Tag Archives: mumbai

Gringoes: why would you live in Brazil?

I’m a regular reader of the Gringoes.com website. It’s a magazine for foreigners living and working in Brazil and the downsides of being in Brazil are a regular theme of articles and discussion, particularly in the associated Facebook group where readers can vent their opinion openly without the need for an editor to approve what they submit to the magazine.

In the past day there has been an enormous argument raging on the Facebook group because one foreigner wrote a list of dozens and dozens of reasons why he hates living in Brazil.

Every foreign person living far from home has some reason to miss home, but for someone to sit and write a list of 66 – yes 66 – reasons he hates being in Brazil leaves me feeling rather incredulous. This is surely a hatred bordering on obsession?

It is easy to leave. Even if his wife has a good job. Or she wants to be close to her family. He could just leave, return to the USA and swallow the cost of visiting regularly as being better than having to endure a life in Brazil.

But comparing things to home is normal. I knew a British guy who has now left Brazil and he would lament about the quality of shops like Boots. I actually think that the drug stores in São Paulo are pretty good – even if the generic drugs are too expensive.

I spent some time living in the USA teaching kids when I was younger. I had a health-plan provided by my employer and I never needed to use it, but now I am self-employed, I think that finding over $1,000 a month to ensure I can see a doctor when I need one would seriously put me off ever living in the USA – but it’s a place I love visiting.

I spent a lot of time in India and Singapore when I was working for a bank and I had all kinds of comments and thoughts about those places. Singapore is clean and safe and well ordered, but nobody has any real ability to criticise the government – then you end up wondering how much that right is worth if the streets are clean and you have no fear of getting mugged?

In India the poverty is oppressive, even in cities like Mumbai where billionaires and film stars frequent the beaches and luxury hotels. All my foreign friends living there had to be in gated communities, sealed off from the ‘normal’ people – is that really what life in India is about?

And so what about Brazil? It’s true that the country is saddled with an inefficient bureaucracy and it appears there is no desire to streamline any of it – just dealing with the cartorios (notary offices) alone by using biometric identity would sweep away an enormous amount of time checking and stamping forms – often for no other reason than confirming a signature is genuine. But there are probably millions of people working in these offices so the government would give efficiency with one hand and wipe out jobs with the other.

Brazilian drivers are very aggressive. I don’t mind most of the time, but when someone pulls a stunt like overtaking me on a sweeping corner (it happens a lot more often than you might think) and their stupidity is endangering me and my family then I get angry – and there should be no need to.

It is tough to negotiate life in Brazil sometimes. I’m grateful that I’ve got a fantastic wife who can steer me through a lot of the things that would give a foreigner an entirely negative view of the place. I know a British guy who was robbed at gunpoint in São Paulo in his own home, but his Brazilian wife chose a crappy neighbourhood for them to live in where he would obviously stand out – so who is to blame?

I’ve also been lucky to get great professional advice. The accountant for my business had never handled a company like ours before – lots of foreign clients, money coming from all over the world, only really dealing in intellectual property  rather than tangible assets. She studied all the relevant rules to handle our company and has been doing a great job – and it’s needed because even a small company here has to file a tax or regulatory report AT LEAST ONCE A DAY… I did mention there is a lot of bureaucracy here.

Foreigners on the Gringoes website complain of being ripped off – try catching a taxi in India then and asking the driver to use the meter. It won’t happen. They complain of the ‘culture’ in Brazil not being like back home. They complain about how they can’t complain without being ignored.

I have even seen foreigners on the forums talking about how Brazilian music is just not as good as it is back at home. Are they kidding? Have you been out in São Paulo recently? It is packed with live gigs going on every night of the week. I admit, seeing the big international rock acts is expensive, but there is a thriving art, music, and culture scene in Brazil.

And then, when Brazilians respond with a list of all the great things about Brazil it just so often seems to be full of clichés… is feijoada really one of the reasons why people choose to live in Brazil?

The reality is that you can’t define a place with a single broad stroke. There is no Brazil this or that in the same way that living in Louisiana is very different to California or New York. Living far from home is affected firstly by the place you have chosen to be and the people you are with.

For example, if you are used to life in central New York or London then life on a beach up in the rural north east of Brazil might seem idyllic when you first arrive. The sun, the beach, the endless opportunity to live next to the barbecue. After a while though you might start wondering when you are going to next visit the cinema, a theatre, see a rock concert, or meet a friend who has read the books of Anthony Burgess. Living an idyllic life by the beach can have downsides too.

