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.
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…
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!