You are on page 1of 5


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Desenrascano (loosely translated as "disentanglement") is a Portuguese word used in common language in Portugal, to express an ability to solve a problem without the adequate tools or proper technique to do so and by use of sometimes imaginative resourcefulness when facing new situations. Achieved when resulting in a hypothetical good-enough solution. When that good solution escapes us we get a failure (enrascano entanglement). Most portuguese people strongly believe it to be one of the their most valued virtues and a living part of their culture. Obviously, they are aware that this subjective feature is not exclusive of theirs. However, some critics disagree with the association of desenrascano to the Portuguese culture. They argue that this concept is related to the subjective evaluation of oneself, or of the Portuguese people, and belongs to the world of subjectivity and feeling. Some have the opinion that the concept is related to the discoveries period and to student activities in the 15th century. But sceptics doubt there is any substantial proof of that relation. Some say that in the 16th and 17th centuries it was very common for other exploring nations, such as the Dutch, to bring a Portuguese national along during the voyages, because the Portuguese were allegedly the most skilled and knowledgeable in properly handling the occasional emergency aboard the ship when the control of the vessel was given to them (what is known among the Portuguese as "desenrascano"). Serious historians would disagree with the association between a 20th century idea and 17th century events. Apart from this myth, desenrascano is in fact the

opposite of planning: it's managing that any problem does not get completely out of hand and beyond solution.

Desenrascano in the Portuguese dictionary

In the Portuguese dictionary it is stated: enrascar | v. tr. | v. refl. (Eng. transitive verb, reflex verb) transitive verb:

apanhar em rasca; (to mangle ropes) enredar; (threading) embaraar cabos, velas; (sails)


fazer cair em armadilha; (entrapment) criar dificuldades; (cause difficulties)

atrapalhar; (to stand in the way) encravilhar;

reflective verb:

meter-se em enrascada; (getting in trouble) meter-se em problemas. (getting in trouble)

therefore, "des", a negation prefix, means exactly the opposite. in the portuguese dictionary also: desenrascar | v. tr. | v. refl. (transitive verb, reflex verb) transitive verb:

desembaraar o que estava enrascado; (disentangle what was previously entangled) livrar algum de apuros; (get someone out of trouble)

reflective verb:

livrar-se de uma dificuldade. (to overcome adversity)


Desenrascano has a role in the academic culture (alumni culture, not Academia in general) in most educational institutions. In most universities and polytechnic institutes, the older students known as doutores (Eng. doctors, loosely sophomores) teach Desenrascano to freshmen (Port. Caloiros) through a ritual, widely known in Portugal as the Freshmen Reception, a part of the "Academic Rite of Passage" (Port. Praxe Acadmica). It is said that this skill has been taught (informally) in Portuguese universities since the 14th or 15th centuries. The freshmen are ordered to do the most impossible things. They must comply or they will be punished. To solve the challenges (desenrascar-se) they must be inventive and/or have a very compelling reason when unable to. Usually, if they cannot complete the task or if they are not smart enough and find a boring solution, a punishment is applied. The punishment is supposedly done under the Rite's Code (Port. Cdigo de Praxe) and is allegedly harmless. But they can get dirty, do a lot of physical exercise or be publically embarrassed; on the other hand they can even end up doing absolutely nothing and standing still for an hour. Freshmen perform this ritual because they want to join academic fraternities and have fun in the continuous parties these groups hold throughout the academic year and to generally gather a helpful group of friends. In the rituals, the doutores are dressed wholly in black (in 19th century traditional attire) and freshmen in white (usually a white shirt and blue jeans nowadays). This might be considered an initiation ritual in most Portuguese universities. The ritual varies widely between universities and polytechnics. In the most traditional universities and polytechnics, another sort of rite is done, this time in secret and at night (due to its secrecy it has not spread to most new universities

