“Bom jia.” This was my welcome to Brazil. It came from the border patrol as they looked through my passport. The officer said, “It means ‘Good Morning’ – your first Portuguese word.” (Aside: I thought the pronunciation of this phrase sounded like ‘bon-jeer,’ so I was VERY confused when I saw the actual spelling. Thanks to Google Translate for helping me sort that out.) I told him that it sounded like “Bonjour” in French. He said that his French was better than his English and promptly switched to speaking French with me. We talked about where I live, what I’m doing there, and why I was coming to Brazil. As I walked away, I laughed at how crazy it is to have French be the common language between a Brazilian and an American.
A driver was waiting for me at the airport to take me to the hotel. (Thanks to Nestlé security requirements.) We didn’t speak much, because I just traveled 18 hours, and he said his English wasn’t good. But, of course, I had to ask the obligatory question about whether he was excited about the World Cup. (Obviously, his answer was ‘yes,’ and he told me that Brazil was playing in São Paulo, which made everyone really excited.) I wondered how far we had to drive, but it seems like bad etiquette to ask, “are we there yet?” as an adult. So, I just looked around as we were driving…and driving…and driving…and driving…and, well, you get the point. We must have been in the car for at least an hour and a half. I lost track at some point. I had only two real thoughts during the whole time we were in the car:
- The motorcycles are INSANE!!! I even commented on this to the driver, and he confirmed that they are, in fact, insane, and even went so far as to call them “suicidal.” I’ve traveled to a lot of places, but I have NEVER seen motorcycles weave through rows of traffic at such high rates of speed. They come flying through beeping their little horns as if that’s enough to prevent someone from running them over!
- The city is nothing like Rio de Janeiro. I visited Rio in 2010 with two friends, and I remember being amazed by the favellas that stretched on and on for as far as I could see. And the landscape. I’ve still never been somewhere with such an incredible juxtaposition of ocean, mountains, beach, and lush, green foliage. São Paulo is nothing like that. It’s a big city, and it screams, “I’m all business!”
I like to give every city the benefit of the doubt. It’s probably my tendency toward positivity that makes me enter every travel situation assuming the best. This is how I embark on every trip…even when people tell me bad things about a city, I seem to think it will be different for me. I knew NOTHING about São Paulo prior to this trip, so I had no expectations. But, I have to say that I’m putting it on my list of “Least Favorite Cities.” (For the record, this list also includes Athens, Greece.) Maybe it was the unbelievable traffic or the endless office buildings or the fact that I was working, not exploring, but I have to say I would only return for work, not pleasure. (And just so you know, it breaks my optimist heart to give a city a bad review.) I stayed in a lovely hotel, and the Nestlé headquarters was pretty amazing. But even so, it didn’t win me over.
The only pictures I took while I was there was of coffee displays when we visited various grocery stores. (Probably not what you’re hoping to see.) But, I bought this postcard for my nephew, and I think it captures my perception of São Paulo well – big city with so. much. traffic.