Wednesday, January 6, 2010

A week is a long time in São Paulo

Our first taste of São Paulo came last November when we all went out there for a week. Helen wanted to visit the office and get a feel for what working life is going to be like out there and we wanted to have a first look at the sort of houses and apartments we can afford to live in. We also had to visit the school we'll be sending the boys to.

Choosing a school from the other side of the world is not easy, especially when language is going to be such an issue, but fortunately we seem to have found one.

It's really rather nice - at least from what we've seen of it so far - and it comes recommended by a previous São Paulo correspondent who sent his two children there. We had decided to send the boys to an English-speaking school rather than throwing them in at the deep end in a local school and although we gave a good look at a couple of others, St Paul's was really the only choice.

We spent a morning with them so that they could evaluate the boys. James was taken off to do some basic literacy and numeracy tests and we found him later charming his teacher with his mathematical skills. David reappeared after half-an-hour with his future cohort, happy as pie and covered with purple dinosaur stamps all over his arms!

Sadly for us, there aren't actually that many native English speakers at the school, with about 90% of the pupils being Brazilian and the remaining 10% being a mix of various other nationalities. Still, this should help us develop two Portuguese speakers nice and quickly and save us the bother of having to do it ourselves.

As for the work side of things, we all took a trip to The Economist's office where we met the office manager, Miriam, and the current correspondent, John. Miriam is a paulistana (São Paulo born and bred) and will be vital for us, especially in our first few months when we don't have a clue how anything works or what anything means. John, sadly, will be long gone before we arrive.

The office is a 30-minute brisk walk from the school (2+ hours by car) and we've pretty much decided we need to live close to the school, seeing as how they start their day at 7.45. Unfortunately, this puts us slap bang in the middle of the most expensive square mile of real estate in South America (apparently). We saw at a lot of houses. Most were out of our price range, some were even more so. However, we did find two that were both affordable and extremely close to the school and we could possibly fit both of them into our current house. So, time to get rid of a few books then...

The story so far

For those of you who don't know, Helen works for The Economist. For the past four-and-a-half years she's been working on the Britain section as the Education correspondent, but last year she was asked if she would be interested in becoming the new Brazil correspondent, to begin sometime around July 2010. We talked it over, came to a fairly quick decision and said yes before the offer went off to someone else instead.

So here we are, at the start of what looks like being a year of change, excitement and perhaps also a little bit of fear and trepidation. There's an awful lot to do in the next six months and to be honest I'm really not looking forward to most of it. We have to sort out the house and get it ready for sale, then sell it, then ship out all our possessions - except the ones there's no point in shipping out, which will have to be found a home somewhere like the good old family loft...again. Then we have to find a big enough house in São Paulo which we can actually afford (no mean feat) get the children settled in their new school, find our way around, both geographically and socially... the list goes on. And all the while, Helen has to learn all she can about Brazilian politics, economics, society and history, while still doing her current job at the same time.

And on top of everything, we're trying to learn Portuguese as quickly as possible.

Still, where would we be if we didn't open the door when opportunity came knocking? And this way we don't have to suffer another of these freezing winters for a long while anyway.

So, what can I tell you about São Paulo? Well, six months ago it would have been absolutely nothing except which country it was in. I couldn't even pronounce it correctly - São is said through the nose, so it's almost like San, not Sow - and as far as I could tell from Google, it was the kidnapping capital of the world, extremely violent and possibly the second largest city in the southern hemisphere.

Now I know the place in a little more depth. We all took a trip out there for eight days in November and I can honestly say it was a fabulous experience from start to finish. Without exception the people were friendly and helpful. They politely listened to our enthusiastic attempts to butcher their language and then happily talked back assuming we would understand. The taxis were cheap and the drivers helpful. The traffic was extremely heavy, as we'd been warned, but no one was aggressive, just resigned to a long wait. It didn't feel threatening either, even after dark. I admit we kept to the better parts of town and didn't stay out beyond ten o'clock or so, but then there are parts of Cambridge I wouldn't want to be in after dark either.

You can read all about our trip in more detail in the next instalment. And there may even be some photos as well!