One Year Later: Ten Things That Have Surprised Me In Sampa



Break out the brigadeiro — Tropical Smog turns one year old today! In honor of this milestone, I’m reflecting on the things that have surprised me about São Paulo.

I’ll be honest, when I moved here I wasn’t expecting a huge culture shock, mainly because I had been to Brazil before for study and volunteer work (although it was Salvador and Minas Gerais) and my whole life I have regularly visited Mexico City, another Latin American megalopolis. I was a bit smug and thought, I already know the deal here. I know to throw toilet paper in the trash and to never rely on the pedestrian’s right of way. I know that novelas are a big deal here and that arriving half an hour late is practically arriving early. I don’t have to adjust so much like the other Americans here. And it’s true, I haven’t experienced a huge culture shock. But I’ve found there are little things that strike me every now and then. After all, I may be experienced, but I’m still a foreigner.

1. People are not patriotic. In fact, people tend to put Brazil down and assume elsewhere is better. This took me by surprise because I’ve never met a Brazilian in the U.S. who wasn’t the proud owner of at least several yellow and green shirts. But those are Brazilians in the U.S. Here, the only time I’ve witnessed overwhelming pride is during the World Cup when Brazil plays. But once they lose, Brazilians are back to what’s called their complexo de vira-lata, or mutt complex.

Right before the Germany vs Brazil game, while Brazilian patriotism could still be felt.

Right before the Germany vs Brazil game, while Brazilian patriotism could still be felt.

2. There are so many holidays. I used to think the holiday season was from Christmas to Carnaval. Nope, there are holidays all year long. Often times people barely remember what they’re for, they just know it’s an excuse to skip town and go to the beach. And unlike the U.S., where public holidays will fall on a Monday so there’ll be a three day weekend, holidays will be any day of the week. If that day is say, a Wednesday, there’s a good chance public offices won’t be open on Thursday or Friday either. And yes, days Brazil plays in the World Cup count as holidays.

3. Things are so expensive. I’ve wondered how stores like the Apple store stay in business because anyone who has enough money to pay the exorbitant Brazilian price for an iPhone has enough money to fly to the U.S. and get one cheaper. Even domestic made products are expensive and they seem to not last that long. It makes sense why just about everything can be paid in installments.

4. There doesn’t seem to be a set time for TV shows. Globo always advertises its programming as “after the novela” or “after the news.” I get they want you to sit and watch the whole block of shows, but I find it weird that sometimes the news will be on at 11:30 one night and 1 AM the next.

5. Cleaning products confuse and overwhelm me. I took for granted the knowledge I had in the U.S., like knowing that Tide is the best for clothes just because it’s what I grew up with. Here I have no idea how to distinguish between the good products and the crappy ones. Yes, that spray smells like flowers, but what does it do to your house? Cleaning has never been my strong suit, but I’ve found myself researching more natural methods of cleaning. At least vinegar is the same in both the U.S. and Brazil.

6. There are green spaces here. São Paulo is characterized as a gray, concrete jungle, but there are many pockets of green spaces, and not just in places like Ibirapuera or Parque Villalobos. I’m still in awe that there’s a banana tree across the street from me.

Outside of MASP

Outside of MASP

7. Dogs are extremely popular here. I thought the U.S. had the monopoly on being dog-crazy, but Brazil is as well. I’ve seen 24-hour pet shops or grooming services that pick up and return your dog. The best thing I’ve seen so far is a free veterinarian clinic for low-income residents with pets.

8. I’ve developed a deeper appreciation for Japanese food. I tend to do a lot of grocery shopping in Liberdade since it tends to be cheaper, and it’s opened me up to a whole new world. Foreigners tend to wax poetic over the fruit in Brazil, but I’m more amazed at how many different things you can pickle, or the immense difference between real and fake wasabi. I never thought I’d have a preference for a particular brand of soy sauce, but there you go.

My regulars: fresh tofu, sesame seed oil, loose leaf assam tea. soy sauce, wasabi dressing, shimeji mushrooms, fresh udon noodles and green onions

My Liberdade staples, including the best soy sauce I’ve tasted.

9. There are English schools everywhere but very few English speakers. Like fast food restaurants, there are various English school franchises with what seems to be at least one location per block, but the number of English speakers are far and few between. This reflects more on the schools than the people. Interestingly, many of these schools are sponsors of professional soccer teams.

10. Paulistanos are friendly. São Paulo has the stereotype of being full of people who are only focused on working hard and are a bit cold, and maybe that’s true by Brazilian standards, but judging as an American, I find that people here tend to always have time to chat over a beer, even if they just met you. The other day at a bar, it was someone’s birthday and I was offered cake by a perfect stranger. Why not?



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