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Living in Brazil
Considering the doubts and misgivings that certainly round the idea of visiting or living in Brazil for foreigners, I will comment a little bit about the Brazilians' way of life as well as cultural, social and environmental background.
Living in São Paulo
This is the first question everybody has. I consider it might be really difficult for a foreigner to get used to São Paulo. Especially because they have to learn fast how to behave in conditions that until then were unknown.
São Paulo is a violent city indeed and below I will comment some things that must be observed in a big city like it. Pay attention that I don't want to scare anybody. I saw many reports scaring tourists and I don't consider this nice. We just have to addapt ourselves to another environment. And in a big city like São Paulo this involves restrictions.
If you are a foreigner who doesn't speak the Portuguese language, it's necessary to be aware that you are a highlighted person. This is natural, once you are different from the common inhabitants and because usually Europeans are related to people that have possessions. This can be noticed easily by robbers too. So, walking through the city alone, not knowing Portuguese language and the city as well can be a high risking adventure.
São Paulo is a contrasting city and tricky too. Contrasting because sometimes you are driving through it and might see a wonderful high-class residencial area and some moments later you might suddenly enter a favela. Tricky because streets are not disposed in an easy-understanding way. If you are not used to the city and maybe don't know how to get out of such place, this can be dangerous.
Thus, in the first days of adaptation, I extremely recommend to do this with the help of a local dweller.
If you are walking through the city, even driving, I recommend to not wear flamboyant jewelry. This normaly calls attention, especially if you are in downtown area.
Brazilians are very receptive to foreigners, but in a big city like São Paulo, it's possible that sometimes this can't be felt. Everybody is in a hurry and worried about their daily problems. Unfortunately the biggest amount of population don't have opportunity to learn a foreign language and this way they are not able to speak English. It must be a great luck to find a passing by who speaks English. It doesn't work the same as in Europe, for example.
Unfortunately, public school system in Brazil is of bad quality and violence is always a constant in those schools. If you would live in Brazil and wants to place your children in a school, I recommend a bilingual school. This brings them the possibility of keeping their mother-language and protect them from drug dealers waiting for them on the school's entrance. This doesn't mean that private schools have no drug dealing. Usually their own students do so. But as the system is more strict, at least there are guards that protect the school area. This doesn't happen with public schools.
Letting children walking alone from school to home is not a good idea. Usually we have special transportation for bringing children or even mothers take turns to catch their own children and also others.
Car is the main transportation in São Paulo. This is the privileged transport mean in the city.
There are a lot of buses' lines crossing the city, but usually they are complicated to be understood by a foreigner. Road-guides normaly describe buses' itineraries, but they are in Portuguese. Even being in Portuguese, it is even possible to understand them; but when you don't know the city, if you have to exchange buses, this can be a problem. When we don't know the place where we are going to with the bus, we usually ask the money controler to advise us when we are close to the place we want to go to. But if you are a foreigner, how can this be done? And be sure that exchanging buses is a normal practice.
Besides this, buses are really slow due to the traffic and, at rush times, it's impossible to enter them. It can be a frustrating and high-stressy experience for someone that is not used to this.
There are special buses that are more expensive and, due to this fact, less crowded. They can be an option but as their lines are scarce, not always useful.
A good option is the subway. But unfortunately this one doesn't cross all parts of the city. As well as in buses, I don't recommend to take subway at rush times. Politeness is something completely forgotten in those times. If trains delay a bit, this can be scaring for a tourist. People just huddle together in front of train's doors and, in high-frequented stations, people sometimes are not able to go out of the train without throwing themselves into the crowd.
Taxis are alternatives to be used once in a while. They are expensive and sometimes if the cab drivers notice that you are a newcomer, they increase the ride's price.
Being a cars' city, the result is traffic jam. Patience is mandatory. If you really wish life quality, live close your working place. Otherwise, you will be on stress.
The main river which crosses the river, Tietê River, has its marginal roads as important parts of our city transportation system. They are the only faster alternatives to cross the city and trucks which need to pass the city, use them a lot. So, at rush times, they stop completely for hours. If it rains, it's possible to stay all night long there.
Besides this, there is the cars' pool system. In each day of the week 2 car plates can't circulate in a certain ring-region of the city from 7:00 to 10:00 and from 17:00 to 20:00, that are rush times. On Monday plates with end numbers 1 and 2 are not allowed to circulate, on Tuesdays 3 and 4, and further on.
This is something we have to live with. Any possibility of raining is a reason to worry about. This because many points of the city are liable to flooding. I extremely recommend to use alternative ways in such days if your itinerary includes the marginals. These are the main flooding places we have.
A solution for this problem that is being intensively used here is the big pools. They are a kind of pool where water in excess flows to them. This way floods don't happen once water is expeled slowly.