Meet Stephanie Early, who moved from the USA to live and work in São Paulo for a year. Read the following interview where she tells us about her most memorable experiences from Brazil and gives some useful advice to newcomers.

1. Tell us a little about yourself, where are you from, what do you do etc.?

I am from outside of Detroit, Michigan, USA. I just graduated from Stanford University in June, with a degree in International Relations. I am currently working at Clifford Chance, an international law firm with a branch in São Paulo, as a paralegal/legal assistant.

2. When did you arrive in Brazil and what brought you here?

I arrived here at the end of July. I decided to come because I had deferred starting law school for a year to work, and was interested in spending that time in South America. I had studied Latin America in college (focusing mostly on Cuba) and had studied abroad in Santiago, Chile, so I knew I definitely wanted to come back to Latin America, preferably South America. Luckily, since I worked at the Center for Latin American Studies at Stanford, I was able to get in contact with an alum who was working at CC in São Paulo, and he helped me get the job here.

3. What were you first impressions of Brazil?

I think a better question for me would be my first impressions of São Paulo, since I haven’t traveled much in Brazil and I don’t think it’s accurate to characterize the whole country based on my impressions of this city. I’d say my initial, one-word impressions right after I got off the plane here were: sprawling, graffiti-laden, gray, and congested. Once I lived here for a few weeks, I’d say the thing that stuck out most to me about SP was its sophistication, especially the wealth of great food and nightlife available.

4. What do you miss most about home?

As goofy as it sounds, I miss the taste of real Diet Coke (Coca light is different somehow, more peppery), being able to go running outside wherever I want (and not be confined to a park or a treadmill), cheap drug store makeup, frozen yogurt, American gossip magazines, the pedestrian right-of-way, and regular installments of the Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

5. What has been your most frustrating experience in Brazil?

Not sure whether this was the MOST frustrating, but one of the most consistently annoying things I have experienced here is shopping. I hate how all the salespeople work on commission and mercilessly harass the innocent shopper. I happen to be a very hands-off” shopper — I like to come into the store, look around, maybe try something on, maybe buy something, and leave. Here in Brazil, salespeople tend to be aggressive to the point of being intimidating/annoying, and it bothers me so much that I dread going to the malls here. I also hate how in a lot of shoe and accessory shops, you can’t even touch the merchandise yourself, and must have a salesperson retrieve it for you. Long story short, I avoid shopping at all costs here.

6. What has been your most memorable experience in Brazil (specific incident)?

I have been here for 5 months so there are a LOT of memorable experiences, but one kind of funny story happened when I was in Rio with my friend Julia on Thanksgiving night. We were with a few other Americans looking for somewhere to have a (turkey-optional) Thanksgiving dinner, and we were walking in Copacabana past a BankBoston with a huge Christmas display, including an animatronic Santa and Mrs. Claus, reindeer, lights, and music. We noticed a lot of people staring up expectantly toward Santa, when suddenly a flurry of fake snow burst from the display, and all the little kids on the street started shrieking with delight and dancing around as the snow fell. It was quite surreal seeing snow falling on people wearing shorts and bikini tops, and it was fun watching little kids awe-struck at the sight of snow, even though it was fake.

7. What do you most like about Brazil (in general)?

I love how generally willing people are to help a confused stranger (like me), I love the food, I love the size and incredible diversity (cultural, physical, ethnic) of the country, and I love how self-contained Brazil is.

8. What is your favorite restaurant/place to hang out here?

Ooh tough question! I try to go to new bars and restaurants every weekend, because there are so many wonderful options here. I’d have to say one of my favorite restaurants is 348, an Argentine parrilla, and one of my favorite bars is KiaOra.

9. Do you have any funny stories/incidents to tell about your time in Brazil?

I think one of the weirdest things that has happened to me here was at the Q Bazaar at the Jockey Club. I was waiting in line to try something on in one of the stores, when a girl who worked there came up and motioned to my friend and me to step out of line. She told us there was another dressing room available in the back that we could use. We were next in line already, but we dutifully followed her to the back of the store, into what appeared to be the stock room, where she told us we could change behind some boxes. Meanwhile, men were walking in and out of the room with boxes to stock and there was NO curtain or cover whatsoever. My friend and I looked at each other, looked at the salesgirl to see if she was joking, saw she wasn’t, and went back to the line for the legitimate dressing room that we had been standing in, only to find we had lost our place and had to go to the back. So THAT was weird.

