The soul of São Paulo captures residents and visitors in its diverse, intricate and stunningly vibrant energy. At nearly 20 million inhabitants, São Paulo is the massive queen of urban living with globally recognized restaurants, vast museums, and exquisite architecture. As a melting pot of culture, from Japanese to German to Lebanese, the heart of Brazil beats strong. These 10 tips will help you fit right in so that you come prepared and ready for your São Paulo experience.
Portuguese: The official language is Portuguese, not Spanish. Portuguese speakers may be able to more or less understand Spanish, however they are very distinct languages. A humble combination of Spanish and Portuguese, known as portunhol, might be accepted by a Brazilian as long as it’s evident you’re trying to learn their language.
Regional Competition: Like many nations, Brazil has internal competitions between regions. Paulistas, or natives of São Paulo, pride themselves in their work hard, play hard lifestyle where busy-ness and productivity trump all else. Don’t be surprised if you hear a Paulista make fun of a carioca. A carioca, or someone from Rio, prides themselves in the exact opposite – maintaining a laid back, beach-centric lifestyle where leisure is prized and protected.
And The Capital is… Nope, not São Paulo and not Rio either. It is Brasilia, founded in 1960 specifically for the purpose of being Brazil’s capital.
And The City is… also São Paulo. Technically, Paulistas are born in the state of São Paulo and Paulistanos are born in the city of São Paulo (a status booster). As a foreigner, you might be forgiven if you get it wrong but still better to be prepared.
Map Your Route: While São Paulo does has a subway system, there are many more bus routes – 16,000 in fact - that cover the whole city using dedicated bus lanes. If you don’t speak Portuguese, it’s best to plot your route in advance. And don’t be surprised if they’re a bit more crowded or operate a lot faster than you expect. EasyTaxi is an Uber-like app that makes finding a cab easier.
Fashion & Grooming: Pressed clean clothes, fashionable choices, and well-groomed hair and nails will be noticed in this upscale city. A three-pieced suit is expected at the executive level. And come prepared with rain-ready jacket and shoes for garoa, or a common drizzle.
Dining Manners: Practice your continental style (fork in one hand, knife in the other – without switching). Absolutely no fingers – even for fruit, pizza or bread. Use a napkin. When served an appetizer, hold and eat it from the napkin on which it was served.
Cultural Sites: Your Brazilian colleagues will offer to take you out on the town during your stay, and you should absolutely accept. Restaurants that rival those of New York or London, the famous Ibirapuera Park, art galleries, and hip new baladas, or clubs, are popular. Live it up São Paulo style!
Expand Your Palate: Churrascaría might be what you’re expecting across the equator, but SP has so much more to offer. Get out of your comfort zone and opt for a Japanese izakaya, Italian pizzeria, or a Brazilian specialty, such as a massive mortadella sandwhich at the Market.
Chewing Gum: Chewing gum is generally enjoyed by kids in Brazil. It looks very inelegant, “horrible,” in fact for adults, according to a Brazilian friend. Opt for a breath mint instead.
Sharon co-wrote this article with Ashley Blake. Sharon Schweitzer, J.D., is a cross-cultural consultant, an international protocol expert and the founder of Protocol & Etiquette Worldwide. She is accredited in intercultural management, is the resident etiquette expert for CBS KEYE We Are Austin, popular on-air contributor, regularly quoted by BBC Capital, Investor’s Business Daily, Fortune, Inc., The New York Times, The Vancouver Sun, and numerous other media. She is the best-selling, international award-winning author of Access to Asia: Your Multicultural Business Guide, named to Kirkus Review’s Best Books of 2015.
Ashley Blake is an avid traveler with an entrepreneurial spirit and an insatiable thirst for learning. With an MA in Media Studies from the University of Texas at Austin, a passion for social change, proficiency in multiple languages, and her travels across 20+ countries, Ashley’s insights for this article have been invaluable. Feel free to connect with Ashley on LinkedIn.