Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way: The Brazilian Jeitinho

Whether in business, government, or their personal lives, Brazilians have a knack for getting around difficult situations. They do this so often that there is even a word in Portuguese to describe it—jeitinho. Jeitinho literally means “little way” and can be used in positive or negative contexts.

Brazilian anthropologist Lívia Barbosa describes jeitinho this way:

…To be considered a “jeitinho,” the situation must involve an unforeseen and adverse event to the individual goal. The solution must be a special way—efficient and fast—to deal with the “problem.” It cannot be any strategy. It must produce short-term goals. … It does not matter if the solution is or is not final, provisional, ideal, legal, or illegal.1

Let’s imagine a situation: a group of men are building a two-story home. They need to move a load of bricks from the ground to the second story, but the only way to get to the second story is to climb a makeshift bamboo ladder. Rather than making dozens of trips up and down a rickety ladder with a ton of bricks, a few men stand on the ground and use a broomstick handle to toss the bricks up to the other men on the second story.2 This is an excellent example of how jeitinho can be used as a positive response to a problem.

Jeitinho can also be used in a negative context. Usually, this means that an individual, business, or even the government will act in a way that best serves their interests, even if it has a negative effect on those around them. A classic example involves individuals who only have a short time left on their lunch break and run to the bank to pay a bill. They see that the line is very long, but they also realize that one of the tellers is an old acquaintance. They walk to the front of the line and tell the teller about their desperate circumstances, managing to pay the bill while the rest of the line gets angry.

Not everyone uses jeitinho to skip a line or bend a rule. Business owners are sure to be impressed with the ingenuity and resourcefulness of their employees as they channel this trait in a positive way. As you prepare to visit or set up shop in Brazil, be prepared for everything its beautiful culture has to offer, and don’t be too surprised when you see someone finding their own “little way” to get something done.