Thursday, October 23, 2008

We have cast our ballots for the US and Florida elections

While we are happy residents of Niterói and the greater Rio area, we still feel strongly about US domestic politics (could you tell!?)

So we requested absentee ballots from our Florida voting precinct, which were delivered to our Florida address. My mother then forwarded them to us here. (US$72.00 DHL fee - yikes!)

At that price we were more determined than ever to get our ballots returned in time to make an impact. As new Florida Democrats we have been looking forward to casting two more votes for Obama. Plus there is a nasty anti-gay constitutional amendment that would outlaw any way, shape or form of legal partnership/civil union/marriage for us targeted gay types. (Florida is not a liberal kind of place...)

The ballot struck me by how many constitutional amendments were listed. Like: 5. What's up with that? What happened to elected lawmakers making the law? The residents feel they have to carve everything into the state constitution? It was a bit scary.

Anyway - once we voted I was determined to get them back in time - and NOT pay another crazy international shipping fee (the postal service is just too unpredictable in this case.) So I called the US Embassy and inquired if we could drop off our ballots and have them shipped back in the mail they were surely sending back for this occasion. Bingo. Free on time delivery guaranteed.

Once the ballots are back in the states the Embassy folks will drop them into the US postal service for delivery to individual precincts. And they provided a postage paid envelope for that local service in the States.

So on Wednesday I went to the Embassy, flashed my Florida ID (should have brought my passport, actually), skipped to the front of the block-long line of Brazilians seeking visas, and proceeded to the American Citizens Services Unit.

After just a little wait there my number was called. The one thing that caught me by surprise was hearing someone talk to me in English with an American accent. It was really noticeable. I'd almost forgotten the distinct sound. I smiled.

Everyone was very helpful and I was out of there in no time.

Levers pulled. Fingers crossed.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Flor de Luiz is back at the MAC!

Networking works. You’ll recall that Luiz was given an opportunity to do flowers at the Contemporary Art Museum as part of a late-night party event back in July. The photographer at that event saw Luiz’s work and then hired him to do flowers for his commercial booth at a vendor fair.

At that event Luiz got lots of exposure and charmed many a colleague. The producer of that vendor fair later contacted Luiz to do flowers for a corporate event back at the Contemporary Art Museum. It was a no-holds-barred event for physicians and other health care providers to announce the opening of a new state-of-the-art medical clinic in town.

The event was on a Monday night, so the museum bistro space kept the flowers through the week. Just a few days ago Luiz got a call from the manager at Bistro MAC with a referral to a customer who saw his flowers when she went for lunch and wanted to speak with him about an event she has planned in the space.

We like how this is going…

Another connection at the vendor fair called Luiz up to help out with a wedding in Rio a couple weeks ago. Since then he has worked with her on one more wedding, and she has asked him to be with her at two future events in November and January. She started out pretty tight fisted with her compensation, but has since opened up to Luiz’s talents, dependability and dedication to the details. It is turning into a nice partnership.

Next week Luiz will have his flowers at another vendor fair, this one in a more densely populated part of town – so more client eyes will see his work.

Flor de Luiz is growing.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The mail service in Brazil

The mail service here can be spotty. I don’t want to deride the local government workers – but… I gotta tell ya, we have had a few troublesome experiences.

Sometimes a letter arrives in about 10 days from the States. Sometimes it never arrives. We’ve tried regular service and Registered service. It would seem that a parcel arrives on time in reverse proportion to its importance. Sigh.

But – don’t be afraid. Things usually arrive just fine. Unless they don`t.

For the record – here is our address:

Luiz Madureira and Jim Shattuck
Rua Gavião Peixoto 331, Apt. 301
Icarai, Niterói - Rio de Janeiro – 24.230

Some words of caution when dealing with the Brazilian postal service:

For the most part things are fine. However we have waited up to 10 weeks for a piece of mail to arrive from the US. In one case – a piece of Registered mail never arrived at all (but that was when the post office here was on strike…) On the bright side – we have also gotten mail within 10 days. Go figure.

The real gamble is sending packages. The customs office charges 100% duty on the declared value of things sent into the country. So for example, when I sent a gift to my mother-in-law and noted on the paperwork that it was worth US$60 – she had to pay US$60 just to receive the package. – some gift…

Since then we have learned from our local postal carrier that if the package is worth less than US$20 (declared) the postal service will just let it through. More than that and they will charge the 100% duty. So now any packages are labeled “used clothes” or “personal papers” or “household items”- or some such thing, and have a declared valued of US$20 or less. Sigh.

My current worry is getting Luiz and my ballots back to Florida in time to cast our votes for Obama and against the anti-gay ballot initiative in the state.

Do feel free to send mail our way – but beware the realities.

Monday, October 13, 2008

You go on Donna grrl!

Here's a nice piece of tape with Donna Brazile saying it like it is. (Now if she would just come out of the closet already...)

Friday, October 10, 2008

Make the great schlep!

Hey Jewish friends (and others) get your butts to Florida and talk to your grandparents about voting for Barack Obama.

Check this out --

The Great Schlep from The Great Schlep on Vimeo.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Things are looking up at work

We hit pay dirt on Friday at my job. Finally.

You’ll recall I’m helping a friend as he digs his business out of a hole. It has been about three months of re-tooling and re-schooling. We’ve been changing the focus from winning a contract and squeezing it for all it’s worth (taking no prisoners) to looking to build long term relationships with clients that will bear fruit again and again now and in the years to come.

We’ve developed a new suite of services that support clients over time moving forward. We’ve added a level of transparency to the bidding process that reassures the potential client that our price is based in reasonable reality – and not just a money grab. And most importantly we have been struggling to change the tone of my boss'es business style from a harsh trickster (whom many clients wish to never see again after he has completed the job) to a more friendly, service oriented ally who seeks to share his technical knowledge with clients to help them protect their investments (their building.)

There have been significant changes to the tone of written communications along with more use of the telephone and personal meetings – complete with careful coaching before making contact.

It’s a tough task to get this leopard to change his spots. When stress sets in he defaults to being no fun to be around. But we’re getting there.

We’ve been limping along for the past few months with small contracts (between R$4,000 – R$12,000). But using each one to practice new strategies. Teasing my boss and our engineer I put a sign up on the board that read: “We are standing in the middle of the desert waiting for our ship to come in!” (Apologies to Sheryl Crow.)

But we may have turned a corner on Friday. After a careful courtship under our new ground rules – we just closed a very profitable contract worth $170,000. Yes!

Now it’s on to phase two. Gotta stay a nice guy looking out for the client. No more grab the money and run.

I know there are significant cultural differences between how I’ve learned to do business in the States and how many Brazilians would run their shops (and I don't mean to cast everyone like my boss) – but somehow I gotta think that being nice to your client and honoring your word about quality and performance will translate just fine.