Do you want to travel abroad to Brasil, but don’t know what to expect? Are you in the shoes of tourist, job seeker, entrepreneur or on an exchange programme to study in Brasil? Beware – Brasil is addictive! :) This article presents one subjective experience of mine as a entrepreneurship exchange participant during 2 months stay in Guarulhos, the city near Sao Paulo city and part of the Sao Paulo state.

Let me start describing Brasil with this picture of the tree. I don’t know what kind of tree it is and obviously haven’t seen one before, but it looks impressive, rich in color, size, texture, leaves, amount and variety. So Brasil is like this tree – distinctive, relaxed and slow, vibrant and surprising. This tree was close to one of the most magnificent beaches near town Paraty.

Brasil - take it easy -

Brasil – take it easy –

Sao Paulo is huge and growing megapoly – 12th largest city in the world. As with many largest cities, Sao Paulo is different from the rest of the country. Sao Paulo is not a political capital, but definitely could claim such status in terms of business. City is full of enterprises and industrial areas, which is why people often come here just to work. Probably as a consequence, the amount of green areas is very limited. It seems that Brasilians have too many beautiful green areas around the cities and they do not need greenness inside the city. Comparing with large and well-preserved London parks, it makes me smile when Paulistas (people from Sao Paulo) offer to visit their beautiful parks :)

Get prepared that the summer in Europe is winter in Brasil. This is a great chance to optimize your yearly time to have a neverending summer – visit Brasil when the winter comes to Europe. Due to the fact that Brasil is south of the equator and Europe/USA is north of the equator, the hottest period in Brasil is January-February and coldest June-July. This also means a surprise in the toilet or sink – water turns counterclockwise direction!

There is a significant shortage of water in Sao Paulo. It is not because of the natural lack of the water, but because of the unexpectedly high growth of the population and failure from the government to install equipment that would satisfy such an intensive growth of the population. As a result, every house has a blue bucket on the roof and at least my place of stay has no water every week for a few days. Some Brasilians friends say they foresaw problem many years ago, but nothing was done by the government. Some say that they pay a lot now for the water utilities, but nothing is still done about the shortage. When population grows 10 times in few years, it is easy to understand why it is difficult to overcome these problems. As a result of water shortage, car wash service is also more expensive – 25 reals for a simple car wash in Guarulhos.

Water Blue Buckets in Brasil, photo credit:

Water Blue Buckets in Brasil, photo credit:

Before coming to Brasil, watch the movie “Lula, the son of Brasil”. This is a biography interpretation about legendary, famous and most debated Brasilian president Lula Da Silva. Brasilians themselves do not like the movie, since they believe Lula is not  a good person and a very different person from the movie, but at least the movie itself is well made and the timeline (checked on wikipedia) depicts the real story of the president. It is debatable whether the dialogs are true and of course there is a lot of “romanticization”, but at least it will give you an interesting point to start debates with Brasilians :)

City of God is another master class movie that you should watch before coming to Brasil. I find movies a very good introduction to what is happening inside the country. Certainly documentaries do a better job, but fiction movies include a bit more entertainment – what we crave after the tiring day :)

Before visiting Rio de Janeiro, you just have to watch the movie Elite Squad (parts I and II) and insert in your dictionary the word FAVELA – meaning slums in the cities of Brasil. When poor Brasilians decide to move from smaller towns or villages to the cities, initially they tend to move to favelas, because they can build houses much cheaper and often without permission from government, illegally. Favelas are usually located in the difficult or unattractive to build areas, for instance mountains or near the highways. This is also a reason why their houses are very chaotic, entrepreneurial, unsafe, but very interesting. Favela’s became dangerous due to drug dealings and lack of police, since dwellings are hard to reach and control.

Rio de Janeiro is the most famous about their favelas. Recently they started to become more open to the society and tourists. I would definitely recommend to see Santa Marta Favela and Vidigal favelas – climb on the top of the favelas and see the most amazing landscapes. I would advice to hire the guide (50 reals per person for a guide in Santa Marta) and visit the hidden houses inside favellas, which are otherwise difficult to find and not advised to do it by yourself due to danger. There are around 2000 visitors per month in Santa Marta.

