Thursday, May 9, 2013

Expatsblog Interview


Late last year I did an interview for expatsblog.com, a site bringing together blogs throughout the world....and I thought I'd share it with you all. 

Andrew is a British guy getting ever closer to being on the wrong side of thirty. A few years ago he spontaneously agreed to a trip to Brazil with his friend...only to find his bosses at the English school he worked at in Japan wouldn't give him the time off he needed. So being the sensible type of guy he is, he quit his job on the spot to travel around a country he knew very little about...and hasn't looked back since. Having spent over two years in Brazil, Andrew blogs about his life and experiences from that Brazilian city most tourists tend to avoid. The city famously plagued by crime, corruption and traffic...yes, that's right; he blogs about Rio De Janiero's ugly yet endearing sister, the city of Sao Paulo! Andrew's blog is called Creelman... does Brazil! (see listing here)

Creelman... does Brazil!

Here's the interview with Andrew...


Where are you originally from?
The town of Northallerton in the UK. 

In which country and city are you living now?
Sao Paulo, Brazil

How long have you lived here and how long are you planning to stay?
I've been living here for about two years. How long am I planning to stay? That is a good question, I guess when my feet start to itch again! 

Why did you move and what do you do?
I came to Brazil on holiday, fell in love with the place and then decided to live over here.

Did you bring family with you?
No, just a suitcase full of clothes and my knackered, old laptop!

How did you find the transition to living in a foreign country?
Having spent four years living in Japan prior to moving to Brazil, I didn't find the transition too difficult in comparison. Having said that I did run into some erm...let's call them challenges! The most interesting of these being with greetings. The Japanese and British aren't nearly as familiar when it comes to acknowledging each other, this meant that I found the kissing and hugging aspect of Brazilian culture quite awkward at first! Actually, when I say quite awkward...what I really mean is very awkward! 

Was it easy making friends and meeting people; do you mainly socialise with other expats?
Meeting people isn't too difficult in a city this size, but making friends was something I found a little harder (I know, get your violins out and play me a sad song please!). Brazilians are pretty friendly by nature though, so after plenty of perseverance and effort (so what I'm really saying is - after wearing
them down!) I now have a small circle of Brazilian friends. I would say I spend an equal amount of time with my expat and Brazilian friends, and there is definitely a big overlap between the two. 

What are the best things to do in the area; anything to recommend to future expats?
There are so many restaurants, bars and clubs in my area that you will rarely be stuck for something to do. For me this has to be the best part of living in Sao Paulo. The city frequently plays host to free parties and events too, and I'm not talking about free knitting classes or tea parties either! I'm talking about local bands or DJ's playing to crowds in local streets or squares. And there are so many options for eating in Sao Paulo...and I LOVE eating! This city is definitely a great place to experience culinary dishes from all over the world.

What do you enjoy most about living here?
As well as the interesting and varied nightlife, I enjoy being in a city that is changing almost daily. There is a real feeling of optimism here, the economy is booming, you just have to look around to see that new buildings are being constructed all the time, as are new subway lines. Sao Paulo is definitely an interesting city to be living in right now. And I've noticed that Brazilians are generally proud of their country. Many are quick to point out that Brazil has its flaws, but on the whole there is a whole lot of love for Brazil from its people. 

Creelman... does Brazil!How does the cost of living compare to home?
Sao Paulo is renowned for being an expensive city, with clothes and electronics in particular being a lot more more expensive than back in the UK. However eating out (bear in mind I am a bit of a tight arse and don't go to expensive places!) is not all that bad. in fact, I eat out most nights because surprisingly, it's not that much more expensive than eating in. 

What negatives, if any, are there to living here?
The infrastructure is pretty poor and travelling anywhere during rush hour can be an absolute nightmare. Crime, pollution and the disorganised nature of the city are all aspects of life you need to face as a resident here. But I'm over these already, you have to be....because focusing on the negatives isn't going to get you very far.

If you could pick one piece of advice to anyone moving here, what would it be?
I would say to give Sao Paulo time. Initially the city is likely to feel big, ugly and occasionally unfriendly. It operates at an unforgiving, high pace, so it may also feel a little overwhelming at times (especially if like me, you aren't used to living in big cities). If you find yourself disliking the city during your first couple of weeks here, don't worry, you won't be the first and definitely won't be the last to feel this way. Sao Paulo will eventually win you over with its charm...you just have to give it time to let it.

