Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Last Blog Post!

I flirted with the idea of changing this blog a while ago, when it dawned on me my observations on Brazilian culture are mostly filtered through my time here in Latin America’s second largest city, Sao Paulo. So I wanted a name that reflected this.
david-bowie-changes-resized-600I decided on ‘What About Sao Paulo’ when thinking about how often I’m explaining my decision to live in this city to Brazilians here. I’m aware that as a foreigner many expect me to want to live in Rio, lured by its obvious beauty and laid back lifestyle. Sao Paulo on the other hand is pretty damn ugly, prompting a lot of people to ask me what the hell I’m still doing here when I could be living somewhere much more beautiful!
On reflection this is a pretty good question, given that I never intended to even visit the city at all...let alone live here!
Back in 2009 I was planning my trip to Brazil with my friend Kazu and we were ready to skip coming here altogether. “What about this Sao Paulo?” he asked before showing me the chapter on it in his Brazilian guide book. I really wasn’t impressed by the bland looking skyscrapers I was looking at.  “Nah” I responded quite flippantly, “I mean, it just looks like any other city, doesn’t it? Why the hell would we want to go to Sao Paulo?” No sooner had I said this than Kazu was taking a second look at the picture for himself. “You’re right” he conceded reluctantly before flicking on to the next chapter.
In hindsight the reason I dismissed visiting Sao Paulo so quickly was because it just wasn’t the Brazil I wanted to buy into. When I used to think about Brazil before my first trip here, it was the picture perfect beaches, wildlife and nature that came to mind. It wasn’t a city cased in layer upon layer of concrete. Skipping it on my trip was a total no-brainer for me because I had no great desire to come and see it; not with all the other locations Brazil had to offer.
Yet as the bus journey from Rio to the Iguazu Falls was going to take almost a full day, we ended up splitting up the trip with a stopover in Sao Paulo anyway. After sampling some of the city’s nightlife on my first night here I realised that there was so much more to the city than I’d anticipated, and it intrigued me.
There is a real vibrancy to Sao Paulo; it is chaotic, sprawling and exciting. I knew that it definitely wasn’t somewhere you can fully appreciate in a few days. As I considered this on the bus to the falls, a seed had been planted. It was one that would later grow into full blown intrigue about how I’d fare in Sao Paulo on a more permanent basis.
Four years on I’m still enjoying the chaos of life amongst the concrete, and am hoping my new blog can persuade you all this city really isn't the armpit of Brazil.
The blog will still contain my usual dissections of Brazilian culture from a foreigner’s perspective, but will also come with the occasional focus on city life. So if you’re thinking of coming over to Brazil and find yourself asking ‘what about Sao Paulo?’, hopefully my new blog will go some way to convince you that the trip is worth it!
I’ve been assured that the new site is much more user-friendly too. So don’t be shy; any feedback or comments on it would be much appreciated.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Encounters In Rio....Of The British Kind!

At the end of December last year I took a trip over to Rio, where I spent Christmas day with some friends relaxing on Ipanema beach. With each visit to this beach I find myself in awe of its beauty, and on this day this was further enhanced by a spectacular sunset.  As the sun began to dip behind the sea it projected an array of enchanting colours into the sky, and I sat back to fully appreciate it. I couldn't help but think that this was a perfect end to a very relaxing Christmas day…

That was, until I heard The Voice behind me.
The sunset I'm talking about, Christmas Day 2013! Picture courtesy of Ursa Krenk 

 “Steve, look at this view. It’s fuckin gorgeous!”

I immediately recognized this accent as being British, and it was moving ever closer to where I was sat. With one hell of a view in front of me, I instinctively tried to block The Voice from my mind (A little bit like when you hear a mosquito in your room and you’re almost asleep) but this was to prove almost impossible.

“I’m off to get a picture to send to our mates at home!” she announced. “They’ll be well fuckin jealous of this!”

I curiously turned around to see who this rather coarse voice belonged to, and soon found myself locking eyes with a woman sporting a Miley Cyrus-inspired, peroxide bob. If I were to extract personality from this first look, I’d say she was the type of woman you’d imagine up first on a Bucking Bronco whilst on a hen weekend in Blackpool. For a slender woman, there was something pretty loud about her demeanour.

