Natasha: Tropical Smog
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to São Paulo, etc.
I’m Natasha, from Northern California, and I moved to São Paulo in 2012. My partner had recently moved back to his native São Paulo because of family issues. After a while of feeling burnt out at my old job, I decided to quit and move to São Paulo to be with him and start something new. He initially suggested I try 6 months to see how I like it, and now I’ve been here almost 2 years.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
I started blogging in July 2013, about a year after I moved. I was having trouble really “getting” São Paulo, understanding what it was about, so I decided to start the blog to document my thoughts and experiences so I could figure São Paulo out. It’s also a way for me to push myself to go to different events and try different things. I think to myself, “Well I can blog about it.”
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
- Smelling the Goiabas
- Being an Introvert in an Outgoing Country
- Recalling Trauma and the Old Neighborhood
Tell us about the ways your new life in São Paulo differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?
Where do I start? At home I drive, and mostly people follow the rules and stay in their lanes. Here, I use public transportation because I’m terrified of driving, and it’s every man for himself. Supposedly people in São Paulo work too much and are always in a hurry, according to Brazilians, but I find that compared to home, people are always willing to chat and take time to enjoy themselves. A lot of businesses are closed on Sundays. I also have to take several safety precautions that I wouldn’t have to take at home, such as not having my purse visible when I’m in a car. Back home, there are lots of people from different countries and people are used to hearing accents. Here almost everyone is Brazilian. Even though I knew the language, I was intimidated to speak in public for fear of making a mistake or people looking at me differently because I have an accent. I didn’t have a huge feeling of culture shock when I first arrived, but there have been small moments, such as when I’m in a meeting and see the difference in how it’s conducted here versus home. Also the slower way of life can annoy me at times, since I’m an impatient person.
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in São Paulo? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
I think I was as prepared as I could be. I had the advantage that I had been to Brazil before and was fluent in the language and familiar with the culture, and I had my partner who grew up in São Paulo. There’s only so much preparation you can do beforehand though. Most of your learning occurs once you’re there.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
I speak Spanish, so I sometimes make the mistake of assuming that a word in Spanish is the same in Portuguese. At a restaurant once, I asked if we give propina, Spanish for tip. I found out that propina actually means bribe in Portuguese. I’m just happy I didn’t ask the waiter.
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in São Paulo?
- Learn Portuguese. Not many people speak English here.
- Be patient. Chances are things won’t always go the way you expect, but that’s often when you learn something new.
- Buy your electronics beforehand because they’re expensive here.
How is the expat community in São Paulo? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
To be honest, I haven’t spent much time with expats. I’ve come across some through work, but in my free time I’ve mostly spent with my partner’s friends and family.
How would you summarize your expat life in São Paulo in a single, catchy sentence?
Living in São Paulo is like a marriage: it’s work to maintain, but there’s a lot of love to be found.