Sunday, 26 June 2011
I customarily fill every last milligram of my allowance - and that of my kids - with the fruits of an obscene month-long European shopping spree. Usually a roof-box and trailer are required to get us to the airport with our 200 kilo load at the end of the holiday. I justify it as a means to save money, because I essentially buy the non-perishable goods required for entire year, from nappies and toothpaste to christmas and birthday presents, and avoid buying anything aside from groceries in Brazil. It's just too expensive to shop here, and I'm pretty sure I almost compensate for the cost of the flights.
If the price of goods wasn't enough, the exasperating purchasing process here is enough to dampen the appetite of even the most rabid shopaholic. First off, many Brazilian clothing stores follow the fifties' shop model, with many goods behind a counter manned with overly helpful assistants. You can't just browse the racks to find stuff yourself. Instead, you are obliged to be 'served' by a girl with a massive grin and a name that for some reason she thinks you need know, who will fetch what you request along with a collection of garments you wouldn't be seen dead in.
If you do decide to go ahead with a transaction, you must be prepared for the multi-hooped circus act that is checking out. It usually works like this: The assistant who has been serving you will issue you with a numbered ticket and ask you how you want to pay. (If you pay cash you will probably get a 5% discount). She will send you (without your goods) to the back of the store to the cashier, an invariably dour looking woman sitting behind a glass screen. Do not be surprised if this lady asks you for your vital statistics, such is the detail of personal information that is required even to buy a pair of socks. She will also ask you if you want to pay upfront (a vista) or in multiple interest-free installments (parçelado). Once you pay, she will duly stamp your ticket 'PAGO' and send you to another area of the shop to pick up your goods, which in the meantime have been bagged up. It's a frustrating, inefficient system that can mean 3 different queues, and requires 3 times more staff than necessary.
But for newcomers to Brazil, the frustration can set in long before you even set foot in the store. In order to shop you obviously need access to your money. Sound simple? Far from it. Opening a bank account is the first hurdle, and can take months while you wait for your official residency ID. But even with that first box ticked, you have two more hurdles: getting into the bank and operating the cash machine. You can take nothing for granted! When I first arrived in Sao Paulo, I tearfully aborted the first two attempts to get into the front door of the bank. I couldn't yet speak the language and was intimidated by the metal-detecting revolving door and the armed security guard shouting instructions at me from behind his bullet-proof screen. I just didn't understand what I was supposed to do (remove everything from my handbag and put them in a transparent container in the revolving door). It sounds pathetic, but I just turned around and fled!
And the cash machine amazes me every time to this day Withdrawing cash is akin to dancing the hokey kokey: You put your cash card in. You pull your cash card out. In, Out, In, Out and shake it all about. Do the hokey kokey and your turn around.......Seriously, I have to put the bank card into the machine and take it out again a total of three times just to withdraw a tenner. I have to punch my pin code in at least twice, and even that isn't straight forward - it's in a type of code whereby you press one button if the digit you want to input is a 1 or a 3, another if it's a 5 or a 7, another if it's a 9 or a 0 etc. (If you don't manage, you can always resort to using your cheque book, but I've lost count of the number of times my signature has not been deemed to match the one the bank has on file. )
Sigh....what a moaning Minnie post. I think it's because the annual holiday is so close I can almost touch it. Bring on that shopping spree.