Malandragem (Brazilian Portuguese: [malɐ̃ˈdɾaʒẽȷ̃]) is a Portuguese term for a lifestyle of idleness, fast living and petty crime - traditionally celebrated in samba lyrics, especially those of Noel Rosa and Bezerra da Silva. The exponent of this lifestyle, the malandro, or "bad boy" (rogue, hustler, rascal, scoundrel), has become significant to Brazilian national identity as a folk hero, or, rather an anti-hero. It is common in Brazilian literature, Brazilian cinema and Brazilian music.
"Malandro" could be defined as someone who:
- Never works and lives off scams; a con man
- Is unfaithful and, sometimes, aggressive towards women;
- Leads a bohemian life of only fun and pleasure;
- Is lazy, sluggish;
- Cheats and deceives in order to prevail; a trickster.
Malandragem is defined as an aggregation of strategies utilized in order to gain advantage in a determined situation (these advantages are often illicit). It is characterized by savoir faire and subtlety. Its execution demands aptitude, charisma, and cunning and whatever other characteristics which allow for the manipulation of people or results, to obtain the best outcome, in the easiest possible way.
Contradicting logical argumentation, labor and honesty, malandragem presupposes that such methods are incapable of generating good outcomes. Those who practice malandragem (the malandros) act in the manner of the popular Brazilian adage, immortalized in a catch phrase of former Brazilian soccer player Gérson de Oliveira Nunes in a cigarette TV commercial (hence the name it was given: Lei do Gérson, or Gérson's law): “I like to get an advantage in everything.”
Together with the concept of jeitinho, malandragem can be considered another typically—but not exclusively—Brazilian mode of social navigation; however, unlike jeitinho, with malandragem the integrity of institutions and individuals is effectively attacked, legally speaking, as malicious. However, successful malandragem presupposes that advantages are gained without the action being perceived. In more popular terms, the malandro dupes the target without him or her knowing he or she has been tricked.
Malandragem is characterized in the Brazilian popular imagination as a tool for individual justice. Facing the forces of oppressive institutions, the individual malandro survives by manipulating people, fooling authorities and sidestepping laws in a way which guarantees his well-being. In this way, the malandro is the typical Brazilian hero. Literary examples include Pedro Malasarte and João Grilo.
Like jeitinho, malandragem is an intellectual resource utilized by individuals of little social influence or the socially disadvantaged. This does not impede the equal use of malandragem by those of better social positions. Through malandragem, one gains illicit advantages in gambling, business, and in the totality of his or her social life. One can consider a malandro the adulterer who convinces a woman of his false fidelity; the employer who finds a way to pay his employees less than what he owes; the player who manipulates his cards and wins the round.
But, despite this apparently egocentrical, lying and malicious nature, the person who uses the malandragem is not necessarily selfish. While probably lazy, he is not careless with the people around him. The person that uses malandragem to take advantage of another person, normally does not do it intending to harm others, but rather only to find their way out of an unjust situation even if this means sometimes resorting to illegal methods. In fictional contexts, the malandragem is often a device used to introduce wit, a typical plot device/characteristic of an antihero.