You may remember roughly a year ago England beating Brazil at Wembley. You may even remember where you watched the game. I certainly do because it was in a pub in the British Consulate. That’s right, a pub in the British Consulate. Doesn’t it make you feel proud to be the citizen of a country that considers serving ale to be a consular service?
Fullers Pride and Old Speckled Hen were the Government’s choice and the evenings entertainment was rounded off by a post game gig courtesy of a Brazilian Beatles tribute band.
It was an excellent evening but the Government doesn’t deserve all the credit. The idea was actually the brainchild of writer Mark Hillary whom I was introduced to on the night and later shared two terrifying car journeys to and from Rio to watch England and Brazil play the inaugaural game at the new Maracana using Mark’s spare ticket.
Mark has written a book for kindle called ‘Reality Check: Life in Brazil through the eyes of a Foreigner’ detailing his experiences of moving to and living in Brazil and, although his reasons for moving to Brazil are not exactly the same as mine, his experiences are often very similar and reading his book has inspired me to share some of the events which came to mind when reading Mark’s experiences.
He starts by introducing the reader to the complicated system of levers and pulleys which constitutes the Brazilian beaurocracy it is necessary to negotiate in order to become a legally registered foreigner and perform essential tasks like opening a bank account or getting a job.
In my case I had a bit of warning that I would be going to Brazil so I thought I’d get a head start and organise my CPF, the Brazilian national insurance number card which, as Mark points out in Reality Check, is needed for just about everything including paying money (for example to pay a bill) into someone else’s bank account. So I picked up a form at the Brazilian Consulate in London which, by the way, doesn’t serve caiprinhas, and organised an appointment to lodge all my details.
The consulate obviously phones the details through to the Brazilian equivalent of HM Revenue and Customs, Receita Federal, because the phonetic variation between the English and Portuguese alphabets was about to cause me months of work struggling through red tape to rectify the error.
The gaff hinged on the pronunciation of the letter ‘i’. In England we pronounce it ‘eye’ but in Brazil it is pronounced ‘ee’. Whether someone at Receita Federal was trying to be clever practicing their English or whether someone at the consulate got confused which language they were speaking I’m not sure but the result was that instead of having Michael on my CPF card I had Mechael.
On arrival in Brazil I tried to rectify the problem and was told that, even though I was in no way to blame for the mistake I would nevertheless be required to pay to get it fixed.
This involved a preliminary visit to Receita Federal where I was told I could take my chances queuing with the hoi polloi in the morning or I could arrange an appointment via the internet. I chose fhe latter but had to re-arrange the appointment when a couple of hours sat in a bus in the traffic jam from hell caused me to miss the first appointment.
Even paying the fee involved taking a small invoice, boleto, to the government bank, Caixa, emptying everything metalic out of my pockets into a small plastic tray so that I could walk through a revolving door which would check I wasn’t trying to smuggle in any concealed weapons. Then, having tried to explain to an attendant the type of service I required, I was given a ticket for the correct queue, I waited and waited, unable to use my phone in case I called my friends to tell them it was time to rob the bank. Eventually my number came up and, fee paid, I was ready for my appointment this time leaving a ridiculous amount of time for the bus journey so that I would arrive on time.
Traffic was not an issue the day of the rescheduled appointment but rain was. Anyone who has lived in Sao Paulo will know that the phrase ‘raining cats and dogs’ is an understatement. Every day in the summer, at about 4pm, thd heavens open and it starts raining horses and cows. The roads turn into rivers and most Brazilians simply wait in doorways until the heaviest part of the shower has passed but mad dogs and Englishmen with appointments at the Receita Federal tend to make a dash for it and, as a consequence get soaked.
So for this reason I sat dripping in front of a very nice tax official who changed my details and printed me proof.
Unfortunately the nationwide computer system linked to the banks must take a bit longer to update because, despite having informed the bank staff of the spelling mistake when opening my account and having received a bank card with my name spelt correctly I then had to request a new card because I’d forgotten my pin number (I know, I know) and the new card arrived with, yes you’ve guessed it, my name spelt wrong.
By this time I was getting fed up of alarming revolving doors by forgetting to take my keys out of my pocket so was relieved to hear that in Brazil it doesn’t really matter what name is printed on the bank card because no-one really checks, as long as you remember your pin number (note to self not to forget pin).
Reading Mark’s book brought all this flooding back to me and I haven’t even started with the process of getting my foreigners identity card.
If you’d like to see Mark’s book for yourself it’s available from: http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00EXBM4X8/ref=rdr_kindle_ext_tmb priced at a bargain £1.02. I recommend you read it and I’ll be posting more reactions to it in the coming weeks.