and is unknown by most) it is called sometimes as Praxe de doutor (Doctor's Rite) made by a veterano (veteran, a student that has been studying at the university for longer than the course's duration). The final part of this rite consists of difficult and sometimes impossible tasks that are typically harder than those for freshmen, but normally desenrascano is made in a much better and inventive way. Because of its difficulty, collaboration between various doutores is needed and is also good strategy (desenrascano is not always just lacking a plan). There are also other variations for these rites, some do not require desenrascano. Siemens, a well known German company, has development and engineering offices in Portugal partly due to this Portuguese trait, employing hundreds of Portuguese staff. They say "when a German gives up when faced with a difficulty, a Portuguese will work until it is solved." They also argue that it is "due to the quality of Portuguese staterun universities and institutes". Desenrascano is the finding of a quick and dirty solution for a given problem. [edit]

In popular parlance in Lisbon (and indeed in the army), "enrascar" meant to put someone in an undesirable situation (or, sometimes, to punish). The person undergoing that situation would naturally try to get out of it by cunning, which was highly valued in the military subculture that cultivates 'esprit de corps', especially if it was done without putting anyone else at risk, better still if "saving" others along out of the same trouble (see the entry "desenrascar" in Lexicoteca Moderno Dicionario da Lingua Portuguesa, vol. 1, Circulo de Leitores, Lisboa, 1985, p. 770: 'to de-entangle what was "enrascado"' and (pop) 'to get out of trouble'). When talking about their time in service or instruction, the military often say A tropa manda desenrascar (The army orders you to apply desenrascano). [edit]

Near equivalents in other cultures

Desenrascano is vaguely similar to the English-language concept of a hack, the French systme D or dbrouillardise, the Spanish chapuza or the German durchwurschteln, though each of these has different nuances. The concept of Bush technology used by Australian field geologists is perhaps the most accurate equivalent. Used to work in harsh conditions, where the proper tools can be several thousands of kilometers away, these geologists often repair cars and create useful devices with whatever they find available. The Australian road-builder and adventurer Len Beadell wrote several chronicles relating his experiences in the outback, often featuring the use of bush technologies. [edit]

Desenrascano at the office

Fixing air-conditioning equipment outside a building in Portugal The fact is that it is fairly common for Portuguese employees (to give an example) to work with inadequate tools or simply with no tools at all, because some employers refuse to supply them. This leads to situations like the one pictured above where a man is forced to hang out off a window to fix air-conditioning equipment. This "desenrascano" ou "desenrasco" (another commo word for desenrascano) is indeed the ability to solve problems in very adverse conditions, and portuguese are forced to be good at it. Many of the portuguese inventions in the Geneva Inventions Exhibition are an example of how desenrascano is used to create new tools that are typically cheaper. [edit]

'Desenrascano' and the "Art of Muddling Through"

There are similarities between desenrascano and "muddling through", see Lindeblom, C.E. (1959), The Science of Muddling Through, Public Administration Review, Spring, pp. 79-88 and Lindeblom, C.E. (1979), Still Muddling Not Yet Through, Public Administration Review, Nov/Dec, pp. 517-526. Lindblom description of management as "Muddling Through" is very similar to the portuguese notion of "desenrascano", to manage by one self (by cunning and possibly previous experience more than mere trial and error) a way out of dire situations. Lindblom is claimed to have been precursor of Quinn's notion of logical incrementalism (Quinn, James Brian (1978) Strategic Change as 'Logical Incrementalism', Sloan Management Review, Fall, pp.7-21. [edit]

Examples of 'Desenrascano'
Although being a fictional american TV show character, MacGyver is a good example of 'Desenrascano'. Whenever he finds himself in a jam (entanglement/'Enrascano') he always manages to escape and to make the best of the situation using whatever items are at hand, e.g. using duct tape as a temporary solution to hold things together (things that usually would need welding or screwing).


See also

Sebastianism Culture of Portugal Portugal

Retrieved from ""

Related Interests