Back in the Driving Seat!

I have been living in São Paulo for about 8 months now and it has taken me this long to gather up enough courage to drive. Driving in another country can been intimidating in itself but when you factor in a huge crazy city like São Paulo it can be down right scary! Okay so maybe I’m over exaggerating a bit, at least they drive on the right side of the road.

One of the first obstacles I had to overcome in order to drive was to relearn how to drive a manual stick. In Brazil, it is rare to see automatic transmission cars, they are a little more expensive but not by much. I think it is a cultural thing and Brazilians genuinely like driving manual cars. For me, re-learning this did not take too long, my first car was a stick but it has been over ten years since I’ve driven one. Still today I get really nervous on the huge hills in São Paulo and of course the neighborhood we live in Vila Madalena is full of them!

The second obstacle that kept me from driving for a long time was, what if I get lost? The city of São Paulo is one big mess of one way streets and roundabouts that twist and turn so you can never figure which way that you are going. If you go somewhere one way then you most definitely have to come back a totally different way. On top of that if I did get lost, my portuguese is certainly not good enough to ask for directions. One of the things that helped me get over this fear, was we bought a GPS. Still with the GPS the inevitable happened…I got lost. Thankfully I was able to call my husband and he was able to help me navigate may way to some familiar streets. About an hour later I was safely back at home.

I guess it could be worse, an American woman I met at church moved to São Paulo with her husband about 10 years ago. This was the time of no cell phones and no GPS. She would leave the house to go to the store and would never come back. Her husband would have to go out and drive around looking for her until he found her, 3 hours later.

The final obstacle that prevented me from driving was, what if I get in an accident? After living here for so many months I realized that this is not that big of deal. Brazilians are pretty used to this sort of thing and don’t seem to flip out like Americans do. I think the one who would flip out the most would be my husband;)

Although driving was intimidating at first, it is definitely worth it to be able to drive in São Paulo because otherwise you are confined to your neighborhood and São Paulo’s public transit system is very inefficient for such a large city. It feels great to have some independence back!

If you are planning to drive in São Paulo here are some basics for you to know:

  • The legal minimum age for driving cars and motorcycles is 18 years
  • Mobile cellular telephones may only be used with a “hands-free” system (This is clearly not followed or enforced)
  • In the event of an accident, contact the national emergency number Tel: 193
  • You must wear a seatbelt, including in the back seats if belts are fitted. If a child is too small to use a seatbelt, the child must be in a car seat. (This is a new law in Brazil and is not always followed)
  • Park in the direction of traffic flow and not facing it
  • Right turns at red lights are prohibited unless indicated by a  livre a direita sign
  • Roundabouts and traffic isles: Vehicles entering a roundabout have to give way to vehicles already on the roundabout
  • Running out of gas is an infraction of the law, whether the immobilized vehicle constitutes an obstacle for other traffic or not
  • The use of indicators, other than for signalling intention to change direction, can mean: left- it’s unsafe to pass, right- it’s safe to pass
  • Headlights flashed at oncoming traffic can indicate danger ahead, such as an accident or perhaps the presence of police
  • Due to the high incidence of car-jacking and robbery at traffic lights, it is tolerated for drivers to not stop at red lights at night in major cities such as São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. (As it should be)
  • Drivers in Brazil may be spontaneous and indicators and mirrors may not always be used. Do not expect prior indication of a turn or other manoeuvres
  • Drivers should keep doors locked and windows closed, particularly at junctions and especially at night

Italian Cantina

My husband took me out for a date night on Saturday night and we went to a lovely Italian Cantina called Piolin. You would never find this place if you didn’t know about it because it’s entrance is a hidden staircase in a part of town full of bars and brothels.  Cantina e Pizzaria Piolin is a very authentic Italian place with homemade pasta and great ambiance. It is well known to the area by artists, actors, and intellectuals and has recently expanded because it is such a popular place. I highly recommend it!

Amerizilian or Brazilican?

I recently traveled back to the United States to visit family and friends, especially before I get too far along in my pregnancy and can’t travel anymore. What I realized while I was there is that there are several things from both the Brazilian culture and American culture that I love and things that I don’t like. Sometimes I wish there was a way to mixed these to cultures to create a perfect blend of their strengths.