10. What difference between your homeland and Brazil do you find most striking?

That’s a difficult question. I suppose one big difference is the fact that so many people smoke here. I lived in California for the past four years, and I could probably count on one hand the number of smokers I know. Brazil is different — today, for example, as I was leaving the gym, I saw a guy who had obviously just finished a workout waiting for the elevator, pack of cigarettes in-hand. Unbelievable!

11. How is your Portuguese coming along? What words do you find most difficult to pronounce/remember or are there any words that you regularly
confuse?

My Portuguese is getting pretty good. I already spoke Spanish before I came, which I found initially helpful, but now just confuses me to no end. In fact, my Spanish has suffered tremendously because of Portuguese, but I am hoping it will come back once I leave Brazil. I don’t have any particular pronunciation or word problems with Portuguese, although it took me a long time to stop answering yes or no questions affirmatively with “sim” and start answering with the conjugated verb. “Sim” is so much easier, but I realized I sounded like a weird foreigner when I said it, so I broke the habit.

12. What advice do you have for newcomers to Brazil?

For people coming to São Paulo, don’t expect it to be exactly like New York or Buenos Aires or any other city that people may (inaccurately) compare it to — it is really a unique animal with lots of idiosyncracies. Be prepared to have the city totally grow on you and find yourself defending it when you leave and hear other people put it down (which they will). More general advice for people coming to Brazil — make sure you try lots of the food, listen to the music, and watch the soap operas once in a while. It’s not worth it to come to Brazil if you remain in a bubble of foreigners, or only go to places that remind you of home.

13. What are some things that you would recommend for a visitor to do in São Paulo (or anywhere else in Brazil)?

Go to the Parque Ibirapuera on the weekends and walk around, eat some corn, enjoy the sea of humanity that is always there on nice days. (Just don’t get hit by a bike!) Also, check out the Mercado Municipal on Sundays — you can buy any item of produce imaginable there, and it’s fun to just look around at all the different stands. Another one of my favorite places to go in São Paulo is the Edificio Italia, the tallest office building in Latin America, to the bar on the 42nd floor. It gives you the most incredible view of São Paulo in every direction, and it’s a nice place to have a drink and watch the lights come on in the city.

Are you a foreigner living in Brazil, or a Brazilian who has a lot of contact with foreigners and/or lived outside of Brazil? Are you interested in telling your story? If you would like to volunteer, or if you would like to recommend someone, please send an email with contact details and a brief description of yourself to gringoes@www.gringoes.com

To read previous interviews in the Brazil Through Foreign Eyes series click below:

Martin Raw – UK
Sean Coady – UK
Hugo Delgado – Mexico
Sean Terrillon – Canada
Jessie Simon – USA
Michael Meehan – USA
Thales Panagides – Cyprus
Tammy Montagna – USA
Samantha Tennant – England
Ron Finely – United States
Bob Duprez – United States
Peter Baines – England
Youssef Bouguerra – Tunisia
Van Wallach – USA
Lesley Cushing – England
Alexander von Brincken – Germany
Hank Avellar – USA
Ed Catchpole – England
Penny Freeland – England
Yasemin de Pinto – Turkey
Amy Williams Lima – USA
John Naumann – England
Marsye Schouella – Eygpt
Rita Shannon Koeser – USA
John Fitzpatrick – Scotland
Liam Gallagher – Northern Ireland
Lorelei Jones – England
Adam Glensy – England
Tommie C.B. DeAssis – Japan
Aaron Day – Canada
Graham Debney – New Zealand
Silke Tina Tischendorf – Germany
Tanya Keshavjee Macedo – Canada
Frank de Meijer – Holland
Carl Emberson – Australia
Kim Buarque – Wales
Damiano Pak – South Korea
Jonas Helding – Denmark
Pari Seeber – Iran
John Milton – England
Ken Marshall – Australia

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