And the people are important. Moving anywhere can be improved by having a partner from that country, but people are people. I’ve met many Brazilian people from São Paulo who don’t even know how to get around their own city. In my short time here I’ve learned more about the public transport infrastructure and different neighbourhoods than they have in a lifetime. And I’ve also seen locals setting up home with their foreign partners in completely inappropriate locations – as I already mentioned.

I’m not suggesting that a foreigner moving to São Paulo has to live in a ghetto of foreigners. It actually annoys me when I meet ex-pats living in the city and they all gravitate to Jardins, Moema, or Brooklin. They are not really the most interesting parts of the city at all, but are considered ‘safe’ so foreigner-ghettos are created and then the cycle is reinforced – these are good places for foreigners to live because others are already there.

So the type of place, the location, the people you are with – these are all factors in creating your personal experience. The cultural complaints I read on Gringoes are all influenced by this – we are all in different places with different people so we cannot just assume the same about Brazil. The Brazil one person experiences can be entirely different to that experienced by another.

When I see the complaints about foreigners being treated differently, getting ripped off, I remember when I was living in São Paulo and every shop owner in my street would wave and say hello as I walked my dog down the street. I had a set of spare house keys in my local bar, in case I ever lost my keys. The taxi drivers at my local cab rank all said hello and were happy to do short or long runs at short notice. I never found any of the negativity I can see expressed on the discussion forums.

I was never burgled or mugged or witnessed any crime during my time in São Paulo, despite the statistics painting an image of the city as one step away from Gomorrah.

Now I live in a smaller town this has only become more accentuated. The paranoid may fear that standing out as the only English person in town might lead to being targeted by burglars or worse, but what have I found? Just a sincere welcome everywhere I go from the barber to the bakery to the bar to the local government – who are all excited about having a real English person help them with some music and culture related to the UK.

In fact, what have I found out about Brazil in short?

  • Business; running a business is bureaucratic. I cannot even personally deal with the number of regulatory and tax reports I need to file – it is more than one report a day. But my accountant does it all efficiently at a reasonable price and the corporation tax on my company is lower than in the UK. It takes a bit of effort to run the firm, but in short, the tax bill is lower than it would be in the US or UK so that can only be a good thing. I am better off that I would be back in the UK and I’m staying on the right law of the law and paying my taxes.
  • World focus; talking of business, I am busier than ever. Brazil is a great place to be as it has survived the global economic downturn and with the next World Cup and Olympic games coming here everyone is looking to do business in Brazil in this decade.
  • Home; I now live in a lovely spa town of about 30,000 people packed full of mineral water springs. I open the window in the morning and see mountains in front of me as the sun rises. I’ve got a pool and sauna at home and space to entertain friends when they come over. I can’t imagine having all this back in London – my last home in the UK was a small flat.
  • Nature; I’m surrounded by the most incredible countryside and real live toucans and parrots fly past – they are not just things you see on postcards from Brazil.
  • People; I’ve met so many fantastic people since I moved to Brazil – some locals and some foreigners living here. There is something about living away from your home country that encourages you to get out to meet more people than if you were back on familiar territory and this can be a wonderfully positive experience. I have even ended up working with the British embassy to promote the UK for business and tourism.
  • Weather; Brazil is an enormous country with searing heat in the north to snow in the south. Where I am living now will be dry until about September and I work outside in the sun almost every day. I’m pretty happy about that – would you prefer a balcony with a mountain view or a dull basement office?

In short, I have personally had a fantastic time since moving to Brazil and I have found opportunities and experiences that would just have never happened had I stayed in London.

There are things I would like to improve in Brazil. Maybe my voice and opinion can help to influence a few changes, but I see so many more positives than negatives. I think that the foreigners who endlessly whine about the problems of Brazil are living in the wrong place.

The foreigners may even be right. They might have a valid point, but if you want to while away your days complaining and dreaming of when you can move someplace else then why not just remember the words of John Lennon:

“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.

Airport bus

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Brazil: Don’t step outside or you might be robbed!

The other day I met a British visitor here in São Paulo. It was her third day in the city and she was travelling with a government-arranged party, visiting various cities over a two-week visit.

During those three days she had only seen the inside of the hotel, offices, or a chauffer-driven car between the two. She was not in back-to-back meetings, so there was spare time available, but her [UK-based British government] hosts had advised her to not go out alone.

Her hotel was on Alameda Santos. For anyone who knows São Paulo, that’s one block away from Avenida Paulista, one of the biggest, busiest streets in the city – a place always full of life and excitement.

I know that any new place can be intimidating. I remember my first ever visit to Mumbai and despite my initial terror at the incessant activity all around, I still managed to take a walk around the Gateway of India and a few other obligatory sights. When I spent a lot of time working in Singapore I would regularly hang out in Serangoon on Sunday afternoons watching Bollywood films on a makeshift screen in a car park – I was almost always the only white face there, but always felt welcome.