"Look at that” she instructed to me, gesturing over at the sunset (pointing with the hand that was already clutching a can of lager and cigarette). “Just look at it” she repeated. “It’s fuckin gorgeous, innit!” 

After having a conversation in which she discovered that I was also British, she seemed encouraged to further engage in conversation with me.

My serene moment was no more!

“I’m taking a picture for me mates back home. They can’t believe I’m down the beach on Christmas day. It’s fuckin freezing over there”.

I felt a little uneasy that I was sharing some sort of camaraderie with this woman, but at the same time, equally quite fascinated by her. 

“But I’ll tell you this right; I had the worst Christmas dinner of my life here today.

“Oh” I said, genuinely intrigued. “And what did you have?”

“Well” she sighed quite dramatically before sucking on her cigarette. After expelling the smoke over her left shoulder she continued.

“I went to a place called Gringo’s CafĂ©, cos Gringo means foreign in Brazilian. And cos it’s a place for foreigners I imagined they’d do a proper Christmas dinner. You know, turkey, veg, the works".

"Well, we got there and I asked about the Christmas dinner. Get this, they said the only turkey they had was in the turkey burgers. SERVING TURKEY BURGERS, ON CHRISTMAS DAY! Can you fuckin believe it?”

I was about to respond but realised she wasn't really asking me a question.

“So after ordering the burgers I said to our Steve, I said ‘Steve can you believe we’re gonna have turkey burgers on Christmas day?”

By now the sun was close to setting, people were up on their feet and the intense glow radiating from the evening sky looked absolutely stunning. And there I was talking about turkey burgers.

“And you’ll never guess what the burger came with?” she asked. “ CHIPS! Imagine having chips with your fuckin Christmas dinner!”

“Chips...for your Christmas dinner?”

I surprised myself here because I wasn't expecting myself to sound quite as sympathetic as I did.

“And that weren’t the worst part neither, they put these little sachets out on our table, I opened one thinking it was salt and then sprinkled it on me chips. Only it weren’t salt, were it? It were fuckin sugar. So I had turkey burger and sweet fuckin chips for me dinner. Well, I still can’t believe it!

She then took another drag of her cigarette and contemplated my face as she did so. “What did you have?”

“I just had the chicken salad my friend brought here” I said, gesturing over to a cool box that used to be full of food. The woman looked at me in surprise, perhaps because I hadn't had so much as a turkey burger on this sacred day.

“Oh right” she responded quite suspiciously, before dropping the end of her cigarette on the beach, taking a swig of beer from her can and wishing me a merry Christmas. Then she swiftly left, leaving me feeling almost baffled by our encounter.

Why did I feel like this? Well, what I was going to eat for Christmas dinner hadn't actually crossed my mind until this woman asked me about it on the beach. Having spent the majority of my adult life living abroad, over the years what I eat on Christmas day has become less of a big deal to me.

Since this conversation then, I've been wondering what other culturally significant things have gradually began to escape me. I've been told that my regional accent is weakening, I rarely drink tea and I can't remember the last time I celebrated November 5th....and now the following questions have begun to corkscrew their way into my mind...
What else have I forgotten about? 
Was I being a bad Brit for eating a chicken salad for my Christmas dinner? 
Am I slowly starting to lose my British identity? 
Is it normal to question things like this after living away for so long?

So after thinking about it for some time I've decided that this year will be different. This year I'll be damned if I'm not eating AT LEAST a bit of turkey come Christmas day 2014; even if it this turkey has to come in the form of a 'fuckin' turkey burger!

If you like the sunset picture above, be sure to check out my friend Ursa Krenk's blog right here:   

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Three Things That Brazilians Can (Probably) Do Better Than You

For my first post of 2014 I've decided to write a tongue-in-cheek account of very subtle things Brazilians excel at in comparison to us Brits. Let me know what you think!

#1 Queuing

“I know what you will say about Brazil when you get back to England” joked my Brazilian friend last year. “People will ask ‘was your favourite thing about being in Brazil….the beaches?’ and you will say ‘No!’

‘What about the women?’


‘Was it the parties?’


‘The weather?’ Then you will look at them, smile and say, ‘My favourite thing about Brazil were the lines. Like a Brazilian, now I just love waiting in lines!”

