I went to the Brazilian consulate today for my visa. I got to the window and the lady told me that I need to get the $190 business visa (plus an invitation letter) instead of the $130 tourist visa. I pointed out that the website specifies scientists, researchers, etc. attending professional conferences and that I'm attending an internal meeting of the organization I work for. It didn't fly. So I ended up calling my boss, asking her to contact our colleague in Lyon for a letter, and I trekked on to the post office for the money order. Because, of course, they don't take any other form of payment. And they close at 12:30pm. A high-speed scramble ensued - and then when I returned to the consulate there many more people waiting, a mix between Brazilians and non-Brazilians, all waiting to talk through the bulletproof glass. When I was finally able to drop off my application, the lady tore off a ticket from a huge roll what looked like state fair tickets. What more could I expect from the country that invented Carnival?
Due to the fact that I have not given up my Indian passport, I have to pretty much apply for visas to almost every county I go to. That being said, what you described above is the norm for most consulates all over. Even the US consulate does that all over the world.