When it comes to setting up shop in Brazil, one must be prepared for the hard “maybe” that Brazilians tend to give. It requires patience and a certain level of knowing when to wait and when to move on. My example below is based loosely on various interactions with prospective clients in the teaching sector, but from my many conversations with other foreign business people, it’s clear that it extends into other areas.
Note that most of these conversations take place via Whats App or E-mail before any phone or face to face contact is even made. They are also generally in Portuguese.
Brazilian Solicitor: BS
The scene opens on any given day of the week – or weekend. I see a message on my phone from an unknown person.
BS: Hi! Are you the English Teacher?
(Although I am almost certain that my name was given along with my phone number, I understand that names are easy to forget. So I respond politely.)
Me: Yes, that’s me. Phil.
BS: Great! My friend “so-and-so” gave me your number.
(I try to remember how long ago it was that my friend had mentioned that they had given my number to someone.)
Me: That’s not a problem. Let’s see if I can help you.
BS: I need to learn English now. It’s urgent!
(Urgent is to mean their boss is going to give someone else a promotion because that person can speak the language, or they want to impress some family member who is visiting from abroad. In either case, they have known this for some time but only thought of starting classes now.)
Me: I see. Well, I give classes. (I explain a bit of my methodology) I’m available in-person or via Skype.
BS: How does Skype work?
(I am barely sure of the mechanics of how Skype works myself. I just know that when I press the little icon it turns on.)
Me: Either I call you or you call me and we have regular classes. It’s not much different from a regular in-person class. (I add a few bits about the advantages of the Skype platform – most importantly the fact that it’s less expensive.)
(Long Pause. I take this opportunity to adjust my underwear.)
BS: And how much are the classes?
Me: I charge X amount per hour, paid up front at the start of each month.
BS: Is there a discount? See if you can help me.
(I consider their request but first think about whether I should call my landlord, my internet company, water and electric, and the various bars and restaurants where I eat to see if they could help me out first.)
Me: No. If you do more than three hours a week I can perhaps try for something.
BS: What if I pass your name along to my cousin’s wife’s aunt.
Me: The price I am giving you is about as low as I can go and still manage to eat.
BS: Can I pay you at the end of the month?
(I thought I had already answered that.)
Me: No, at the start.
BS: I see. English is so important right now for me. I really have to learn fast. How many classes do I need to take to speak well?
(I am asked this very often and evil me wants to say, “Five times a week for two hours,” and sit on a fat paycheck from just one client. Sadly, I have morals.)
Me: It’s not always a matter of how many classes, but how well you utilize the classes.
BS: Oh, then I think I will do four times a week.
(When someone sets too high a goal for themselves like this, I am nearly certain that they won’t last a week – that’s if they start at all.)
Me: Do what feels best for you. (Who am I to argue, though? Some people can manage it and my bank account number is ….)
BS: I just have to look at my budget. When can you have classes with me?
(Because I do absolutely nothing all day, I understand how this is a pertinent question.)
Me: I think it would be easier for you to tell me your availability, and then I can tell you if I can fit it into my schedule.
BS: Great! But do you think that in one month I can talk?
(I think that in one month you can either waste both of our times or come out better than you went in. If payment is made by the 10th, I’ll be happy either way.)
Me: It depends on how much you exert yourself. Dedication is key.
BS: Okay, but if I do four hours you can give me a discount, right?
BS: Alright. I’ll look at everything and get back to you.
(And now begins the long period of hearing nothing from the prospective client who urgently needed to learn English. This period can extend anywhere from one week to one month. Since I have been down this road before, I don’t make much of an effort to make contact with them either. Then from out of the blue, after I had nearly forgotten about them, I will receive a message.)
BS: Listen, I want to do one hour a week on Sunday at 10 a.m.
Me: Hi. I neglected to get your name and I don’t work Sundays.
BS: (They tell me their name.) Oh. Can you come to my office before work on Mondays? We can start at 6:30 or 7 am.
Me: Where is your office?
BS: Where are you located?
(I asked first damn it!)
Me: I’m on the west side of town.
BS: My office is on the east side of town.
Me: It would take me more than two hours to get there. I can’t do that.
BS: What about in the evening?
Me: Depends on the day. It’s not entirely impossible.
BS: Do you think you could help me a little with the price?
(I already had when you said you were going to do the four hours per week!!! Remember!!! Back to level one damn it!)
Me: You’re only doing one hour a week now, though. We are back to the original price.
BS: Yes, but maybe other people in the office will want classes.
(Tell them to call me.)
Me: Let’s focus on just the two of us for now.
(Long pause – may last hours or days.)
BS: Can we start tomorrow?
(Again, my world revolves around this person’s sun.)
Me: How about next week, so I have a bit of time to prepare?
(Thus begins the short period of time where I prepare some material for a first meeting with the client. It’s also the short period of time where, considering the content of our previous conversations, I expect a message.)
BS: (Monday afternoon.) Teacher! I can’t have class tonight. Let’s start next month.
(That was the message I was expecting. Not surprised – are you?)
Me: Okay. (I just play along. Much less stressful.)
BS: I’m so sorry. Things at work are crazy.
Me: I understand. You should try Skype.
BS: Yeah, that may be a good idea. Is it less expensive? (Refer to the beginning of the conversation.)
Me: For sure.
BS: Okay. So next month we can start. No problem. I will pay you next week.
(Thus begins the period of time where I wait for the first day of class to arrive. I get home at the scheduled time for the Skype class and wait for a call that never arrives.)
BS: (The next day.) Sorry, I forgot about the class.
(I didn’t, but I either watched another episode of Star Trek or some porn to kill the time. Money’s in the bank already so your loss not mine.)
Me: Okay. Remember I explained to you that you couldn’t cancel on short notice, so yesterday counts as a given class.
BS: Oh, so we can’t make it up?
Me: Unfortunately, no.
(The following week I show up at the scheduled time for the Skype class and wait for a call that never comes. And thus ends the start of a beautiful relationship. I can tell you that somewhere between Season 3 and 4 is when Star Trek series usually starts to get very good – can’t help you on the porn end.)
Although, there are plenty of these types of stories to go around, if one digs deep enough they may find a core group of people who don’t jostle them around and get to work right away.
Tell us about some of your experiences doing business here in Brazil, either good or bad.
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