Learn Portuguese with Duolingo application for smartphones. One of the best ways to enter different country and gain respect from the locals is to learn language. Brasil is a former colony of Portugal, thus the language spoken is Portuguese. Portuguese language is part of the Italic Romantic language group, so it is easier to learn for the ones that speak Spanish, Italian and Romanian.

Languages tree by Minna Sundberg

Languages tree by Minna Sundberg

Even though all other South American countries speaks Spanish (except tiny Falkland Islands), Brasil visitors still have to switch to Portuguese. There is an explanation why Brasilians a slow or unwilling to learn Spanish – Brasil is a huge power in the continent, accounting for a half of the population and half of the area of South America.

South America Population By Country

Rank Country Population
1 Brazil 195,632,000
2 Colombia 47,130,000
3 Argentina 41,350,000
4 Peru 30,476,000
5 Venezuela 29,760,000
6 Chile 16,841,000
7 Ecuador 15,779,000
8 Bolivia 10,517,000
9 Paraguay 6,849,000
10 Uruguay 3,297,000
11 Guyana 798,000
12 Suriname 539,000
13 French Guiana 259,000
14 Falkland Islands (UK) 3,000

Most Brasilians move out of their family house only when they get married. It means that a lot of adults live with their parents for a long time, till they find a partner and decide to marry. Sometimes moving to a house is further postponed till the income level is sufficient or the house is finally build or bought. This gives a lot of different characteristics to Brasilians comparing to Europeans, where the culture to move out of the family house once 18 is reached is common. The exceptions from the rule are the students that move to study to other cities. As a result, Brasilians are more family oriented, save more money living with parents, but are less independent.

While Sao Paulo is a working city, Rio de Janeiro is an artistic / soul city. It has a perfect nature, which probably inspires and invites many artists, architects, designers and other creative people to further construct an artistic and better life quality oriented place. Rio de Janeiro is a former political capital, now it is a cultural capital. The atmosphere here is twofold – on the one hand it is amazing due to outstanding nature (beaches, mountains and hills) and a lot of art, on the other hand danger in the air, repeatedly told stories about robberies and killings. People are warned not to walk at night and alone, since so many Brasilians or gringoes (foreigners called by Brasilians) were attacked by local gangsters.

One chapter must be attributed to the architecture. Even though architecture by itself probably has a lot in common to European style and thus is less original in that respect, but the overall picture is very distinctive, since different styles are placed one close to each other, like a salad of styles. One building could have elements of an old and very beautiful architecture, but just nearby on one side could be a very modern building and on the other side – soviet style dorm. In one of the oldest squares of Sao Paulo you can find the oldest church and a modern futuristic tent (see pictures and video).

Praca do Patriarca -

Praca do Patriarca. Credit to Pedro Kok

Praca do Patriarca -

Praca do Patriarca. Credit to

It seems that the salad of architecture is a result of rapid growth of population (that need to find place to live), entrepreneurial character (search for possible and profitable solutions), search for convenience (paying little attention to beauty, integration with other building or environment) and lack of consistency (not strict supervision from municipal, government and urban development planning institutions). The chaos or salad architecture is very attractive to some and not so attractive to others. For instance, I like to see the cities with vision and a little les chaos, while my Italian friend architect adores multi dimensional architecture, because contrary to Italian architecture, it offers more freedom, architecture is more functional, more dynamic, less constrained by history.

One distinctive element of Brasilian architecture – favelas. Since favelas are often built without permission and in a difficult to reach mountainous area, they tend to have very interesting chaotic architecture integrated with the nature. Favela architecture is particularly famous in Rio De Janeiro (see picture).

Brasilian Architecture - Rio De Janeiro Favela. Photo credit:

Brasilian Architecture – Rio De Janeiro Favela. Photo credit:

Rio De Janeiro architecture is different from Sao Paulo in terms of its openness – there are less fences and walls around the houses, which is so typical in Sao Paulo. Maybe it depends from district to district, but Rio De Janeiro looked and felt to be more open, more artistic and similar to old European / Portuguese style of architecture. It is all generalisations of course and subjective opinion. There are many interesting object in both cities and you can find a lot of interesting architecture in this website Predios De Sau Paulo, which became so popular that even released the book and I happened to be so to participate in the book release event.

