Category Archives: Culture

Home sweet home

View from Tammy’s apartment complex

Somehow my first two weeks in Sao Paulo are over, which means so is my Airbnb stay with Tammy. I think I originally tried to give myself credit for making the brilliant decision to find a place through Airbnb, but in all reality, I just lucked out to have such an excellent host as Tammy. Yesterday was my last day staying with her, and I was very sad to leave!

IMG_1823In addition to the critical fact that all of her previous residents had only the most positive things to say about Tammy herself, I chose Tammy’s listing because of its proximity to Paulista and a metro station, the fact that it has its own gym, and the constant presence of a “porteiro” or doorman for enhanced security. The irony of this last is that, at least initially, the porteiro did a better job of keeping me in than non-residents out. What do you say, especially when your language skills are poor, to a doorman you can’t even see?

And so, I was terrified of leaving and not knowing what to say over an intercom to get back in. When I left the apartment alone for the first time, I felt like I was sneaking out furtively, hoping I could somehow con my way back in. My fears were far from assuaged when I returned later that first day and pushed the little blue button at the first gate. A few seconds later, a man’s voice mumbled something to me through the speaker. Without being able to see the person I was talking to, I felt at a loss for what to say to make myself understood. I attempted some Portunhol iteration of, “I’m staying with Tammy on the 11th floor,” but this only elicited more uninterpretable (to me at least) questions. Eventually I seemed to have provided enough information to enter, and I smiled and nodded, “Boa noite, obrigada” at an opaque window as I passed through a second gate.

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Second first impressions


I should have already known from my previous travels, but I figured out earlier this week why last Sunday the major shopping districts looked so bereft of shops. Much like in Seville, when stores here are closed, a garage-door like contraption is rolled over the storefront, such that the name of the store is also often hidden. To any gringo passing by on a Sunday morning, it would look like rows of abandoned, graffitied garages, punctuated by the occasional cellphone service store. But walk down Rua Augusta on a Monday, or even a
Saturday, and suddenly the streets are lined with colorful shoe stores, chocolate shops, stores selling pirated CDs, and movie theaters. I was especially excited when a friend showed me Livraria Cultura, one of the best bookstores in the country (but apparently not even Sao Paulo’s most beautiful), where people stay for hours simply to read. During the week, the casually attired Sunday crew is replaced with suited businessmen walking together in droves, and there is not a fluffy dog in sight. No matter the day, however, there always seem to be clusters of teenage boys, doing tricks on their skateboards, while narrowly dodging pedestrians.

Best bookstore in town!

As much as I enjoy a lazy Sunday morning, I’ll admit I was relieved to see the city come alive. I’ve wanted to at least experience living in a city for a while now (Tammy pointed out that I chose quite the city!), and I was a little disappointed at first when I thought Av. Paulista’s offerings were confined to banks and office buildings. On the other hand, I’m sure after a month here, the slightly slower-paced Sundays will be a welcome reprieve! In accord with the Paulistanho stereotype, people here do seem to work long hours; Tammy and Ricardo, who are in finance/consulting often work as late as 10pm and bring work home over the weekend, and the lawyers taking a 7pm English class I was observing, returned to work at 8pm after class. Several people have also mentioned to me that, while the process may not always be altogether efficient, Paulistanhos love organization and lines and, for example, will line up for a flight an hour before it begins boarding. The work culture might be a little different and, some might argue, less efficient than in the US and I can’t yet confirm whether many Brazilians conduct their business over hours-long lunches, but it’s clear to me that Sao Paulo, or Sampa, as it’s affectionately known, is a hard-working, business-driven city.

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Cheese, Glorious Cheese

Borat would have been impressed
Borat would be shocked

It’s really impressive that I’ve made it this long without talking about food! I am even more surprised to find that there is a country in the Americas that appreciates cheese more than the US. In my extensive four-day experience here (I have a feeling there will be lots of food updates in my blogging future) I have found that, if it can be done, cheese, or queijo, will be baked or injected into every snack or meal. Many kinds are available, but the ubiquitous queijo here is Catupiry, a mild, creamy cheese, ideal for its chameleon-like abilities.