In São Paulo there is the language difficulty for visitors, there is also the sheer size of the place… the city is enormous with the greater area having a population three times the size of London. It’s also a place without the touristic features of Rio – the obvious destinations that appear on postcards home.

But some cursory research would have shown that this hotel was in one of the safest places in the city and just a block or two from the art museum – hardly the mean streets of gangland.

She was immensely grateful as I not only guided her around the city centre, but also took her on the public transport system, and to an edgier neighbourhood to try the local draft beer. It humanised the city for her.

I am going to contact the Consulate about this – maybe I can help them to produce some more up-to-date information for visiting business leaders. It’s a shame for visitors to have the ‘dangerous Brazil’ myth thrust at them even by official advisors. Sure, there has been a wave of murders here recently, but it’s gangs against cops – nothing the ordinary person sees.

I’ve never felt any sense of threat at all while living here, but maybe that’s just from following the same rules anyone should follow in a major city – especially when unfamiliar with the neighbourhood. Don’t stand out too much (Versace suit when everyone else is wearing Vans), don’t hold your iPad at arms length placing a video call as you walk down the street, and if you are out after dark then just make sure you have an idea of what the neighbourhoods are like if you are wandering around a new place.

But then, this might just as equally apply to a Brit arriving in New York for the first time, or a Brazilian arriving in London. Be sensible and you can enjoy a visit to São Paulo just like any other place!

Sao Paulo

Please help me get this book started – I need a get well soon card!

If you are a regular at the Nasscom India Leadership Forum, held every February in Mumbai, then you must surely know Alex Blues. Alex is one of the most knowledgeable people in the world in the field of outsourcing, with a track record  that includes being a partner at PA Consulting, a Director at KPMG, a director at Orbys, and he was once the European head of Syntel.

Search Google for “Alex Blues Nasscom” and you will find thousands of references to his Nasscom comments in blogs and magazines and just look at the hundreds of videos he has made from the Nasscom event.

Alex is a true friend of Nasscom, and he is a friend of mine too. But this year Alex is not in Mumbai and neither am I. For me the reason is simple. A company was going to send me over there to blog about the event, then they changed their mind just a couple of weeks ago, leaving me no time to make alternative plans.

For Alex, it’s not so simple. He is in hospital in the UK recovering from a car crash that took place many months ago in Kenya. He was on holiday with his wife and, to cut a long story short, she was beaten up by the collision and suffered many broken bones, but is now well on the road to recovery.

Alex needed an air ambulance to get back to the UK and is still very poorly. He is partially paralysed and cannot speak, so although his mind is still fine he is trapped in a world where he can’t speak and can’t move in a coordinated enough way to type or write.

But the doctors are working on the best hand he still has, and his speech, and once one or the other is working again, me and Alex are going to write a book together about how the role of influencers has entirely changed within the outsourcing and global services market. It’s an exciting topic that will take in the analysts, the consultants and advisors, and even the hi-tech bloggers and social media experts.

How people make buying decisions has changed enormously since the old days of buying an analyst report for thousands of dollars and trusting those opinions with a budget of millions.

So I need your help if me and Alex are going to get this project together. He still has all this untapped knowledge about the market and I know that you would find it useful as well, so can you do me a favour please?

Email him on alex@carteblanchebs.co.uk and tell him how much you would like to hear that he is well enough to start working on the book.

Or, what would be even better is if you could take a moment to mail a real get-well card. He won’t be leaving hospital anytime soon so if you can make the effort to buy a real card and send it – like we used to before email – then I know he would appreciate that too.

His wife, Caroline, has promised to read him all your messages. Get them focused on how much he needs to start communicating again so he can get to work on this book and I’m sure his recovery can start sooner.

Alex Blues, A5 Addenbrooke’s Hospital

Hills Road

Cambridge CB2 0QQ

United Kingdom

Will you help me – and Alex –  please? Thanks… and I hope to see the Nasscom crowd again in 2013, I miss the food in Mumbai and the random debates about music in Glasgow. You just don’t know how bad Indian food is in Brazil 🙂

One final note. Back in the days before social media had really taken off in the corporate world – like way back in 2008 – I uploaded this video of Alex at the Nasscom conference in Mumbai. I ended up in trouble for it because every time a potential client of PA Consulting was told they might be working with Alex, they would Google his name. One of the first results was always Alex enjoying a glass of wine in Mumbai with the team from Steria. Not quite the image a professional firm wants to see, but it certainly helped PA to understand the power of the Internet…

Restaurants that don’t know chutney from cheese

When you go to a restaurant that says it is Indian, or Chinese, or Thai, you expect the staff and management to have some knowledge of the cuisine they are selling, but I end up being disappointed by restaurants – in Brazil and in Europe – so often  that I thought I would post a rant.

