Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Become a Paulistano in 10 minutes!

Interested in learning a little bit more about Sao Paulo...read on! We had a great city tour today in the fantastic 50 degree rainy weather...for all of you who think I'm living some tropical dream, think again! I haven't worn a t-shirt yet here!

Sao Paulo is the third largest city in the world (don't shoot the messenger)...this is what our tour guide told us. Although most of you know, you can prove anything with statistics, so read with caution.

1. Tokyo
2. Mumbai
3. Sao Paulo (20 million people)

10% of the Brazilian population lives here in Sao Paulo and over 25% of the country's wealth is here in the city as well. Over 50,000 people live here with over $1,000,000USD in free assets, that doesn't even include income!

It's the worlds #1 market for private helicopters and in fact, there is a neighborhood here with more helipoints than bus stops. Most of the real estate on Avenida Paulista will never be sold unless there is a helicopter landing pad on the roof. It's actually a pretty neat sight at about 7 AM to watch all the helicopter traffic land in the central business district...most of which are the executives commuting in from their multimillion dollar estates in the mountains. I saw a few ads in the paper the other day for homes for sale well above the $500 million USD mark...which is incredible.

This should give you a good idea about the social classes here...which are ranked by asset, not income level here on the street.

Wealthiest...do you own a helicopter?
Next highest...do you own an armed vehicle?
Next...an imported vehicle?
Next...do you have a car?
Next...how about a motorbike?
Next...a bicycle?
Next...you walk or use public transport! (This is my Brazilian class level haha)

There are about 13,000 homeless people here in Sao Paulo. It's been evident but there really isn't a need for it. The government has space for 15,000 in homeless shelters and offers multiple meals per day but most of the potential inhabitants don't like the restricted hours (i.e. must be in by 7 PM), so they just inhabit the street anyway.

Other stats....

There are more than 7 million vehicles here in Sao Paulo, 85% of which are run on ethanol rather than regular gasoline. Despite this surprising statistic, the pollution here is still killing me. I can barely breathe and it's a true pain to wear contacts as well. It's definitely not as bad as it could be though considering there is a nice West to East wind flow in between the mountains on the North and South and quite frankly, this city does have a fair amount of green space for its size, so I'll have to get used to it.

There are also more than 1 million motorbikes here. It's really the only way to circumvent the traffic because despite multiple efforts by the government to have them take up space on the roads just as a car would, they find it much easier to drive in between the cars. While I think it's quite dangerous, it's really an art here in Sao Paulo as only 3 casualties occur per day for motorbikers. Considering the amount on the road, I'd say that's a pretty good success rate.

The population here in Sao Paulo grew dramatically and quickly. In the late 1800's, the population here was only 25,000. By 1900, 100K and then doubled every 10years after that. In 1960, 4 million and it's estimated that it will cap at about 25 million.

Coffee is how the country got rich and in the 1900's 80% of exports were from our favorite aromatic bean! There's a big fight with Colombia as to who holds the #1 ranking. If it's by income, then it's Colombia. If it's by weight, then it is Brasil. You choose the winner. Although it was such an economic factor back in the 1900's, Brazil's economy has significantly diversified. Coffee now only accounts for 1.1% of the economic GDP, which should tell you something else about doing business in Brazil. It's swiftly turning into a service economy, with banks holding most of the real estate on the main strip. It may be the only industry that can afford it as one square meter of space on Avenida Paulista costs about $12,000USD. This is where the action is though. Most Fortune 1000 companies have their South American headquarters here in Sao Paulo. Up until the 2008 economic crises, Bovespa (Sao Paulo Stock Exchange) had annual returns over 20%. They're expecting a big boom here in preparation for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics.

