Made in Brazil? Must be rubbish!

Great soaps are made in Brazil, and soap stars too

Great soaps are made in Brazil, and soap stars too

Back in the day, there were three words guaranteed to make me salivate: Made in Japan. When my mates and I were building our hi-fi systems back in the 70s, we would swoon when we saw the neat little badge on the front or back of an amplifier bearing those words. Holding that amplifier was like holding the holy grail. Made in Japan meant the very latest hi-tech, top of the range, made to last, made in heaven. It was certainly not to be confused with downmarket, mass-produced products that would bear the ugly message Made in Taiwan, or Made in Hong Kong. When we saw those labels we would shudder with horror.

A few years later I proudly told a Japanese businessman how we used those little Made in Japan labels as a litmus test for quality. He looked at me quizzically for a few seconds and said: “That’s rubbish”. I couldn’t believe it. He went on to explain that Made in Japan is no guarantee of quality or anything else and that in fact, in Japan, those in the know are looking for other badges – Made in England, for instance. He also exploded the biggest myth, that Made in China is the mark of an inferior product. In fact, English people simply cannot afford to be snobby about things that are made in China because in England everything is made in China. Like it or lump it.

In Brazil, the words that make all jaws drop in unison are: Imported. Imported products are fabulously fetishised and spoken of in hushed tones of worship. That’s because anything imported is at least double the price and so must be treated with reverence as a status symbol. The more imported goods in your possession, the more successful you must be. Made in Brazil? Forget it – “must be rubbish”, or so the thinking goes. In Brazil, Made in England symbolizes the old world, one of the superior cultures of Europe, a product which is a classic of its kind, a token of history.

Another way of giving your product an extra cachet of snob-value in Brazil is to give it an English name. So you have shopping centres called Central Park, boutiques trading as Glamour Model, beauty products such as Moon Drops, cleaning products like Mr. Magic and lots of T-shirts bearing incomprehensible gobbledygook in English, like My Love is Big and Open You Romance Flower (OK, I just made that up, but you get the idea). Brazilians love Brazil in a way English people find squeamish, but they also feel a certain shame about their new-world cultural shortcomings. So the quick fix is to spray on the gilded English language and give your product an aura, an aroma of chic.

It's no laughing matter having a name like that...

It’s no laughing matter having a name like that…

Your product or your child, for Brazilians also give their kids exotic English names. A friend of mine who was working in the maternity ward at a public hospital found the names of two babies that she thought were typos. One was Sevenboy. Evidently the mother had named her son after a leading brand of bread called Sevenboys. The other odd name was for a girl, Madeinusa, a bit like Madeleine, I suppose. But no. If you put a couple of spaces in it you get Made in USA, of course. Lucky kids, eh?

Now that I live in Brazil, I don’t want things with English names or expensive imported stuff. I want to sample local products; I want to buy things that are Made in Brazil. The question is, what great stuff is made here? Let me see now, erm…flip flops – very important in the scorching summer; combine harvesters – if I was a Wurzel I might; black beans – great for making feijoada; soap operas – I’m addicted, sad but true; natural gas – well, if I get really fed up I can end it all…

My beloved PHK record cleaning machine - worth coming to Brazil just for that!

My beloved PHK record cleaning machine – worth coming to Brazil just for that!

Hang on, I’ve just thought of something brilliant that is made in Brazil, a product that has truly changed my life: my record cleaning machine, of course, bought from a bloke in São Paulo who makes them himself and something I just couldn’t live without. Hooray for Paulo Henrique – you rock, brother! 

Categories: Blighty, Brazil, Hi-Fi, Musings | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

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9 thoughts on “Made in Brazil? Must be rubbish!

  1. the best made in brazil for me has to be guarana antartica!

  2. John

    All very true, but not much different back home in Blighty is it? French perfume, Italian fashion, German cars, Belgian beer, Persian carpets and you with your Japanese hifi, despite that Quad of England were making some of the best audiophile equipment back when you were a lad.

    Foreign = exotic = better has always held true to a certain extent and the Brazilians aren’t really very different. It has been amplified here because for a long time there was no domestic industry to compete, and in many areas there still isn’t, hence the high import tariffs on many goods, designed to promote domestic production. It’s working – a friend has been involved in setting up a semiconductor fabrication here because, despite the huge investment, the BNDES loans and the projected volumes make it all worth while. There you go, an anecdote to show that Brazil’s macroeconomic policy is working to some extent. Who would have thought?

    • John,
      Actually, my secret predilection is for English hi-fi these days, micro companies producing hand-crafted products and offering great after-sales. But it don’t come cheap. I have to save all year for my next fix. I love Brazil and I think a lot of stuff made here is undervalued. The snobbery is just that. Consumer prejudice based on very little.

  3. Ernestina B. O. Mack Filgueiras

    In the 70s we didn´t like made in Japan, not here in Brazil. Hitec for us was still leicas, rolleyflex, mercedes and BMG German cars and Swiss watches. It was only in the 90s that we came to appreciate Japanese products. And it´s taking us less time nowadays to appreciate Asian products.
    Regarding names, it´s not quite English that folks are after, they like names with lots of Ys & Ws, such as Keytlyn or Welswey. However, what I DO hope is that you pursue further all the Brazilian products Brazilians love – cachaça, guaraná, excellent beef, wonderful and varied cuisine, great beer, delicious fruits, beautiful design – shoes, clothing, furniture, creativity in advertising, producing shows, setting up unbelievable museums – “da Lingua Portuguesa” in S.P. and Inhotim in MG – both unique and admired worldwide, improvising, sense of humor… not to mention capoeira that is presented/taught round the world:):):)
    You present everything so soundly and charmingly that you almost made me forget all this I mentioned above.

    • Tina, Tina, Tina
      You’ve made a lovely list of luscious, mouth-watering Brazilian things.
      I love it when people stand up proud for Brazil; it should happen more often.
      I can’t wait to have grandchildren so I can call them…
      Keytlyn and Welswey!

  4. Great article! Too true, the shop names make me laugh out loud especially when you say them with a Brazilian accent too funny. It’s a shame more products aren’t made in Brazil so much fashion and accessories use to be but now brands tend to use their own factories and those factories that use to manufacture for multiple international brands seem to have sadly disappeared as more people outsource to China. I guess our import and export duties are just too high now to even try and compete. Such a shame.

  5. Dave Brew

    Colonial nations would send their best products abroad, usually to their colonial masters, that was how things were done. So if you wanted to show that you had a quality product here in Brazil, the way to do it was with a label saying “Qualidade Exportação”. But that didn’t just happen in Brazil, that was the norm for many countries. As our population becomes wealthier and better able to purchase quality goods, more and more better quality goods remain here to be sold.
    All good economics.

    • David,
      As usual, you have managed to convince me with your sound common sense.
      Now I am on a quest: to find some of those affordable “better quality goods” you mention.
      Trouble is, I’m getting old – too old for Mission Impossible.
      But I’m an optimist.
      An optimist in Porto Alegre.
      Well you’d have to be, wouldn’t you?

  6. I think the whole snobbery thing is an aspect of living in any country that is still developing and emerging. Having lived in PRC, I can attest to the same sort of tendencies. Maybe one day Madeinbrazil will be a poor kid’s name somewhere in another part of Latin America or Africa, after Brazil reaches its potential. Seems like some things are going right over there, with partnerships.

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