March 28, 2006

Complaints (part 1)

Warning: whine alert.

I don’t like to sound like a complainer, but there are a few things about living in Brazil that drive me batty. Maybe I am just batty and these things just bring it out of me. If I really wanted to draw up a list of complaints, I might crash the server. So I’ll just throw out one item for starters--

Brazilians are probably the worst drivers in the world. Maybe there is a small country in Africa that I wouldn’t be able to locate on a map that has worse drivers, but that aside, Brazil wins. It’s no small wonder that there are quite a number of good Brazilian race car drivers. Since the time they were babies (who were not likely strapped into a car seat) they’ve been experiencing lead foot, lane dodging, tailgating and fast stops. But generally speaking you don’t want to share the road with your average Indy driver -- at least I don't.

What is the source of this madness? Well, 99.9% of the cars on the road are Brazilian made (there’s 100% import tax on all foreign cars) and for the most part they aren’t well made – they’re not much more than aluminum boxes with wheels. So maybe the disposable feeling of them leads people to drive them like they’re headed for the scrap pile anyway. I don’t know. It also doesn’t help that there are as many motorcycles on the road as there are cars, and naturally they are above all traffic laws (if there actually are any). So you have these noisy two wheeled menaces running lights and zipping in and out of a bunch of nasty, diesel-belching 4 wheeled menaces, in lanes that I swear are at least three feet narrower than the oldest parts of the BQE. None of this bad behavior is helped by the fact that our little city is as hilly as San Francisco, and the cars are all manual stick shifts. People have cut their driving teeth on these streets, but will inevitably pull right up to your bumper when you're stopped at a light going up hill at a 45 degree incline.

Oh, and then there are the trucks! I can’t even get started. I don’t think there are any inspections on these lumbering bullies and if there are regulations, they are certainly not enforced. It’s common knowledge that long distance truckers keep their stamina by mixing up a potent cocktail of caçaca (a highly leaded brazilian liquor) and cocaine. So on the highways you simply don’t mess with them. Basically you just stay as far away as possible and pray you don’t get behind one on a hill – going up or down.

I’ll end this on a kinder note however. Brazilians do have a lovely custom of honking to say thank you. For instance, say you’re behind an ancient VW bug that is doing it’s best to putter along at 15km an hour. In most instances the driver will signal that he is moving onto the shoulder and you can pass. So you fly by and give a little honk to say thank you. That’s a fairly common example, but the more often used thank-you honk occurs when someone changes lanes or zips round a corner cutting you off. As you slam on your brake and your heart leaps out of your chest, they give a little thank-you honk as in “thank you for putting up with my asinine driving skills, kindly diffuse your road rage.”

If anyone thought I was a terrible back seat (or shotgun) driver in the US, you should see me now.

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