Lets talk about culture and people now. Before even coming to Brasil, join the facebook group for foreigners – gringoes. Here you will find a lot of information about the life in Brasil from foreigner’s perspective, you can share your thoughts or ask question and receive million of answers. This enables to prepare better for the trip or even get guidance when you are here.

Even though my one Brasilian friend say Brasilians are selfish (and friendly only to family and visitors like me), i still hold that Brasilians are friendly, which i find is common for developing countries and is not always the case with developed countries. What is more surprising – in many instances they do not show they notice you are foreigner or that you need guidance, but when the right moment comes – they suddenly jump out of their seats and silence and show they noticed all the things and are ready to help. For instance (maybe it is not the best instance), i was having a breakfast with Italian friend and when we came to pay to the cashier and waited for the waiter to pass what we ordered to the cashier, the cashier did not say anything but just presented correct bill for both of us. Many times people advised where to go out on the right bus station, even though they were silent and sitting somewhere back in the bus, seemingly not noticing what is happening here with me.

Another example, i was late to reach the central bus station to go at 12pm overnight from Rio to Sao Paulo, because the buses somehow did not come for 30 minutes. I was starting to seriously get worried, but soon realised that I had a companion who did not speak English but we already were discussing how we will split the taxi to the central station. However, after seeing several taxis passing away not stopping, finally the bus arrived. We rushed in the bus and it was one of the most friendly and at the same time speedy and dangerous trip ever – instead of driving 50 scheduled minutes, bus driver was overspeeding many times for us just to arrive in 15 minutes! The bus was jumping and flying, and surpassing the cars, but arrived and let us out just beside the central bus station (in the illegal place to stop) much ahead the time – what a drive!

Instead of having house and inside parties, people in Rio go out to hang out straight on the streets, bringing their own drinks. This is a time and place to meet friends and neighbours. There is some music, but music is turned off earlier to follow the regulations. People however stay till late night. Rio has also amazing beach parties, where you can hear amazing Brazilian music.

While all other South American countries have salsa, Brasil dances samba. There are serious competitions of samba, leagues and ranking of which dance school is better, and even specially built dancing halls for samba. I am not very fond of neither salsa nor samba, but this is just to repeatedly emphasise how Brasil is distinctive with many things, including dance and music. One of my personal discoveries is forro style that is first saw on the streets of Ubatuba.

In term of the music, start with Jorge Ben – Mas que Nada (below) and go with the more modern Curumin Passarinho (link to youtube). There are many interesting artists carrying unknown music to the ear that is used to listen pop american music. To get another point of view of Brasil – watch capoeira music dance performance.

Sao Paulo is not only isolated with walls (bringing a constant feeling of fear and danger), but is also full of cars that are given a luxury right to drive on the roads built along the rivers. That is very difficult to understand. While Europe cars roads are pushed away from the rivers and lakes to have instead walking/running pathways to enjoy the feeling of nature, here it is opposite. I guess one of the reasons is that Brasil has too amazing nature around the cities, so people do not need nature inside the cities (see in pictures the comparison). They just need comfort driving a car.

The amount of cars is high and rapidly growing, while the public transportation (except metro) is old, uncomfortable and disorganised. Only metro system is very comfortable and pleasure to use. Unfortunately, most of the places you have to reach with the bus or taxi. Waiting buses sometimes could be really a pain, but what is more crazy – you can not find the bus station that is shown on the map :) Dont even try to come on time of the scheduled bus arrival, expect the delay or arrival before the right time. There are no schedules on the bus stations and often no signs of which buses stops here. Bus drivers are very fast and buses are noisy and most likely energy inefficient.

I belive the municipal of Sao Paulo is focused on building better roads, which usually is a mistake to solve traffic problem, since the level of public transportation defines how many cars will be on the road, not the quality or amount of the roads. People usually adjust to the roads – if the roads are wider, better and more comfortable than to travel with the public transportation, people will switch to the cars up to the point where public transportation is better again.

rivers in Guarulhos - credit to

rivers in Guarulhos – credit to

Amazing Brasilian beaches -

Amazing Brasilian beaches –

Quite many Brasilians are pessimistic about their situation and common expression is “this is Brasil”. On the one hand they mean current economic crisis, on the other – high taxes, corruption, bad government. I guess it became a trend these days and it will take a while to get out of this situation and most important – mentality. While probably there are double standards of what it is said and how the situation is in fact, there are some things to be happy and worry.