For example, one of the things I really appreciate about the Brazilian culture is that they have preferential seating and lines for the elderly, disabled, pregnant women, and women with a lap child. This has been very beneficial to me now that I am pregnant. What people don’t understand is that standing in lines for long periods of time while carrying extra weight as well as fluid in your circulatory system is exhausting. I never realized what a benefit this was until I came back to the US. On my layover at O’Hare airport I had just enough time to take the train to another terminal to catch my flight. I was already exhausted when I got on the train and of course there were no seats. Except… there were two seats for the elderly and disabled which were occupied by two middle-aged, overweight men. So I stood there exhausted and realized there was an elderly man with a cane standing beside me. Come on Americans have a little respect.

Not to say that Brazil doesn’t have it’s problems. I think the hardest adjustment in living in Brazil has been the fact that everything takes twice as long to get done here! When I first arrived here I had lists of things to get done and my plan was to get them all done in one day like in America. I quickly realized that this was never going to happen because everything takes soooooo long. Now when I make a list, I plan to get everything done in one week! For example, going to the bank seems like it shouldn’t take that long, right? Well first you have to find parking which in São Paulo can be complicated and may require you to park several blocks away. The once you get inside the bank you have to lock your purse in a locker, go through security, and take a number depending on who at the bank you need to talk to, then you stand in line and wait for that number to be called, and finally you get to talk to the bank teller who may or may not be able to help you in the first place. Needless to say efficiency is not a part of the Brazilian culture.

My husband and I often joke about what our child will be like, we call him Californista or Paulifornian (Californian + Person from São
Paulo or Paulista).  My hope is that he will be able to learn from both of these cultures and extrapolate the good from the both of them.

Pregnancy (Part 1)

When my husband and I decided to get pregnant with our first child in Brazil, we made sure that we had several things in place before embarking on this new journey. My husband is Brazilian and knows the ups and downs of the healthcare system and although Brazil has a public healthcare system; one of his priorities was to have a good job with healthcare insurance because the public system is still lacking in many ways. So as you read my experiences keep this in mind; this is only one person’s perspective of Sao Paulo’s healthcare system.

After only a couple of months of trying to get pregnant I missed my period. My first instinct was to go get a home pregnancy test but my husband said they were really expensive and it was best just to go get my labs drawn because our insurance covers such costs. So we went to the lab and had my blood drawn. A couple of days later it was confirmed; I was super pregnant. Our next mission was to find a doctor. My husband’s sister had lived in Sao Paulo for several years and her OB/GYN spoke english and was well-educated; so we decided to go to her.

We are very lucky because Dr. Zuzanna is an excellent doctor. She spent an hour with us on our initial consultation and even preformed an ultrasound at only 8 weeks. She answered all of my questions about food and even told me about a Brazilian lotion she used to prevent stretch marks (Payot). She prescribed me prenatal vitamins and educated me on what to expect in the several weeks to come. We also talked about the fact that I would like to have a “natural birth”meaning that I don’t want an elective cesarean section.

C-section rates in certain cities in Brazil (including Sao Paulo) are very high. In some private hospitals they are as high as 90%. For several reasons there has become a culture within Brazilian society for woman to want to have c-sections. One reason is convenience, for both the doctor and the woman, other reasons include: doctors get paid more for less time when performing c-sections, doctors pressure patients to have c-section, and woman are afraid of pain associated with labor. Unfortunately, the culture of c-sections being safer and less painful is really a misnomer. There is a very good article on HuffPost online about this very subject

Since my initial consultation which Dr. Zuzanna, I have had several labs drawn and two morphological ultrasounds as well as ultrasounds during every appointment. I definitely feel that our doctor is doing a thorough job in following my pregnancy. I do have to go to an outside lab to get my blood work done but this was not new to me because in the US I would go to an outside lab as well. I have read other blogs where people are annoyed they can’t get all their blood work done at the same office.

We have been to two different labs here in Sao Paulo; the first one we went to wa s Delboni Auriemo Medicina Diagnóstica which was very good but a+ Medicina Diagnóstica was just around the corner from our apartment so we decided to try them. A+ lab was less crowded but when it came to giving us my password to get my results online, we had to wait for a half our because they couldn’t figure out how to put a foreigner in their system. Needless to say we went back to Delboni.

So far being pregnant in Brazil does not seem that different from being pregnant in the US despite minor differences. As things come up I will be happy to explore even more about the child rearing experience in Brazil.