Well, some of you noted that I haven't noted those little differences in culture that make international travel so unique. So...per your request, here are a few of the things I've noticed in Brazil that are just a slight difference from the good 'ole US of A!
1. Arguably the most frustrating thing I've encountered here in Sao Paulo are the napkins. I know what you're thinking..."napkins, are you serious?!" YES! The napkins here are like wax paper, they don't actually soak up the grease, they just spread it, making my post-meal appearance very unattractive.
2. A close number two here...coffee sizes. No double venti gallon-filled ice jamocha frappakappa here. A cup of coffee is just about 4 ounces. Despite how strong it is...it's still not enough to keep me going so I end up ordering a few. Everyone here takes it with milk and sugar, putting me in a major minority because I like it black.
3. Much to my dissatisfaction, Brazilians are not like the rest of the Latino world with their napping schedule. They don't sleep much at all! Maybe this is a Paulistinho thing, work hard all day and play harder at night, every night. I've begun a new tradition here in SP called napping, population: 1.
4. Brazilians share. They share the food and the tip evenly. Forget claiming your salad and water on the bill because you're helping to pay for someone else's filet mignon. Choose your friends wisely here in Brazil!
5. PDA is more than acceptable. I'd be a rich man if I could collect a nickel for every public make-out session I've seen on Avenida Paulista. Brazilians are open with their affection towards others. There are more hands holding others than not.
6. More of a personal difference than a country-wide one, but I got a Brazilian cell phone and opted for the cheapest and most simple LG model I could find. I had to re-learn how to text with a phone that assigns at least three letters per key. I put lots of effort into communicating!
7. For you more frequent travelers, this one should not be a surprise: used toilet paper goes in the waste basket, not the toilet!
8. Lunch is the big meal...not dinner. And Brazilians love dessert!
9. And finally, thank god I packed lots of toiletries for the year because one bottle of eye contact solution is over $20 US dollars. The Brazilian tax system is very complex and compliance with it drives consumer good prices through the roof.
Yesterday, we took a historical tour of Sao Paulo in the old downtown. It's much more run-down than the newer parts but there was a beautiful cathedral and we enjoyed walking down the old cobblestone streets. Our tour guide had been extremely active in many of the social movements in Brazil so he gave a unique perspective on where the city has come from and where it needs to head in order to stay atop its world-class ranking.
Perhaps one of the more interesting things I noted during our tour about the country's history were the racial struggles that Brazil has encountered...mirroring those of the US. In fact, the government imported nearly 4 million Europeans to Sao Paulo back in the early 1900s to help lighten the population. Discrimination of class rank and access to education, both public and private, remain at the top of social agendas (public is better here than private) while efforts to streamline the tax code and create a welcoming business environment for both permanent businesses and temporary businesses entering the market for the World Cup and Rio Olympics are of the utmost importance.
Our Portuguese classes began today. I think my vocabulary has quadrupled since I arrived less than a week ago. Every day I'm feeling more and more confident. I was even able to use enough of it to navigate a little bit more of the public bus system en route to Parque Ibirapuera (think Central Park NY). It was a beautiful public park with bustling activity (runners, soccer, skateboarding, etc.) I think it will be a once-a-week place for my running schedule.
Many more cultural activities planned for the rest of this week in addition to Portuguese language classes. My homework calls! Ate mais.