Yesterday I went to the French Bazaar which is run by the French ex-patriate community in São Paulo. There are a LOT of French people here but I never run into them where I live. My one expat French friend moved away to Brussels three years ago. But the bazaar is filled with Francophones and I love hearing that musical language as I sort through the stuff laid out on the various tables. The bazaar has many local Brazilian crafts available...and fresh croissants for sale if you get there early enough (I didn't). Also patés. Also lots of things that are making me hungry just to think about.
The bazaar is held at the Scandinavian Church in a beautiful residential neighborhood. Well, most of it is beautiful--I notice the background of this shot is not so beautiful. In any case, when you park your car on the streets around the church, a "flanelinha" or "little flannel" pops out of nowhere and gives you a thumbs-up with a questioning look. Normally they don't even say anything -- it is just that thumbs-up gesture. In this shot, the flanelinha is the man in the jacket walking with the woman back to her car. So what's it all about?
Flanelinhas are the guys who want to "watch" your car for you while you are in a shop, or out to dinner or somewhere where you have no choice but to park on the street. The name "flanelinha" comes from the guys who used to try to wipe down the car windows with small pieces of flannel for spare change. Flanelinhas don't provide that service anymore, but they do want you to give them some change for "looking after" your car.
I am generally opposed to paying off the flanelinha. As if I had a choice. If you don't give them the thumb's up back (yeah, man, you can watch my bulletproofed car-alarmed satellite-tracked car in the middle of this quiet neighborhood), you might come back to find a new scratch in the paint. So I hear. That has never happened to me. I think. How would I notice a new scratch on my city car? Join the party, scratches.
Some flanelinhas complain if you don't tip them enough. And sometimes they will come up to you asking for a certain amount ($5 or $10 depending on the situation) in order to park on a public street. If you are going to a concert at the Morumbi Stadium, expect them to ask you for at least $20 or more to "watch" your car. They don't watch anything at these events, by the way--by the time the concert is half over, the flanelinhas are gone, gone, gone.
My husband (Brazilian) judges each situation to see if and how much he'll pay the guy (I have never met a female flanelinha). At a soccer game a few weeks ago, he gave the flanelinha $10 because the guy was actually the security man for that street (more on security guards on another post). He was going to stay around the car during the whole time we were at the game.
I admit that I am less generous and more cranky. When I parked my car once at 5:45 am for a 7 am start road race last year, and a flanelinha came up to me to ask for money, I looked at him, looked down at my outfit (running shorts/t-shirt/running shoes) and said "dude (okay, "cara"), I have nothing". He started to get mad so I went back into my bulletproofed, car-alarmed, satellite-tracked car and scrounged up $0.50. He was mad but what in the world? I was at a road race not a shopping center!
This year, at the same race, I got crafty. I went to park in the same place and noticed that the Policia Militar was pulling over a motoboy for something. I parked right behind them. No flanelinha. Why? Because it is legal to be a flanelinha in only two cities in Brazil, and I don't live in either one (Belo Horizonte and Brasilia, if you are curious), they could potentially be held for extortion if they made a threat along with their money request. No worries for them, really, because jail sentence is under four years and that means they're out on the street immediately.
Watch your car, ma'am?