Friday, August 5, 2011

Rio de Janeiro's Newest Dealer

I have become Rio de Janeiro's newest dealer, but it's not what you think.

A couple of foreigner women have shown up at my apartment. Due to their schedules and such, I have met them in front of my building where we make the exchange. It's a very 'Do you the have money because I have the stuff' kind of situation. FYI, I only work with cash.

The stuff, used baby gear. I have become a hoarder of all things baby and American. I just can't help it. Call me cheap, resourceful, and maybe a bit crazy but this stuff is like gold! I refuse to pay the inflated Brazilian prices and have planned my purchases abroad accordingly!  Apparently, I'm not the only one who thinks this way.

Foreigners as far as Leblon have ventured to the other side of the tracks to purchase these reasonably priced and delicately used items. While no Brazilians have taken a bite, foreigners have jumped on it. I'm starting to see a dolce de leite vs peanut butter kind of preference here.

Honestly though, I am amazed with this cultural difference. Brazilians do not like to buy things used. Sure Mercado livre (a Brazilian Amazon-ish site) is alive and well, but that is not the general public. There have been a couple of used baby gear stores in my neighborhood that have crashed and burned in months.

Brazilians will use their own stuff to death but what they accept used is very limited. Hell, I haven't had one person here say they have some old clothes from their kids to give to us but I have received bags from friends every single time I go back for a visit.

Foreigners are just different. If it's an item that your kid is going to use for a year top, why pay the crazy prices at Lojas Americanas! We'll take just about anything, clean it up, and put it in our house. Just look at garage sales. If you really think about it, it's a kind of creepy practice.

But things are different here. It is much more common to give your used items to your maid or doorman than to offer them to a friend. Why give things to someone who has the money to buy them themselves? I also find that middle class Brazilians are a smidgen paranoid when it comes to cleanliness. The fact that I was expected to iron my baby's clothes to "sterilize" them was beyond my comprehension. First, I don't think sterilization works like that. Secondly, if I don't even iron my clothes it's just best for baby to get into the program from birth. I wouldn't want him to expect things that just aren't going to happen.

And don't even get me started on Mr. Rant and his not sitting on things in street clothes issue! Street clothes? Who says that?!

It begs me to ask, is buying used vs new a cultural habit that is based on our home country's socioeconomic status? Or are we foreigners a bit dirty and cheap and are Brazilians selectively OCD? 


  1. Brazilians and their cleanliness crack me up. Sometimes I think it's great. Other times, it seems totally misguided.

    My "favorite" experience was when a homeless man came up to the outdoor table where my friend & I had just finished eating a pizza. He asked us if he could have the last slice that was sitting there. Upon saying, "Yes", he reached across to the other side of the table to grab a napkin with which he then picked up the slice.

    That just would never happen back home.


  2. Rachel,

    I am rolling around on the floor laughing out loud. This is so true, I just love your observations.
    I will have to go with "Brazilians being selectively OCD, we would just literally wilther and die without bleach and lot's of fresh water.
    If a country ever got into a war with Brazil, forget bombing our arms factories and bridges, go for the freaking soap and bleach factories and we will have a nation at your knees :)
    Sorry, 15 years and counting in the US and I still can't wrap my head around holding a burger with my own bare ( germs infested ) hands.
    I am totally with Mr. Rant with the "street clothes" issue. We always arrive home and take all all "street clothes" off before sitting on the sofa and touching anything in the house. ;)


  3. This cracks me up! I buy a lot, if not most, of my clothes in Brazil from a brechó in Ipanema. I get compliments all the time on my clothes, which turn to sneers or looks of revulsion when they find out they were used...reminds me of the time someone trying to flirt with my friend made a comment about her t-shirt:
    - Wow, so you play soccer?
    - Naw, this old thing, it's a Goodwill find.
    Dude stares at her, slackjawed, then says, with a super condescending tone:
    - I have an old teeshirt you can wear, if you need it...

    As if the only reason we'd buy used clothing is because we're barely able to afford rice and beans. Call me crazy, but I'd rather save the R$400 that dress costs in the store and pick it up 6 months later for R$60 after the original owner doesn't want to be seen dead in something that's last season.


