If it's August 11 in Brazil, law school students from São Paulo will be eating very well and then refusing to pay the bill. This is the Dia do Pindura (Free-Loading Day), an old tradition that brings a rush of excitement to students, leaves most restaurant owners livid with rage and lands a few freeloaders in jail.
This year, however, the postponing of the beginning of classes for August 17, due to the swine flue epidemics, has hurt the prank's organizers.
Traditionally, students gather in the best restaurants they can find for lunch or dinner, eat and drink to their hearts content and at the end refuse to pay the bill. As payment they limit to sing: Waiter, take back the bill / And put a smile in your face / It would be too greedy / Charge us on August 11 ( "Garçom, tira a conta da mesa / E ponha um sorriso no rosto / Seria muita avareza / Cobrar no 11 de agosto").
Tradition also has that the pranksters are supposed to dish out 10% of the bill to cover tips. The students then leave a letter signed by their Academic Center so that the restaurant can use this to prevent other students from also eating there for free.Â
August 11 marks the day in 1827 when Brazilian Emperor Dom Pedro I created the first Law courses in Brazil, in São Paulo's Largo de São Francisco, where the Law School remains until today, now part of the University of São Paulo (USP).
The free-loading tradition started 76 year later, when in another August 11, the Law School's August 11 Academic Center was brought about. The date is now celebrated not only as Lawyer's Day, but also Waiter's Day.
According to Raphael Lavez, the August 11 Academic Center's director, there was a good reason for the free-loading when the tradition started: "In the 19th century, the city of São Paulo was still very provincial and the Law School was very important for downtown where it was located. Restaurants invited students to eat for free this day, willing to maintain a good relation with them, knowing that most of them would hold high offices in government."
Lavez advises students to look for a five-star restaurant. The Academic Center has its own guide to keep the tradition going. One of the recommendations is to order the most expensive plate or the one with the most exotic or longest name. It also talks about the different kinds of free-loading.
There's the wild one, in which the students after eating leave their official letter on the table and run away. Then there's the diplomatic event with a previous understanding between restaurant owner and students about the caper. Finally, in the traditional way, students eat, sing their little verses and deliver the Center's letter.
Students are advised to have the money to pay the bill even if they don't pay it. That's because the antic counts on a loophole in the Penal Code's Article 176, which allows a person to use the services of a restaurant without paying for them as long as he has enough money to pay his bill.
Some São Paulo's restaurants have created policies to avoid being victim of a free-loading prank. O Gato Que Ri, P.J. Clarke and Salve Jorge, among others, have put up posters warning they will not take part of the caper no matter what.
Others, even unhappy, try to accommodate the tradition establishing a quota to receive a few students every year. Many complain that the free-loading tradition got out of hand and that most of the students are not from the USP's Law School.
The restaurant chain Outback, for example, will only take students with a reservation. Another chain, Fogo de Chão, gives way 100 free lunches to their best clients who have children in Law school.Â
At Applebee's when they suspect the table is full of freeloaders they require that the payment of the meal be made before the food is prepared. Their explanation: "We know it's not right to pre-judge people, but it's also not right what they do to us."
Many restaurants would do anything not to have to involve the police. What they found out is that often going to the police station is useless. It's very common in Brazil that the police chief is a lawyer. And many of them will side with the youngsters, since they have participated in these free-loading pranks themselves when they were students.