Posts Tagged ‘culture’

If you spend any time in Latin America, you will find that things happen with a bizarre, backwards-zero-sum lack of logic that makes your head spin. Part of understanding this has to do with understanding the Viveza Criolla and its influence on the way the people think.

The Viveza Criolla, also shortened to “Vivo” is a behavioral phenomenon in Spanish-speaking, Latin-based cultures, whereby an individual tries to screw someone else over before his victim has a chance to do the same to the perpetrator. They brush off the guilt by saying, “Si no robo yo, robará otro (If I don’t steal from you, someone else will),” as if you should thank them for the privilege of being robbed by someone you know!

It is their way of forcing a zero-sum outcome to snag it away from the other guy before he even has a chance. It has become a way that society rigs outcomes in favor of schemers and shysters, and punishes the honest. It is to blame for the tiring plague of ingrained lack of trust, the penchant for socialist nonsense, and the laziness, lack of work ethic, and disdain for self-starters and those who wish to excel.

There is no literal translation for Viveza Criolla that fits, and the best a local has ever come up with to explain it to me is to describe it as a “Wiseguy” mentality. Some describe it as “artful lying.”

The term Vivo can be used as a noun for the act itself, or as the formal title of its perpetrator. The Vivo is viewed by its winner as, well, a way to get ahead. The Vivo is viewed by bystanders as a “good for him,” one-up street cred for the winner. The Vivo is seen by the loser as a part of life, and a learning opportunity not to be repeated (so he is more apt to pull the Vivo on someone else before the Vivo is pulled on him).

The Vivo, when caught, is a sort of wink-wink-nudge-nudge situation that is treated with an “oh, haha, you got me!” attitude, whereby both the victim and bystanders are expected to catch it first; if they fail to counter-Vivo, they are expected to take blame for losing because they were not sharp enough to see it coming. It is a bizarre backhanded outsourcing of responsibility.

Regardless of the result, the dynamic of the Viveza Criolla places more importance on getting away with the heist, than the actual fruits of the labor.

In the Vivo game mechanic, the instigator of the Vivo has nothing to lose, and is, in fact, strangely one-upped for being caught (you charming devil)! The loser, if he catches it, is also one-upped for catching the instigator. However if the instigator does not get caught, he is one-upped while the loser is one-downed. Heads I win, Tails you lose. It is, quite literally, nonzero game mechanics turned inside out.

And no, the bystanders will not necessarily warn the victim of his impending fall to the Vivo, for it is his responsibility and his alone to see it. After the fact, oh yes, they will all come by and say “Oh, yeah, we knew about that but we didn’t want to seem nosy.” Which flies in the face of Latino culture because they are the most inherently gossipy bunch of people I have ever encountered.

If the victim is lucky, someone might pull him aside and say something like, “Ojo, es muy vivo ese (Watch out, that guy is very untrustworthy).”

The Viveza Criolla is a negative, destructive cancer upon the social and economic fabric of Latin America, and one of the reasons the region cannot seem to pull head from ass and get its act together. It is the reason why Latin Americans do not trust each other, and, as the Peruvians are apt to say, “Your own hand cannot even trust what the other one is doing.” It is the reason for short-term profit taking with complete disregard to future business prospects, and lack of customer service.

This trust issue is not just between buyer and seller; it can happen with any agreement, from simply getting together for lunch, to major property deals, to selling a car, to employing someone, etc. To keep it elementary I will just describe the parties as “buyer” and “seller.”

Often times the seller, after making an agreement, will pull the Vivo and actually sabotage the deal, thinking that he is getting undercut somehow by the buyer, after they have already settled on the details of the deal. Thus, when some are negotiating prices (for real estate in particular), the seller jumps the gun on the Vivo, thinking he can get a better deal because “hey, there’s interest shown in this thing, that means I am not asking enough!” Counteroffers then come back to the buyer higher than the original asking price!