  4. I want the name of that store!

  5. Ha! So, so true. But there is hope for Brazilians yet....') I am now in Canada with encomendas....not just electronics, but also used clothes. When my Brazilian friends see the great kids' clothes I get second-hand, they are astounded. I always make a point of commenting, whenever someone says "oh, what a cute...x...your daughter is wearing"....I say "it's from the brechó!"

    Another tip for those in SP - while I shop for kids' clothes in any second-hand store I can find - even (OK, mostly) in the garage-full-of-clutter that passes for a second-hand store in my neighbourhood - there is actually at least one very decent second-hand kids' clothing store in Sao Paulo. It's near Av. Berrini - not quite North American quality or quantity, but pretty good. I think it's even survived a few years already...

  6. I love stores that sell discontinued ceramics. They are often called " Museo dos Azulejos" and are the only option for those who want to revamp their homes yet use the same tiles.
    I can see the store front now: Raquel dos Bebes e dos Azulejos.
    It seems to me that there is a difference between resourcefulness and knowing when to throw things away. Unfortunetaly Latin Americans and Latin Europeans tend to be a bit, well, prone to clutter. Americans and Northern Europeans seem to have gottten the balance right on this one. Yes, I know, it is a Toshiba (Stereotype) but it pans out.

  7. This is so true. Reading this was like reading a description of myself. I can't imagine myself wearing second hand goods... it's just.. unbearable.
    hahaha I thought it was like that everywhere, though? Are all americans cool like you about second hand goods? Sounds strange to me. Oh well, maybe just as strange as you think of brazilians not wanting anything to do with used stuff!

  8. Mineiros must be different. I was able to resell all my used baby gear and none of it went to foreigners. Another friend of mine had a fire sale when her assignment was up and it was like a gathering of vultures, the stuff went so fast (baby and kitchen appliances). However, I agree with you about the clothes. I pass down Kevin's old clothes to my sister-in-law, but she only accepts the pristine, good quality stuff. The rest I donate. That said, I did luck out with a woman who bought tons of Kevin's old baby clothes to resell in a shop in the interior.

  9. Gritty ,I think americans have way more clutter than brazilians!!

    Most of the american homes I ve been to are always cluttered and messy!!

    Piles and piles of stuff lots of papers , boxes , toys everywhere !!! I don't think its "balanced" as you said at all !!!

    Brazilians homes tend to be more organized and cleaner than americans.

    Most brazilians I know donate their stuff to their maids or churches or social programs. Very few people sell it.

  10. Hi Rachel, this is my first time commenting here, I love your blog!

    My Brazilian husband is the opposite of this. He loves buying used items off ebay, expensive watches, sunglasses, and clothes that we can't afford otherwise. He gets so excited whenever we walk by a thrift store. I think he's a little crazy, I would just rather buy things at target, I don't care about the brand. However, my husband does not like us to wear street clothes in the house, especially gym clothes!

    The last time I was in Brazil, my Sister in law was pregnant and every one was giving her their old baby clothes. But she also is young with no job so maybe that's why.

  11. LOL Very true Rachel

    Me and my wife are pregnant, and since we live in NYC, we "inherited" lots of second hand stuff in mint condition from our friends, when my wife was happily telling my mother all the stuff we got, my mother asked her " but won't you buy anything new for the Baby?".
    But this stuff are from our friends here I would be reluctant to use or give to my son second hand clothes or other intimate items that I didn't know where it came from.

    I can't explain why we are like this, I don't have enough experience living on other latin american countries to extrapolate that this is a living in the tropics thing... Do we have more pathogens than countries with temperate climate?

    I don't have any problems buying/using used appliances, electronics, watches etc. as long as I could trust the seller isn't giving me a "lemon"...

    Great insight into our culture as usual

  12. I believe I have a little insight into why no Brazilians are biting on your yard sale. It's been mentioned to me by a number of Brazilian women that it costs less to fly to the U.S. and buy everything they might need the moment they find out they are pregnant than to buy it in Brazil. So I think all the Brazilian mommas are already hooked up with the goods.

