Expat Stories - Martha in Sao Paulo

Expat Stories - Martha in Sao Paulo

The runner-up of our Summer 2016 competition was Martha Robbins, who shared with us a 'sensory' description of her life as an expat in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Congratulations, Martha! Take a look at her submission below!
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What Is It Like? It still feels a little strange and you wonder when will it stop feeling like a trip and start to feel a like home. One of the questions we get frequently is ‘What is it like?’ so we thought we would try to describe it for you.


There are many beautiful things to see in São Paulo. The city is beautiful and you have a mix of old architecture and many modern buildings. Even parts of the city that are in need of repair are beautiful in their own way. One of the most beautiful things in the city is the street art. Street art, or some would call it graffiti, is an art form that is valued in the city. Even the favelas have a beauty of their own.


We have a long way to go in speaking Portuguese but we do love hearing Portuguese constantly being spoken around us. In fact, it would feel strange if we heard someone speaking English on the street. The sound of the city is amazing. It sounds a little like an orchestra performance. São Paulo is always awake and there is always something going on. All day, and sometimes at night, you hear traffic, construction, people talking and laughing, and when it rains it seems to amplify all the sounds.


It seems to us that Brazilians love to smell nice things. Wearing perfume and cologne is a big deal and as you walk down the street it is like walking past the perfumes counter at the mall because almost everyone wears some kind of scent. Brazilians also love to clean – so many times in the metro, or just walking down the street, you can smell all kinds of cleaning products. In the street markets you can smell all kinds of fruits and vegetables. You can sometimes smell the river while waiting for the train and that smell is not that pleasant.


The food is amazing. Even the foods we have tried before taste better. The pineapple is so good. There is a food called pastel; you can put anything inside and it is the best. Most neighborhoods have weekly Feiras that are like street markets where you can buy all kinds of food items. When gringos go they want you to sample everything so you get to taste lots of fruit that you have never even seen before. Maybe some of the strangest tastes so far have been juice from caju and palmeto. One of our favorite restaurants is called Sujinho which literally means little dirty. It is not dirty and the burgers are amazing.


Brazilian culture is very touchy feely and you are constantly hugging and kissing people. You know the feel of the poles inside of the metro/train because you have to hang on. A weird touch to us are the napkins here; they are basically a wax paper. You also don’t touch your food. You eat pizza with a fork and knife and you hold a hamburger with a napkin around it. They don’t like to touch their food, probably because you just touched the poles on the metro!

When moving to a new country, people told us "it will be the hardest thing you’ll ever do". It is. Some things are similar, but still different. It is also like a great adventure. Something new every day, a challenge to figure out. What used to come so easy you didn't think twice about (buying groceries, paying a bill, ordering pizza), now takes a long time, planning, find a translator, or Google! It is (and will be) the hardest thing we’d ever do...but we are also finding it to be one of the most rewarding experiences of our lives!

Martha Robbins​

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