Before moving to Brazil I assumed that Brits were amazing at standing in queues, after all, it’s something we pride ourselves on. 'Brits know how to queue' I used to tell myself. But over here people have an unbelievably high tolerance for queues, more so than back home.

A few weeks ago I waited in line 50 minutes to get into a night club, then once inside I waited another 25 minutes in line to get some drinks tokens. After I’d bought these, I then waited 10 minutes to get served by the barman. I was then REALLY surprised when I walked over to the dance floor and found that the people there were not dancing in a line! 

Why was I surprised? Because Brazilians absolutely love lines. In fact, I'm pretty sure that most of the time they join lines just for the fun of it, without knowing what is at the front.

But do you know what, it isn’t only their love of lines that raise a few eyebrows from me, it’s the amount of unchallenged pushing in that goes on in them too.

“Oh no, we wouldn't say anything” have said many of my friends when I've asked them why they let people queue jump. “It’s just not worth it. I guess it’s not our way of doing things”. 

Brazilians might look incredibly passionate and feisty whenever the cameras are on them during international football matches, but stick these same people in a long queue with a few people pushing in, and they're likely to say nothing. Queues and pushers-in are like Kryptonite for Brazilians, for whatever reason they just grin and bear them.

For this reason, Brazilians are (probably) better at queuing than you are!

#2 Pictures

“Excuse me, can you take my picture?” Asked a solitary Brazilian women once when I was on holiday in Rio. Before I’d had the chance to oblige I’d been handed a camera and instructed on where I should point it.

“It’s that big button on top” this women smiled optimistically.

“Alright” I said, now focusing on the little screen in front of me. “In three…”

After hearing the beginning of the countdown this woman turned her body to a 45 degree angle and tossed her long, brown locks over her left shoulder.


A hand was then placed on her hip, showcasing five perfectly polished and preened nails.


This woman’s lips were then pursed into one hell of a pout.


After taking the picture I showed it to her and she contemplated it for a moment. She then told me she wasn’t very pleased with it (I've since learnt that Brazilian women are never very pleased with the first picture taken of them), and she asked me to take another. 

The reason I found this so intriguing was because the women I know from back home would never dream of asking someone to take their picture and then pose like they’re on a shoot for America’s Next Top Model; let alone ask for a second like this. 

In comparison, British women seem much more inhibited when it comes to having a camera in their faces, a little more awkward. Brits would probably only ask a stranger for another picture if they’d blinked or unwittingly displayed a double chin; and they definitely wouldn't channel their inner Gisele for the shot. But women over here seem much more comfortable with having their picture taken, they really go for it!

For this reason, Brazilian women are (probably) better at having their picture taken than you!

#3 Ali G Impersonations

People in Brazil are pretty expressive, if they’re not hugging you they’re kissing you or punctuating what they’re saying with plenty of gestures. For example, if you ask any Brazilian to tell you about a time they were in a crowded place, it has been scientifically proven that they will feel compelled to do so by turning their palms up, squeezing their fingers together, relaxing them for a moment and then squeezing them together again. “It was just so busy” they will tell you...mid crab impersonation!

My favourite Brazilian gesture is not this one though, it is one Ali G made popular in the UK back in the ‘90’s. When he was pleased about something he used to hold his thumb and middle finger together, then whip his index finger back and forth to make a clicking noise. “Respect” he used to say, usually against the backdrop of a laughter track.

When the character of Ali G eventually wore thin, the public tired of this finger clicking fad and it died out.

But it was never an Ali G thing over in Brazil.

I was once in a Portuguese class when I surprised myself by being able to bust out one of the complicated sentence structures I’d been practicing the week before. “Yes Andrew” encouraged my elderly teacher, “yes!” And to show just how pleased he was, he whipped his fingers back and forth (just like Willow Smith does with her hair). 

I was as mesmorised at what I was seeing as I was impressed. You see, I can’t do it. When I try it sometimes happens but I can’t do it on cue, not like a Brazilian can. And when I say ‘a Brazilian’ I am deliberately including ALL Brazilians. Male, female, young and old....I have yet to meet a Brazilian that can’t do it!

And for this reason, Brazilians are (probably) better at Ali G impersonations than you!