By Stephen Thompson
If, like me, you have been living in Brazil for a while, you may be surprised by how much things have changed back home while you were away. But you maybe even more surprised to find how much you have been changed by your time in Brazil.

Like Rumplestiltskin who went to sleep for a hundred years and woke up to find all his friends were long gone, Brazil marks time in a pleasant slumber while the rest of the world is racing ahead technologically and economically. In the United Kingdom, prices are falling and credit is booming, while broadband Internet, wireless and new generation cellphones are leading the new dot-com boom.

I was shocked to find how much prices have fallen in the United Kingdom since I’ve gone. For example, five years ago when I moved to Brazil, broadband Internet access was cheaper and almost as fast in São Paulo but it was in London. Now, broadband access is cheaper in London, and speeds are 10 to 20 times faster than in São Paulo. Over 50% of retail shopping is now done on the Internet in the United Kingdom, and cutthroat competition between the large retail stores has driven down prices for all households and electronic goods.

Credit is easier and easier to get here, and personal insolvency is booming.

I have just started buying a new house in Stratford, London, the size of the new Olympic Stadium for the Games of 2012. It was much easier and cheaper to get a mortgage than seven years ago, when I bought my last house.

I furnished the house at Ikea, who gave me a Store Card with low interest and easy repayment terms. Ikea makes furnishing a house much easier, but it will never take off in Brazil, maybe because Brazilians are too lazy to assemble furniture! (Just joking)

I was able to buy cutlery, crockery, curtains and blinds and other soft furnishings all for a fraction of the price I would have paid in São Paulo.

One thing I always miss in São Paulo is a large integrated transport network of underground and overground trains and buses. Here in London, it’s possible to travel around the city all day for a fixed price, which is impossible in São Paulo. And electronic tickets have been introduced, which automatically work out how much you have paid and stop charging you if you have reached a certain number of trips. This is much more efficient and comprehensive than the new bilhete unico in São Paulo.

I always like walking around London, on good-quality pavements, which in São Paulo are full of holes, steps, and the garage exits. However, there is a crime wave going on, with the thieves snatching mobile phones and iPods, and muggings have increased 50% in the last two years.

However, the London weather is still lousy and there are very few restaurants which are both cheap and good for lunch. After a couple of weeks, I found myself longing for a Brazilian Kilo Restaurant, moaning about the sourness of the fruit, and wishing I could go to the beach for a long bank holiday. Brazil has 16 public holidays scattered around the year, whereas England has only eight, with only one between June and Christmas.

Walking around London, I found myself wanting to talk to strangers. Whereas this is normal in São Paulo, in London it’s usually a sign of mental illness. Stuck in a queue at the checkout, I felt relieved to talk to someone when a lady behind me asked about my porridge oats. She then proceeded to ask me about all my other shopping, by which time I was glad to pay and get out of the shop.

Informality and friendliness, hallmarks of Brazilian culture, are less common in England. In São Paulo, it’s common to ask a shopkeeper if you can use his telephone but I wouldn’t dream of doing this in London. It can also be difficult to find somewhere to go to the toilet in London, whereas this is never a problem in São Paulo.

Brazilian culture is more and more popular in London, partly due to the ever-growing Brazilian community. I have lost count of the number of glossy bilingual magazines and newspapers, full of news from Brazil, as well as listings and reviews of the latest shows of Brazilian bands and movies in London. Sometimes I think it’s easier to keep up with Brazilian culture here than in Brazil. These magazines also publish tourist features about exotic locations in Brazil, many of which I haven’t been to, with eco-friendly ethnic tour guides leading the way.

Salsa is the hottest Latin dance here in London, with almost every other pub offering dance classes and Latin nights. How strange it is the Londoners seem to like dancing more than Brazilians. When I emigrated to Brazil, I imagine that my life would be one long endless Samba Party, a 12 month Carnival, but dancing in Brazil is mainly restricted to the poor, black people and favela dwellers, except at carnival time. In the West, it’s exactly the poorer, blacker Brazilian culture, including Capoeira, which is most popular.

Stephen Thompson runs O Gaucho”, a snack bar serving breakfast, juices, smoothies and sandwiches. Galeria 2001, 2001 Avenida Paulista, São Paulo. For an English menu contact stephenthompson@hotmail.com

To read previous articles by Stephen click the links below:

Brazil: The Legal System
Brazil: Saying Goodbye to a Bilingual Kid
How to get Brazilian Citizenship
Getting Work in Brazil
Acquiring and Running a Small Business in Brazil
Brazil: To Free Or Not To Free
Brazil: Trail Biking in Chapada Diamantinha
Brazil: So Near, but So Far Apart
How to Get Into University in Brazil
The Pleasure of Driving a Car in Brazil
Brazil: The Bairro of Flamengo in Ro de Janeiro
Brazil: The Information Technology Law
Managing a Brazilian bank account
Brazil’s Middle Class Ruled By Political Apathy

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