  13. Anom,

    I disagree. My observations have led me to believe that Brazilians tend to hold on to stuff for after the items utility has expired and then rather give said item away than sell it. Perhaps this is one of the reasons they are also so reluctant to purchase used items since if you follow this mindset then you could only conclude that the item is useless and why would you use it, much less buy it.


    In think you meant to write lime instead of lemon: lemons (limão siciliano) are expensive in Brazil while a lime (limão tahiti) is not.

  14. Hi, I meant use the term as in a used lemon car (used car with costly hidden problems), I guess it didn't make much sense the way I wrote it.. second languages are tricky when you think you mastered them they come back to bit you, it's much worse when you are trying to write some thing tongue in cheek... sometimes you only manage to come across as rude or obnoxious...

    Products in Brazil used to have a very short time due to bad quality so an used product used to mean a bad/defective-prone product, so one has to be aware of the quality and trustworthiness of used product sellers in Brazil...

  15. I agree w BAB
    its cheaper to fly to miami and buy all the stuff u need (strollers , high chairs , car seats , clothes , toys , even teddy bears and lotions) including the cost of air ticket than buying in Br.

    I disagree w TGP.

    Marcio meant a "bad product" by saying lemon . Its a term we learn when one studies economics in Brazil.
    One buys something used that seems good for use. After putting into use one realizes it was rotten and one thinks it was a bad decision to buy it.

  16. Well the whole fly to Miami/NYC to buy baby things is quite recent (exchange rate phenomenon) and it doesn't explain why we are reluctant to buy used products that are still good and a fraction of the price of a new one even in Miami... we do seem to have a stigma against used products

    And yes, I first learn the expression Lemon car while at economics undergrad (do you know me by any chance?) but I thought it was a common expression... even Volkswagen used in in an ad... I guess it's used for cars alone.

  17. We use the term "lemon" in Indiana, mostly refurring to a dud car (a beater, a wreck on wheels)...I think it's pretty common.

    I know of at least 2 kid brechós in RJ: one in Cittá America (also an adult one, both on the ground floor, but the adult one is so-so); the other is at Top Center galeria in Ipanema, on the 3rd floor, which is also where you'll find Petit Lilly, my fantabulous brechó that stocks Sacada, Maria Bonita, etc.

  18. this video tries to explain why cars and electronics are SO expensive in Brazil comparing to USA Mexico and Argentina.

    its in portuguese by TV Record

  19. Great post! I think this is another example of something Brazilians won't do because they think it's dirty. Technically, wouldn't putting the clothes through a cycle (or two) in the washing machine sterilize them? So it's probably psychological. I'm of the mindset (American here, so YMMV) that a little bit of dirt and germs isn't the end of the world; it actually helps strengthen your immunity. But that's probably why we are often seen as dirty by other nationalities. *shrug*


  20. So going to that Brecho like now!

    We are a bit dirty Tracy. When was the last time you vacuumed? Be honest ;)

  21. Gritty Poet,

    I think your analogy about US/Northern Europe, Brazil/Latin Europe was accurate in the 1950's. The US is more Latin by the minute and Brazil is super diversified too, with many Northern European, Asians and people from all over the world.
    I have to agree with most people here that it is a cultural and psicological thing that Brazilians are averse to used clothes, principally for their kids, despite the fact that "Brechos" became somewhat of a fad in recent years in Brazil, it's usually for name brand clothes and winter coats, not for children clothes.
    I know 3 pregnant women who flew to the US with the specific mission of buying all their baby stuff, it was still cheaper than buying the whole "enxoval" in Brazil, and yes, this is also a new thing because of the exchange rate.


  22. This suddently brought sense to something I have pondered for a bit: when we got married we had an empty room and someone gave us a small bed for it, another person gave us a dresser and nightstand, and still another person gave us blankets. My brazilian husband said, "Stop taking people's trash!" But it was all in good condition and it looked great together. Later when I bought a little comforter and curtains the room looked fabulous and he then conceded that it wasn't trash but worthwhile and saved us a lot of money... yet that was his initial reaction. Didn't understand it, but now I see it might not just be something specific to him...