Living in another culture is a funny thing because you find things in that culture that don’t exist in your own. This can be difficult to understand sometime. When my husband and I first moved to São Paulo, we went out to dinner with his boss and his boss’s wife-Marianna. His boss’s wife gave a good example of this, she is Brazilian and lived in England for a couple of years; every time she would check out at the grocery store the clerk would ask her “Do you want cash back?” At first she didn’t even know the word “cash back” because they said it so fast, so every time they asked she would just say “No thank you.” Finally one day she saw another patron get cash back and realized what the clerk was asking her.I think that it was not only the language barrier that prevented Marianna from understanding what the clerk said but the fact that in Brazil “cash back” does not exist. The only way you can get cash in Brazil is from the bank.
Before moving to Brazil I had visited several cities like Rio and Curitiba. I had also purchased several things in stores without a problem, but when I moved to São Paulo I quickly realized that the checkout people were asking me something that I didn’t know what it was. And like Marianna I would always say, “No thank you.” Now living here for a couple of months I know what the clerks were asking, they are asking for my CPF number or Nota Fiscal Paulista. My CPF number is basically my social security number in Brazil. The reason the clerks ask this is because in the state of São Paulo if you registered your CPF on the state’s website and give it to the clerks every time you purchase something you can get a tax refund on the goods you purchase.
This is something that does not exist in America. My husband explains the reasoning for it is because corporations in Brazil have a tendency to not pay taxes. So when a person gets the refund it comes out of the corporation’s taxes? I’m still not totally clear about what Nota Fiscal Paulista is and why it is only in SãoPaulo, but if a clerk asks you for your CPF, feel free to say “Nao, Obrigado.”