My short history with coxinha: my attempts (left) vs. the real deal
My short history with coxinha: my attempts (left) vs. the real deal (right)

I tried my first Brazilian snack or salgadinho at Ana’s house a month or so ago. As an appetizer, she had made coxinhas, which are fried drumstick-shaped balls of dough, filled with shredded chicken and catupiry. Piping hot and dipped in hot sauce, how could I not instantly fall in love? I learned the hard way when I made them for my Brazilian party though, that they are also quite time intensive, so I was excited to get to Brazil where I could leave it to the experts. Needless to say, a giant coxinha was an integral part of my first meal here at Bella Paulista. The other component of my first “meal” was pão de queijo. These are, of course, made mainly from cheese (although not catupiry) and cassava flour, making it the ideal healthy gluten free snack, in much the same way that nutella is a healthy part of this complete breakfast. My pão de queijo was served with another white cheese grilled on top, and of course, the first breakfast I ate was parmesan-cheese encrusted bread, smothered in grilled cheese. I am not complaining (queixando?! If only that x were a j, that would be much more clever).

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Welcome to the Jungle

I will admit that my first day here made me a little more nervous about finding my way around than I wanted to let on. I kept telling myself that I’ve been fine navigating all sorts of other major world cities, even Seoul, where I couldn’t read signs or talk to anyone, but that didn’t make me feel any better. I think a major difference with Sao Paulo is that I’ve heard from so many Brazilians how careful I need to be—don’t use your iPhone to take pictures, don’t wear sunglasses on your head, be wary of people walking too fast or too slow, always carry R$20 so that the homeless people won’t shoot you. It’s enough to make anyone feel a little bit paralyzed. In the midst of North America’s summer I had also blissfully forgotten that with the winter season comes early darkness. By the time I woke up from my nap/haze on Saturday around 6pm, it was dark outside, and I was petrified of venturing out alone.

Sugar is much more fun here

Things shifted yesterday though thanks to my Airbnb host, Tammy. I had hoped staying in an Airbnb might be a great way to meet people, get to know the city and maybe even make a friend. For once, I was not wrong. Tammy has lived in Florida as well as London, so perhaps she understands what it’s like to be a foreigner in a strange new place or she is just a really understanding, patient person—probably both. Yesterday morning she brought me to a nearby bakery, and she made sure to point out again the direction we had come from to get there, even though the apartment is nearly visible from the bakery. These are the types of kindnesses I seriously appreciate but am usually too embarrassed to ask for.

Tammy is now a Blue Devil!

Tammy’s apartment is in a high rise located on what looks to be almost a back road, but it’s actually in a neighborhood in the center of the city (Bela Vista) and just half a mile away or so from Avenida Paulista, Sao Paulo’s answer to Saks fifth and Michigan Ave. Stela told me that I can find any cute brand name article I could possibly desire on Paulista and then simply go to the cross street Rua Augusta to buy the knock-off. Walking along both these streets with Tammy yesterday though, I never would have guessed that there is shopping on either of these streets. There were no shop windows, few pedestrians, and it was hard to believe on a sleepy Sunday morning that this was the center of the city, never mind a major shopping district.

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Can you take it with you?


Prepared for anything: Type N (top) and Universal
Prepared for anything: Type N (top) and Universal

Moving somewhere—anywhere really, but especially a foreign country—forces you to think about what you really need, and I am not talking about my family and friends this time (although I need you too!). No. I’m talking about things. How can I maintain some level of comfort without trying to bring my whole country and way of life to Brazil? To start with, I’ve been trying to read about what adapters to buy and whether I need a converter. However, apparently every state in Brazil uses a different voltage and a different plug type. Supposedly, the country is trying to standardize to type N power sockets (which of course is only used in Brazil and South Africa, so universal adapters are of no use), but for now it’s a mixed bag. I think the voltage is the same as the US (127/220V), but if I’m wrong, I will find out immediately when I blow out my hair straightener…

The other main thing I’m worried about is water. I have heard it’s not the best idea to drink unfiltered Sao Paulo water, and I normally drink several liters of water a day when I have the time. I think a lot of places just have filters on the tap, but I can’t assume that that will be the case everywhere I stay, and I know I will be really unhappy if I can’t drink as much water as I want. Never having been there, I can’t decide if a Brita filter or water bottle would be worth it.

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