I think the other telling tale of my time in Sao Paulo is the diversity! You name it, it's here. Back in the late 1800's more than 750,000 Italians came to Sao Paulo and in the early 1900's, over 1 million Japanese. The saying here is that there is no single person who's four grandparents are from the same country. So, I'm hoping this is giving you an idea that I'm not sticking out as that one white American amidst a sexy tan population! There's a great blend here and everyone looks Brazilian! In fact, I might call Sao Paulo the true melting pot. That melting though has led to some busy busy streets. I can barely move walking to class and at peak hours, it's estimated that 7 people fit into one square meter when commuting via the subway system...which is two less people per square meter than Tokyo, which along with Beijing, actually hire people in the subway system to shove more people into the metro trains so the doors can close.

Why else do people come to Brazil aside from business...health tourism! 8% of foreign travelers come for cosmetic surgery, organ transplants, and dentistry. It's not really encouraged by US insurance firms, but not contested because on average, the cost of medicine here in Sao Paulo is 1/3 the price of a US treatment.

I think you'll also find funny how the government sends out mass messages to its population...through soap operas! The most popular one here is called Avenida Brasil...I'm already hooked. It's a typical blackmail tale of a daughter holding her stepmother hostage because homegirl was cheating on her husband with some other man. All I can say is that soap opera arguments in Portuguese are like nothing you've ever seen before. If you think Sammy can throw a good fit with Nicole on Day's of Our Lives then you should see Avenida Brasil...they'd give Stefano and friends a run for their money on "REAL" dramatic acting. Nevertheless, I digress. When the main villain of Avenida Brasil died in one of the premier episodes of the show, television companies reported to the government that 90% of the televisions in the country were tuned into Avenida Brasil for that episode...so soap operas (telenovelas) became the primary way to air commercials on government, education, politics, etc.

So, I'll end with another little tale from last night that got me thinking about who I am here in Brazil. We were out for some appetizers and drinks with some other international students. We were introducing ourselves and one of the students was from Miami, Fla. We were talking a little bit and then the waitress came up and asked where we were from. He responded with "Canada...Toronto". I didn't say anything at the time but later on, I asked him why he didn't say he was from Miami and he went on to tell me that as he traveled around the world that he found that other's attitude changed towards him depending on what English speaking nation he was from, that being from the US was a sin.

While I could see what he was saying and have experienced the same (not here yet but in other places), I am sticking with who I am...an American from the great state of Ohio in the great city of Cincinnati. Why? I'm here as a representative, a diplomat for the US. How are we as a nation ever supposed to change the perception of who Americans are, what they stand for, and our wish to build better international relations, if I'm from Canada? I have nothing against Canada, except for the fact that US toll booths won't accept their beautiful quarters when I drive through Illinois haha. Of course, if you're going to be the arrogant person who talks down to others and thinks our way is the only way, then go ahead...claim somewhere else as your homeland, but if you make the effort to go out of your comfort zone, learn another language, immerse yourself in another culture, learn another way of life, and give all of yourself in the best way possible, then you're impressive and you better be from America, because that's the type of person I want to call neighbor, ally, and friend. And that's the person I'm pledging to be here in Brazil and I hope the next time you have the opportunity to travel abroad and build a relationship, you'll choose to do the same.


  1. Kyle,

    After one of my roommates came back from co-oping in Spain, I was disappointed to hear that he had introduced himself as a Canadian as well. I share your exact same sentiments. I was so sad that he had so little pride and that he thought that by lying about his nationality he would save face. For the past two years, I've had a cloth American flag wrapped around the right shoulder strap of my book bag. It will remain there while I travel around Europe for 6 weeks starting mid-August.


  2. Well said gentlemen! I've experienced some similar attitudes here in Germany, but I've always introduced myself as 'aus den USA'. I really think that representatives like us can help improve the worlds perception of Americans. When most Germans hear me speaking english (or German with an english accent), they see my red hair an immediately think I'm Irish. This has happened so many times! I'm always really proud when I get to explain that I am in fact an American that is trying her hardest to learn another language and immerse in another culture!

  3. Kyle - Lee and I are back from vacation and really enjoying your blog. What a great idea! You struck a nerve with the "Canadian" American. I always believe that those of us who love learning about other countries, languages and cultures will be good ambassadors for the USA!