Jeitinho

Malandragem

Jeitinho [jay-cheen-yo] (Portuguese: ‘little way’) is finding a way to accomplish something by circumventing or bending the rules or social conventions. Most times it is harmless, made for basic ordinary opportunistic advantages, as gatecrashing a party just to get free food and beverage.

But sometimes it is used for questionable, serious violations, where an individual can use emotional resources, blackmail, family ties, promises, rewards or money to obtain (sometimes illegal) favors or to get advantage. Some claim it is a typically Brazilian method of social navigation that may derive from a general lack of resources and help. Most Brazilians have to be creative and invent new simpler ways to do things.

Jeitinho implies the use of resources at hand, as well as personal connections, and creativity. One way to understand jeitinho is as a ‘recurso de esperteza,’ which means a resource used by ‘espertos’—savvy, cunning, or sly individuals who use common sense and prior knowledge, as well as naturally gifted intelligence in their thought processes. It implies that a person is ‘street-smart,’ but not necessarily ‘book-smart.’ It typically also connotes opportunism, pragmatism, and using one’s networks, with little regard for the law, the state or for persons outside of one’s own circle or family.

Brazilian scholar and historian Sérgio Buarque de Hollanda connects the concept of jeitinho to Brazil’s mixed heritage and Iberian ancestry in his book ‘Roots of Brazil.’ He ties jeitinho to the idea that a typical Brazilian is a friendly, cordial man, prone to making initial decisions based on his emotions instead of his reason, and that this feature can be found everywhere in the country, from the highest offices of government to the most common situations of everyday life. Jeitinho is also observed in Rio de Janeiro’s carnival industry by the scholar Roberto DaMatta in his book ‘Carnival, Rogues and Heroes.’

The terms ‘malandro’ and ‘malandragem,’ which can be roughly translated as ‘rogue’ and ‘roguishness,’ are very similar to jeitinho, but these terms imply a greater degree of breaking the rules, as opposed to bending the rules. Elsewhere in Latin America, similar concepts include ‘viveza criolla’ in Argentina and Uruguay, ‘juega vivo’ in Panama, and ‘malicia indígena’ in Colombia.

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