never forgot the normal mechanics of wiping and flushing. Here in Brazil, as it turns out, it doesn’t work the same way.

When you visit Brazil, you may go into a bathroom where you a sign that looks like this:

It even has a descriptive image to go with it.

It even has a descriptive image to go with it.

Now, either I never noticed a single one of these signs, or I simply imagined that the idea of not throwing toilet paper into the toilet was preposterous and obviously a typo.

But guess what? Here in Brazil, you throw your toilet paper in the trash next to the toilet. Otherwise, the toilets don’t flush properly. And here I was assuming that toilets just don’t flush properly because it’s some element of third would country living that I wasn’t used to.

Furthermore, this is something Brazilians are so used to that according to a poll on this website (I put a lot of work into my research here, people), only 27% of Brazilians throw toilet paper in the trash, ever. So… that’s weird.

So, to all my friends whose toilets I’ve clogged in the past 6 months, I am sincerely sorry. I am even more sorry to my loving boyfriend, who had to explain this to me after I almost clogged his toilet.

Coisa Estranha #1: novelas

I’ve decided to start doing a feature on here about things that are weird in Brazil. Because there are a lot of things that are weird in Brazil, and constantly make you feel the need to reference this meme:

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So right now, I need to talk about novelas. As you may or may not know, latin countries have obsessions with novelas. But as an American, I imagined a Brazilian soap opera to have the same sort of cultural relevance as a soap opera in America does to an American housewife. It’s nothing like that.

First of all, novelas are widely believed to be “realistic” and “relatable” by viewers. They “realistically depict” the plights of the working, middle and upper classes rather than throwing in countless twists of bringing people back from the dead or secret twin brothers previously unknown to the cast (like an American soap opera). I’d venture so far as to say Avenida Brasil is probably more relatable than The Hills or any show about the Kardashians is to the average middle class American.

Furthermore, novelas are watched by everybody, and I do mean everybody. 20-something dudes, old women, kids, everybody knows who Carminha is and what she did last night. Oh but, what’s that you say? You can’t watch it because you’ll be at dinner? Fine. It’s playing in the restaurant. Locked out of your apartment? Don’t worry, your doorman will be watching it on his tiny TV next to the feed of those people making out in the elevator.

"I don't care if the whole building's being robbed, did you see what happened with Carminha?"

“I don’t care if the whole building’s being robbed, did you see what happened with Carminha?”

Every “season” there are 3 novelas running simultaneously every weeknight. At 6pm, you have a more romantic (and often times historical or religiously-themed) novela for the whole family to enjoy. A novela das sete (7pm) is usually more comedic, still toned-down in the sex and bad language department, but also less important. The most important novela socially is the novela das oito, which literally means, the novela at 8pm, except that in reality it starts around 9pm, sometimes 8:30 (Brazilians).

I can’t begin to explain why these novelas are so popular, because between my rusty Portuguese and 4 subplots, I can’t follow a single episode. And my friends are usually too engrossed while it’s on to explain anything.

The only thing I can tell you is that this chick is always crying, and every single viewer seems to love her anyway.

The only thing I can tell you is that this chick is always crying, and every single viewer seems to love her anyway.

And if you do happen to miss it, despite it being played in every single location imaginable, there are actually recaps on public transportation. Yes, so if you are worried about spoilers, don’t ride the bus.