What has been the hardest aspect to your expat experience so far?
Probably the inevitable language barrier problem...which I'm working on! 

Creelman... does Brazil!When you finally return home, how do you think you'll cope with repatriation?
Hell no! I was in England for a couple of months last year where I stayed with my parents. To go from one of the largest cities in the world to a tiny village in the north of England was something I just couldn't get used to. You can always find something going on in Sao Paulo at any time of day or night. So readjusting to a life in which the last bus into the centre of town was at 5.30pm, well...it was traumatic! It has made me realise that when I eventually move back home, I will definitely be better suited to a larger city like London or Manchester.

What are your top 5 expat tips for anyone following in your footsteps?
  1. On the beach remember this, less is more...Brazil is probably the only place people will give you funny looks for covering up your body with board shorts or big swimming costumes. It's all about skimpy speedos and bikinis!
  2. Don't take it personally when you give the cashier a large note in a supermarket, and then as you place it in her hand she looks at you like she wants to knock you out! Cashiers NEVER seem to have enough change in their tills here.
  3. You might want to leave Sao Paulo at 5pm on the day before a holiday, but the chances are....so will millions of others. Take into account the inevitable traffic when planning to go anywhere as the public holidays approach.
  4. Brazilian's love kissing and hugging anywhere and everywhere at any given time of day, so try not to look surprised when someone starts kissing passionately as early as 7am on the subway in front of you!

  5. Don't take it personally when you arrange to meet a Brazilian at 8pm and they show up at 8.30pm. The majority of Brazilian's seem to have a completely different concept of time and punctuality!


Creelman... does Brazil!Tell us a bit about your own expat blog.
To start with, I used my blog as a journal to document what I'd been getting up to in Sao Paulo. It later evolved into the blog I write today, where I discuss the aspects of Sao Paulo life I find fascinating, usually in a humorous yet honest way. It seems to appeal to both foreigners who are interested in life in Sao Paulo, and to Sao Paulo based Brazilians who are interested in a foreigners take on their culture. Sao Paulo, and indeed Brazil, never ceases to interest me...so I never seem to be short of things to write about.

How can you be contacted for further advice to future expats coming to your area?
Either through my blog, or through my twitter account @abcreelman. Feel free to contact me with any feedback on my blog or any questions about Sao Paulo!

Andrew blogs at http://creelinbrazil.blogspot.com.br/ which we recommend a quick visit if you haven't been already. Creelman... does Brazil! has an ExpatsBlog.com listing here so add a review if you like! 

To check out this interview on the website, click on this link:  http://www.expatsblog.com/articles/1378/british-expat-in-brazil-interview-andrew

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

What Do Brazilian Women Actually Look Like?

A few weeks ago I blogged about the stereotypes commonly surrounding crime in Brazil; and in keeping with the theme of Brazilian stereotypes, I plan to spend the next few blog posts focusing on another of Brazil's enigmas...its women.

(Takes a deep breath, cracks knuckles and stretches)

Right, let's do this!


My inspiration for wanting to write about Brazilian women came from a party I was at recently, where I was introduced to a friend of a friend. After she'd discovered I was from the UK, this woman was quite keen to tell me about her time studying in London. The conversation progressed from places she'd visited, to British indie bands she liked.….where she reeled off a list of bands that, unfortunately, I’d never heard of.

“I love Alt-J” she said with such a contagious enthusiasm that I found myself declaring my love for them too, despite having never heard of them. “Imagine naming yourself after two keys on a keyboard” I thought, as she then told me about other British bands she liked, many of whom again I'd never heard of. 

The mood then became a little more serious when she explained that there was one thing she thought was strange about the time she'd spent living in the UK. “People were often surprised when I told them that I was Brazilian. ‘But you’re so pale!’ they used to say. One guy even made me show him my passport to prove I really was from here. He thought I looked too white to be Brazilian”.

I'm gonna hold my hands up now and admit that I can understand why someone from the UK might have wondered this. As I looked at her again, one thing that struck me was that she really didn't look like those images of the Brazilian woman we are offered in the media back home. In fact, her dyed black hair really seemed to accentuate the marble whiteness of her skin to such an extent, that she looked more Morticia Adams than she did carnival queen.

