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A Brazilian Man Fights For The Right To Smile


Maybe this has happened to you. You go in to get a driver's license photo. You sit in the chair. An employee at the DMV points the camera, and you try to smile - it's a photo after all. But you're told don't smile - not that kind of picture. Honestly, it's OK. You're at the DMV, probably not so happy anyway. But when this happened to a man in Brazil, he would not take it anymore. NPR's Philip Reeves reports.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: Some battles are worth fighting, even if the odds are against you. That's what Filipe Borges thinks. Brazil's government bureaucrats can be extremely obstructive. This didn't deter Borges from taking them on simply because he didn't want to look glum. Borges is from Sete Lagoas, a small city in southeastern Brazil. The other day, he went to get a new driving license. In Brazil, that usually means going to a clinic where they test your eyes and take your picture.

Borges, who's 33, is the son of a dentist. He says he spent his childhood being told by his dad how important it is to have a winning smile. When he sat down to be photographed for his license, Borges decided to show off his. He says the woman in charge of the clinic objected.

FILIPE BORGES: (Through interpreter) When the lady told me I couldn't smile, I asked her why not. She said the photograph was for an official document, so no smiling. I asked her again. She said there's a regulation or a statute - I don't know. I asked to see the regulation. She said it's an internal document and that I wasn't allowed to see it.

REEVES: Most people would abandon their right to look happy at this point. But Borges, who's a photographer, wasn't done yet. To outsiders, Brazilians generally seem to smile a lot, even in these gloomy times. Borges asked why they have to look so grumpy in their official documents.

BORGES: (Through interpreter) She suggested this was to make it easier to identify people. I said that didn't make much sense because nowadays you have facial recognition.

REEVES: Borges says the argument seemed to last forever.

BORGES: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: Things got tense. Eventually, the woman called someone at head office. It turns out, there's no rule stopping Brazilians from beaming happily out of their driving licenses. Borges now has a new one, showing him wearing what truly is a winning smile. Philip Reeves, NPR News, Rio de Janeiro.


NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Philip Reeves
Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.