Often times the seller will simply kill the deal because he gets too nervous, thinking that smooth sailing means the worst, and that he will get really screwed in the end. It’s almost as if they cannot contemplate a square deal at all.

Sometimes the buyer, despite wanting what it is that he is after, will sabotage the deal after the fact because he thinks that it is too good to be true. Or something about the seller makes him question the quality of the merchandise. Both parties will analyze and re-analyze every little interaction until they have made themselves paranoid. This is why there is no such thing as customer service in Latin America. You are expected to deal with it if the seller fails to provide, because after all, it is your responsibility if you got stuck with the wrong end of the Vivo.

Another aspect which the Vivo invades is employment and contracted relationships. The roundabout Vivo thinking will invade the mind so much that if a mistake is made, the party at fault will feel the need to blame the wronged party and create extra drama around the whole situation whereby the one at fault will attempt to shift the blame and make themselves appear the victim. “I am being exploited! How dare you demand I show up at 9 and work until 5?! How dare you hold me accountable when I say I will be here tomorrow and I don’t show up until next week!”

Thieves, when caught, will become angry and try to turn the situation around, claiming “faltándole el respeto,” that you are disrespecting them, as if they deserve any.

The Vivo thinking is a source of much of the “Mañanismo” (tomorrowism) that has killed the work ethic, since it provides an excuse for them not to do anything. Why, they will be exploited for sure– better to screw the boss over first, before he can exploit the workers!

It’s very hard to explain, and I have tried my best, but there it is. You will encounter it if you venture into Latin America, so watch for it; maybe you can see it coming, maneuver it to your advantage, and get Vivo street cred for cutting it off at the pass.

Special thanks to BeelzeBob for helping me to understand 🙂


PS. The book is at 85 pages and counting…

Sayonara, Japan

Posted: September 19, 2013 in Travel
Tags: , , ,

Japan is a great place. Because of the Japanese. They are one of the few cultures remaining with a sense of honor, propriety, and respect for life and property. They are excellent stewards of their environment and take very good care of their stuff. They didn’t always, but they are excellent learners-of-lessons in all aspects of life, and they pass it on to younger generations. Everything is done to a high level of attention to detail, lest one fall into dishonor for failure to provide excellence. Up until the 50s it was still a fall-on-your-own-sword event to cause dishonor, and fortunately that attitude, sans suicide, remains today. But only in Japan.

Why, oh why, don’t other cultures have this? It’s the opposite in South America; it’s viewed as failure or dishonor to ever finish anything!!! In the USA where wearing suits while lying/stealing/cheating/murdering is now a national sport, how I would love to start passing out swords and demanding Seppuku! We have become uncivilized.

It is unfortunate that the Japanese are about to learn the hard way about macroeconomic financial meddling, but hopefully once that damage is done, they will add it to their long list of Never-Agains. That’s if the Japanese remain on the planet in another 300 years. They are not reproducing fast enough to maintain their population, and immigration is tightly controlled and not helping much. It would be a shame to see these islands in the hands of anyone else, because they will be ruined otherwise. Japan must be kept Japanese.

It’s a shame other cultures don’t look here and want to emulate them. In my opinion, the best thing Japan can export is its culture. All the geegaws and shiny blinking electronics, those are nice, but please, PLEASE, export some Honor and Shame and Consequence to the rest of the world!!!

Nonetheless the Japanese do well with what they have, and they want to keep it for a good long time to come. It’s a fascinating place, with everything modern and new right beside things that have been around since the dawn of their civilization. Glowing tacky neon signs next to Shinto shrines, Zen temples across the street from flashy red-light-districts. It’s a crazy mix of art, culture, and technology thrown together, shaken thoroughly, and left to settle. It’s a blend of weird overzealous safety-mindedness right on top of live-and-let-live; volunteer trash pickup corps with uniforms and helmets and flags, with baton-weilding safety-cop escort, march past vending machines that sell beer, wine, and cigarettes to all ages. But it works. And I think it works because of the people and their culture. There are other countries with similar details but different culture, and it’s a failure.

