05 August 2013

Brazilians Are Pissed, and They Have Every Reason To Be

I’d be pissed, too. I’m pissed just in solidarity with my Brazilian friends. And I’m not referring to the recent events that have so enraged Brazilians and sent them out to the streets to protest in droves. I’m talking about an insidious discrimination against Brazilians that I’ve heard about for years, but never realized the extent of. Could it possibly be true that Brazilians pay a premium, both in price and/or dignity, for being — well, for being Brazilian? They do, they do. Mark and I most recently brushed up against this when we went to rent a car over the Internet for our recent trip to France. We were blithely using the Europcar Web site in English, and we found an amazing rate for a three-week rental. We locked it in. But as soon as we started to fill in the details — which included our address in Brazil — the site automatically refreshed the page and came up with a much higher price! We were scandalized! What was going on? Mark immediately called up Europcar, and the guy on the other end of the phone admitted to the discriminatory pricing, mumbling something about "what the market dictates." He assured us that with our American passports and an American address — any American address — we could get the original, super-low price. Fine for us. But what about Brazilian car renters?

Caution: Change country to "USA" before using!
Then, out of curiosity (and because I had heard some complaints), I went to the Website of the Brazilian airline TAM. By using the English-language page I could purchase a two-week, round trip economy ticket from Miami to Rio de Janeiro for $1,099. But when I switched to the Portuguese-language page, the very same trip on the very same aircraft cost $3,137.92! I did it three more times for three different itineraries, just to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. Shame on you, TAM!

As I wrote in a recent post, our Rio to Paris flight was canceled due to the French air traffic controller strike. We were flying TAM (yes, we got a great deal on the English-language page) and on the day the strike started the TAM Website advised passengers to call to find out what to do. So we did. But initially we used the Portuguese-language phone menu. We waited and waited. Finally a voice message came on and said, in Portuguese, "Here is news of your flight." Then there was nothing. Silence. We tried again. Nothing. Argghhhh. Mark switched to the English-language option. Well, surprise, surprise, we were attended immediately, and our flight was changed quickly, efficiently and to our satisfaction.

I can’t vouch personally for the following, but I can guarantee that the source is impeccable. I’m told that Brazilians must often show cold hard cash at immigration desks all over the world, enough cash to cover their expenses for the length of their trip. In my life I've never been asked to show cash when entering a country, nor would I carry two or three weeks’ worth of cash around. Who would? It’s ridiculously unsafe. I mean, what are credit cards for?

And finally, even though Brazil qualifies for the American Visa Waiver Program — and has apparently qualified for some time now — the United States stubbornly persists in requiring visas from Brazilian citizens, so in reciprocity Brazil requires visas from Americans. But on the application form for a Brazilian visa, Americans don’t get asked whether or not they have any communicable diseases. That question appears on the visa application that Brazilians must fill out for a tourist visa to the USA. I mean, really.

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