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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