It’s all about the Bushido.

Japan is an easy place to travel. You do not need to know Japanese so long as you know English. But a little bit helps. You’ll be largely illiterate but that’s OK. The locals are friendly and helpful and CORRECT. Meaning, when you receive directions or advice on this and that, or timing of things, or “it will arrive today,” it’s true. Not like some other countries I have discussed in this blog. Because if it turns out not to be true, some poor bastard gets throw on his sword, at least in his head, and the others will never let him hear the end of it. Shame is a powerful thing. Once again it’s all about the Bushido.

Japan also has the most impressive rail network I have ever seen. Not once did I have to use the bus (I did use the bus, but didn’t have to), rent a car, hitch a ride, etc. anything and everything even the intrepid tourist might want to see here can be reached by rail. I also made out like a bandit on my 3-week JR Pass, probably saving double what I paid for it. Maybe we should add the Shinkansen to the list of things Japan should export. It’s excellent.

Really I am beside myself here because I can’t find much to say about Japan that I did not like, and this does not appeal at all to my misanthrope side. I’m actually sort of thrilled at the same time, because Japan really appeals to the side of me that demands excellence, honor, and responsibility, and, well, though it wasn’t called the same thing when I learned it from Grandpa… Bushido. I will really miss Japan. I enjoyed it a lot. Holy crap, ExpatBob is broken! He’s saying nice things!

…for now.

DiverBob, WifeBob, myself, and the Brits went out on New Year’s Eve for some drinks and dinner. Little did we know that the whole city of Santiago would be shut down. Completely. Tumbleweeds. No traffic. Creepy. Things were a normal workday for the beginning half of the day. But after noon, things started clearing out and shutting down. We called some places we had wanted to patronize, only to find out that they were closed.

“Ah, well the California Cantina, the gringo establishment, will surely be open at this time, because the whole city must be hungry and therefore wanting to spend their money at the one place which is open here.” and so we went there, to find it closed as well. There were some guys at a nearby bar who were waiting for it to open so they could start working. “Everything is closed until 11,” they explained. We tried to fanagle a beer or five but they would not relent.

“What is it, a law saying nobody can do anything until midnight?” we asked.

The bar guys looked at each other and shrugged, and agreed that it must be a law. Weird.

We asked them where the nearest botilleria was so we could refuel, and they pointed us in the right direction. Unfortunately it was closed as well. Who closes a liquor store on New Years Eve??? Apparently they all do. Santiago partiers must have to do some serious pre-planning.

We saw some lights on ahead and continued on through the fog of nothingness, and finally found a Chinese restaurant that dared to scoff at the laws and was still open. God bless the Chinese! So we sat and ate and drank and a good time was had by all and we spent our money into the hands of the deserving.

Once we were done we took a cab to see the fireworks show off of the top of the Entel tower downtown. Reportedly, 16.5 tons of fireworks were set ablaze for that show, and I’d believe it. It was pretty neat. This, coupled with reports of spectacular shows over the water in Valparaiso, which are supposedly the best in the world, lead me to believe that Chilenos really like their fireworks. This part I can get used to. The closing everything down when you need it the most part, I can’t.

A good drunken time was had by all, and the Brits were both accosted by locals wanting kisses. Then we went back to our place and got shitfaced drunk on what remained of our liquor supply.

Today, the first, is completely dead. Another ghost-town day. Not even the grocery stores are open, so we subsist on potato chips, soda, and candy which were procured at the local gas station. Blecch. Tomorrow I can imagine the lines and stripped-bare shelves at the grocery store, as the entire population of Santiago has been without access to supplies for 2 days. What a weird culture.

A sarcastic MercoSur joke

Posted: March 12, 2012 in Humor
Tags: ,

I heard this from ExceptionalUruguayanBob:

The perfect MercoSur has…

the honesty of the Paraguayans,
the elegance of the Brazilians,
the happiness of the Uruguayans, and
the modesty of the Argentines.