Late one morning in Boa Vista I found that I had written one letter more than I had envelopes and so I set out from my hotel to buy another envelope.
The lady at the post office had none, but she directed me to the Avenida Jaime Brasil, where, at the Livraria Popular, I could purchase an envelope.
I found the Livraria Popular with no difficulty, but, it now being noon, the establishment was closed for the two-hour Latin midday break. Returning after 2:00, I found the establishment open and looking to all intents like a perfectly normal stationery store.
Although it is quite permissible in Latin America to purchase a single envelope I have always felt this to be an imposition, and so I shopped about and selected three postcards and five envelopes. One can always use a few extra envelopes. Indeed, if I had bought some extra envelopes earlier I would not be needing one then.
A very modern-looking young saleslady took my purchase and led me across the store, where she wrote up my purchase in a book, making an original and one (yellow) copy. She informed me that my purchase came to 105 Cruzados (approximately 52 cents, US) and, handing me the yellow copy, directed me to a cashier's cage.
I stood at the cashier's cage waiting for the cashier to finish a conversation with a friend. Personal relationships are very important in Latin America.
While I was waiting I had an opportunity to read the establishment's Business Permit, issued by the municipal authorities and authorizing the sale of paper goods and office supplies. It further specified, for each day, the hours between which the establishment could be open. The permit had cost slightly more than $150; quite reasonable, I thought, for all that permission.
By this time, her conversation finished, the cashier had received the white copy of my invoice from the sales clerk and, taking my yellow copy, she compared the two and told me that the total amount owed came to 105 Cruzados (approximately 52 cents, US).
I paid her this amount and she stamped both copies. She then tore a counterpane from the yellow copy and put it in a box, passing the white original to me and handing the yellow copy, minus its counterpane, to the lady in the adjoining cage.
The lady in the adjoining cage had somehow received the three postcards and five envelopes I had picked out. I was actually rather surprised to see them, as by this time I had forgotten what I was doing in the shop, having become mesmerized by this Kafka-esque rigmarole.
The lady compared the number on my white invoice with the number on the yellow copy in her possession, and the items listed with the items she had in hand and, determining them to be in agreement, she wrapped the three postcards and five envelopes securely and handed them, together with the white original copy of the invoice, to me. My papers were then in order and I was free to go.
This was the only instance on my trip when I would encounter this sort of commercial pantomime. It resembles a procedure I have heard described that was required under the Code Napoleon, so it may have been a relic of some older practice. I suppose I could have asked, but I was too bemused by the experience.