After sighing, I asked “they really didn't believe you?”

“That's right” she confirmed, “it’s true”. Finding I’d done right with my first sigh, I did it again, which encouraged her to continue. “I suppose I just don’t look look Brazilian to some people abroad”.

Before coming here, I too assumed women would adhere to the stereotypical image the world is offered around carnival time. This is when the media bombards us with images of sun kissed, curvy women walking along the beaches in Rio; and these images are often posted alongside near-naked carnival queens dancing on top of floats. Do many other types of Brazilian women filter through into our media during the rest of the year, like pale Brazilian girls in their sweaters in the middle of winter? Well none that I remember, but of course...these women still exist here.

"I wish they'd just put some samba on already!"
And this conversation got me thinking; what a shame some people had challenged her on whether she was Brazilian or not.

One thing I appreciate about living here is that the country is so multicultural. It doesn't really have a single ethnic identity because it is made up of a mixture of so many different races and cultures. So for my fellow Brits not to have realised this when talking to this woman is quite disappointing. But is it entirely our fault?

No. I really don't think it is. Especially when you consider that sometimes even Brazilians have trouble picking out other Brazilians from a crowd.

According to one of my Brazilian students of Japanese heritage, down the road in Rio she often encounters locals who assume she’s not Brazilian. “Andrew, whenever I go there so many Cariocas (people from Rio) assume I’m not from Brazil, they speak to me in English and try to charge me extra for things because they think I’m foreign. But then to them I guess I don’t look Brazilian, I look Japanese. But not so many Brazilians of Japanese descent live in Rio”.

This really baffles me because the city of Sao Paulo is home to the largest population of Japanese outside of Japan and is just 220 miles away from Rio.
Liberdade, known as the Japanese district in Sao Paulo.
But then when you look at where immigrants have settled throughout Brazil, they haven't spread evenly throughout the country. For example large communities of Brazilians of African descent can be found towards the north of the country, Brazilians of German descent tend to gravitate towards the south and  there are also (to name just a few) pockets of Italians, Portuguese and Bolivians scattered around Brazil too.

So with such an array of ethnicities then, it goes without saying that women in this country are going to look different depending on where you are.

A few weeks ago I heard about another difference between the Brazilians in different regions. It was one that I'd not really given any thought to...their height.

Tall Brazilian Women

So I was at my friend’s wedding where I got talking to a tall, beautiful woman, with long, dyed-blonde locks. After asking her where she worked, she told me that she spent most of her time in Manaus (a city in the north of Brazil). “ I've been single for so long, and I’m not really in Sao Paulo for long enough to be involved with anyone here. But of course, there’s little chance of me meeting a guy in Manaus…I’m seen as a bit of a freak over there”. At this she tossed her hair over her left shoulder and looked down at the floor, obviously waiting for me to enquire a little further. 

I didn't get it, why would this attractive, tall Brazilian woman find it difficult to find a man to date in the north of the country? Was she looking down at her webbed feet? Was she about to tell me that she was actually a man? Intrigued, I naturally dug a little deeper….in the most subtle way I could think of.

“Eeeeeer….what do you mean?”

“Well” she began without a seconds hesitation, “it’s because I’m so much taller than the majority of the women up there. In fact, the guys in the office have a nickname for me because of my height”. She then paused to look at me with eyes I’d seen once before…on a wounded puppy on the TV show Animal Hospital.

Her voice lowered as she continued, “they call me…the Avatar”.

Fast forward a few seconds later and I really felt bad for laughing. In an attempt to redeem myself though, I immediately managed a serious expression which I felt helped me to look a little more sympathetic.

"Hiya lads, anybody want to take me out
 this Saturday night!?! I'm still free!"
“They don’t do they?” I asked sounding quite concerned, with only a hint of amusement still audible in my voice.

“Yes, 'the big Avatar from Sao Paulo' is my nickname over there. So it’s easier for me to find someone down here, where I’m not so tall”. 

I've not had many dealings with people from the north of Brazil, so I’d not really thought of them as being any smaller than people from the rest of the country. 

So next time you hear about a ‘Brazilian woman’ and the image of a certain type of lady pops into your head…stop for a moment. Brazil is such a huge country with such a rich and diverse ethnic tapestry that although that woman you've just thought of probably lives here; she is likely to be just one of a very large number of women calling Brazil their home.