From positive factors unemployment in Brasil was just 6.4% in April of 2015. Unemployment rate averaged 8.4% from 2001 until 2015, reaching an all time high of 13.1% in August of 2003 and a record low of 4.3% in December of 2013. True, the situation suddenly reversed in the last years, but it is still much better than many European countries, for instance Spain with 24% unemployment. The reverse is also seen from a decrease of gross domestic product by -1.6% in 1Q 2015 comparing to the 1Q 2014 and higher inflation rate of 8.5% in May 2015.

Brasil has a presidential political system model, where the president is the head of the state and the government. Newly reelected (Dec 2014) for the second term president Dilma Rousseff comes from the center-left Workers Party (PT) and many says she is dependent and influenced by the former already mentioned legendary Lula Da Silva, who served as president in the period 2002-2010. Current president recently received a lot of critics for Petrobras bribery scandal or plans to build hydroelectric dam in the Amazon region.

Lots of people support the opposition, right political party, but one friend, who supports left, said several very good arguments for the current left-wing government – Brasil maintains free education, free public health, ban of smoking in the bars, left government introduced 0 tolerance for driving drunk and constant intensive checks, which resulted in 90% reduction in-car accidents. Left government invited doctors and medicine specialists from Cuba and other countries to work in Brasil and as a result the death rate in Northern Brasil dramatically decreased.

I support this reasoning, but also want to express how terrible is to damage Amazon’s ecosystem and environment in general to encourage or maintain growth. The same goes for corruption – it is not great, but nobody knows how it would be with the right-wing president and as another friend said – he better chooses left government as best out of worst. To conclude, Brasil should not strive for high growth model, but rather balanced and slow growth model, where all the stakeholders and elements are included.

One of the interesting facts about Brasil is that prices are strangely high, given earnings and economic status. Quite often it feels like being in Europe – people are smart and educated, but so are the expectations of the price level. People tell it is different outside Sao Paulo and Rio De Janeiro. I found out that prices could be cheap even inside the city, but people tend to associate higher prices with better quality.

In my personal experience, i found out that my colleagues went to dine in the place where prices are double comparing to the place that is just few meters away, while i could not understand the difference, except that the cheaper place even looked better. Perhaps there some issues with the quality, but i doubt it justify so big differences in prices. I noticed this in many places and situations. Another example – my favorite cake in the bakery near my office cost 1 real, while the same size a bit less tasty but similar kind cake costs 4 reals in the large supermarket. Colleague tried to explain that super market have to order the cake from the bakery, while bakery produces it fresh, but then why to buy the cake from super market, while the bakery is next doors and fresher?!

With European style Brasil might have inherited also the uncompetitiveness. I treat Europe as already mature, balanced and slow mover, while Asia is rapidly growing and catching up. What is the place of the Brasil? In my opinion they need more innovation and technology, since they relied too much on the raw materials.

Taking about potential niches in Brasil, purchase through internet is very undeveloped and there is a lot of space to grow here. To illustrate, it is very strange that you need to register purchase with your document or that you have to pay 15 real fee extra for ordering online (in my case t-shirt on I found one possibility to buy bus ticket without entering local Braslian identity card and just inserting passport details through (many friends could not believe it was possible), but then i still needed to go to the ticket office to pick up the ticket and follow standard procedures (basically it was just a reservation of the ticket, paying regular price + significant fee for booking space).

Lets conclude this article with amazing food and drinks they have. Brasil is famous for good meat, but since I am vegetarian, can not comment on this. Instead they have delicious caipirinhia alcohol drink, which is made with local 40 degrees strong cachasa alcohol, sugar, ice and lemon or passion fruit or other fruits. They have amazing mango and other fruits here are outstanding and undervalued or not so advertised by Brasilians, while they deserve front place! Dont miss to try very cheesy pizzas, which are thick and ultra delicious, probably influenced by many immigrants from Italy, who developed an advanced recipe. One of the best things they have is an ice-cream made out of Acai berries and granola toping. For breakfast Brasilians mostly eat bread with butter, but try with good melted cheese and you will be delighted :)