The types are slender, blond and with broad gestures that stand out in the corridors of a large commercial buildings in the South Zone of Rio. So common on the beaches, they are still scarce in the workplace of the city. Their growing presence in Brazil is explained by one of those rare intersections of fate that bring together people and common interests formed thousands of miles away. The characters in this saga are Norwegian with expertise in oil exploration – the greatest Norwegian natural wealth – attracted by the opportunities offered by Petrobras discoveries in deep waters off the Brazilian coast, the pre-salt.
By 2007 there weren’t more than a dozen Norwegian companies based throughout the country. Now, just in Rio de Janeiro – where 80% of these companies
are – the number jumped to 120, nearly half of them lined up in only one commercial tower in South Zone of Rio.
The Nordic pre-salt adventurers in Rio are divided between those dedicated to the production of oil itself and the ones dealing with the supply of products and services of high technology. Both groups are supported by Innovation Norway, the outer arm of the Norwegian government in Brazil, which help professionals adapt. Outside the language, the barriers are not few. “The amount of verb tenses and conjugations of the Portuguese is amazing,” says in impeccable English the geologist Orjan Birkeland, 52, vice president for exploration of the Norwegian state company Statoil, one of the world giants in the industry. In the booklet Doing Business in Brazil, the Norwegians receive advice on how to get away with the proverbial slowness, the fierce protectionism and the bureaucratic mazes of Brazilian authorities. These include, of course, the specific barriers concerning the participation of foreigners in the Brazilian oil industry. The Norwegian Granli Thomas, 31, who concludes a Ph.D. precisely on acclimatization to the tropics, and even draws a recurring diagnosis of professional contacts in Brazil. In his thesis, he reverberates what was already said before about Brazil by dozens of other foreign observers: “The Brazilians are based more on interpersonal trust, than trust in the institutions, they have great appreciation for hierarchy and rarely make direct criticism. A yes can mean a no. ”
The first major company to reach Rio, was the Norwegian Statoil in 2001. “The interest of Norway in Brazil came down to the beach and Carnival,” recalls Helle Klem, 59, for seven months in charge of the Consulate General in Rio de Janeiro. Recent data show that beach and Carnival are not heading the list of attractions in Brazil anymore. After the United States, the Brazilian economy has become the largest recipient of Norwegian money and resources are almost invested all in oil.
According to a recent survey by the Federation of Industries of the State of Rio de Janeiro (Firjan), last year alone the direct investment of Norwegian companies in Rio de Janeiro reached 577 million. That volume of investment in Rio leaves behind only the Norwegians investments in Singapore, whose companies were also strongly attracted by the pre-salt exploration.
With a relevant difference: Unlike in Asia, most Norwegians come here to stay – preferably well installed near the beaches of Ipanema and Leblon.
The wave of Norse who arrived in Rio belong to the cream of the prolific Norwegian oil industry – which represents one quarter of the country’s GDP. Although new to Brazil, the Norwegians already stand out as suppliers of high-tech equipment to Petrobras. They produce oil tankers, submarines radars and giant cranes used to lift vessels. A lively group of eighty students from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology arrived about a month in Rio de
January. Accustomed to traveling the world in search of opportunities, boys and girls are left to pack the most typical attractions, waves and sunbathing that mark their skin so white that no ultraviolet filter can adequately protect. They give their own contribution to the rich list of oddities on the beaches by skillfully balancing on skis on wheels, a nostalgic solution of the adventurous global Norwegians in areas without snow and that was popularized – in Norway itself in their short summer. The student of marine engineering Bergsronning Erlend, 24, is another Norwegian who believes he has come to Rio de Janeiro to stay: “For me it is a very good feeling of being in an unfamiliar place with so many things yet to explore.”
From Revista Veja, 16th of april 2012