About this blog
Thrill of Brazil is a travel blog all about Brazil written by Moon Brazil author Michael Sommers. Michael blogs about Brazil travel, culture, and more. He welcomes questions, comments, and story ideas.
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- Brazil’s Homegrown Tourism Boom
- Brazil's Best and Write-est
- Making House Calls in Rio (Part II)
- Making House Calls in Rio (Part I)
- The Dawning of Brazil's B&B Age
- Rio's Alternative Points of View
- Taxi Trouble in Santa Teresa
- Obamas Take to the Campaign Trail in Brazil
- Plans and Punctuality
- Reliving Tropicalismo - On and Off Screen
- Food and Lodging that Make the Grade
- The Making of Moon Living Abroad in Brazil
- U.S. is Number One Source of Immigrants to Brazil
- Best English-Language Blogs about Brazil
In and Out of Line
Scanning the Brazilian press online today, my eye was caught by a headline concerning my hometown of Salvador. that caused me to experience a brief moment of triumph. This morning, a branch of the national bank, Banco do Brasil., located in Shopping Iguatemi, one of the city’s most popular shopping centers, was forced to close its doors due its flouting of the Lei dos 15 Minutos (15-Minute Law).
One of the first things foreigners often notice when they visit a large Brazilian city are the immense filas (lines). Like bloated snakes that have bitten off more than they can chew and are slowwwwwwly digesting, Brazilian line-ups are often long, sprawling, and extremely slow moving. You’ll often encounter them in the early hours of dawn, weaving along the sidewalks, in front of public hospitals and government agencies and, yes, in front of banks.
The bank lines are legendary. They’re especially fierce during the minutes leading up to 10 am, when Brazilian banks open the doors so that the populace (we’re not talking middle class Brazilians who have ATM cards or home computers) can pour in, take a number, pray for a seat, and begin the process known as waiting.
Due to the vast quantity of customers and the minimal number of tellers (not to mention the “relaxed” demeanor of the latter), waiting can take anywhere from 15 minutes to a couple of hours.
It was with the mission of injecting a little humanity into the proceedings that, in 2005, the federal government passed the Lei dos 15 Minutos. Under the new law, banks throughout the land would be obliged to serve their clients within 15 minutes, or else…
Or else what, you may ask?
Or else the bank is slapped with a fine of R$5,000 (around $3,000). Big deal, you say. What bank doesn’t have R$5,000 stashed away somewhere to pay a measly little fine? Well, after a couple of fines (which are doubled after the first offense), banks that continue to make their customers cool their heels for hours, are forced to close their doors – which is what happened to the Banco do Brasil in Salvador’s shopping.
Moreover, to prevent defensive bankers from denying that customers have been waiting for indecent periods of time, the Lei dos 15 Minutos also requires all banks to purchase and install machines that distribute numbers with the time registered upon them. Failure to invest in such a machine carries a R$30,000 (around $18,000) fine.
In theory, it sounds pretty marvelous to imagine that you’ll be in and out of a bank in 15 minutes flat (although the time limit is extended to 25 minutes on days preceding and following long holidays, and to 30 minutes on days when civil servants receive their pay checks). Of course, in practice, many bank agencies don’t comply with the law, and lack of public monitoring, along with customers who are unaware of their full rights (or shy about denouncing abuse of such rights), means that long lines are not yet a thing of the past (as proof, check out the home-made, and rather rough, but poignant denunciation videos on YouTube, one of which is posted above).
Of course, the banks are none too enamored with the Lei dos 15 Minutos. In fact, in 2007, the Federation of Brazilian Banks (Febraban) went to court and succeeded in temporarily suspending the law. Fortunately, in February of this year, the ruling was overturned, and the 15 Minute Law came back into vigor with a vengeance. In the last two weeks alone in Salvador, municipal officials have descended in surprise “blitzes” upon 190 bank branches; 79 of them received fines.
Although gringos living in Brazil have to learn to live with filas, most travelers, armed with ATM cards, can often avoid them. However, in the event you find yourself in a potentially long-lined situation – having to visit a hospital, extend your tourist visa, or report a robbery to the police – here’s an essential piece of advice: make sure you have the protection of a thick and engrossing book.