I was actually kicked out of an Italian restaurant in Spain (Santander) last August. I had complained that the food was terrible and sent back my starter, only to then find that my wife had an inedible starter *and* main course – at least my main course was OK. When we talked to the manager about it, he took great offence when we asked if he – or any of his staff – were Italian. When we asked further about which type of Italian food they were even attempting to cook, the manager got angry and said he was cooking Italian food Spanish-style for the locals.

He then booted us out. We had not eaten much, but had managed to consume a free bottle of wine so it was not a bad deal.

Today I went to an Indian restaurant in São Paulo and it felt the same. I ordered the combo meal in the vegetarian section of the menu, expecting some kind of veggie curry, only to get lettuce leaves with chunks of Minas cheese.

This was more of a fast food Indian restaurant, than a high class place, but I have tried several higher budget places in São Paulo and none of them serve anything that is at all authentic. One place I went to claims how they pride themselves on their Maharashtran cuisine, when everything remotely Indian on the menu looks more like north Indian food – and they even had things like pasta on the menu too.

I know that British restaurants are not perfect either. The bog-standard small-town Indian full of Friday night drinkers is usually run by Bangladeshis with dishes that originated in Birmingham rather than Bombay. But visit London and it is possible to easily find very good and authentic Indian food – especially around Southall (Punjabi, Gujurati) or Harrow (Tamil).

I know restaurants often modify food to suit local palates, but why don’t they offer a blend of the authentic and the modified, rather than trying to pass off nonsense dishes as “authentically Indian.”

I actually feel cheated. I go to a “good” restaurant hoping to learn something from the chef and management, not to find that I know an immeasurable amount more about the food than them.

I sent an email to the restaurant I was just at, asking exactly which part of India serves cheese from Minas Gerais on top of lettuce… if they answer, I’ll post it as a comment here…

Hot Stuff

Shame on Hyatt

Each year, NASSCOM brings nearly 2,000 to their annual leadership conference in Mumbai. Since 2005 it has always been held at the Grand Hyatt hotel – a place that is certainly grand, but this year appears to have become too grand for the mere conference delegates.

They have started charging delegates to use tables and chairs in the coffee shop in a bid to prevent pesky conference-goers sitting and working or having meetings in the hotel public areas. Conference-goers have been asked for R$7,000 a table (£95) for a 2-hour slot.

The boss of the Hyatt should consider where his future revenue lies. Should he keep a few coffee-shops guests happy with a half-empty space, or help out the thousands of conference-goers who are also spending money in the bar, restaurants, and booking rooms?

It’s your call Hyatt.

IMAG4183

भारत में आपका स्वागत है

I finally arrived in India. It feels comfortable and familiar each time I arrive here. I have now been here so often that the routine at the airport and on arrival at the hotel all feel quite welcoming.

I was interested to see that the road immediately outside the international airport here is getting an upper level – there is a huge flyover being constructed that will presumably create a bypass for those cars just going past the airport. There is a very nice Hyatt hotel just outside the international airport and now this flyover is being constructed right in front of their windows – a shame for the guests there as someone up on the sixth floor will just have a view of cars now.

I’m staying in Bandra this time and there is a lot of new construction going on here too – more than I have seen in this part of Mumbai for a couple of years.

I’m surprised really that I feel quite OK today. It’s now Monday and I left São Paulo on Saturday afternoon, so my journey was around 30 hours long. I had a lot of trouble initially because BA was delayed. I was supposed to connect in London and they told me I could not make the connection to India, so they eventually rebooked me onto a Lufthansa flight.

Incredibly Lufthansa managed to find me some good seats (I always try reserving emergency exits or at least an aisle seat when on economy seats – this trip doesn’t have the budget available for business class) and vegetarian food. The crew at the airport and on the plane were really helpful – with one of the cabin crew really taking some time on board to talk about India with me and help to confirm my onward connection at Munich.

Unfortunately a bottle of cachaça that I had stowed in my luggage got broken, so a lot of my clothes ended up smelling of distilled sugar cane. It’s a good thing that laundry doesn’t cost too much in India…
Dharavi slum in Mumbai, India

Back to NASSCOM

Every year in February the Indian hi-tech trade association, NASSCOM, runs their big annual conference in Mumbai. It’s the big annual get-together of the great and good in IT, especially in India, but these days there are around 30 countries represented at the event.

Now that I live in Brazil, it’s a 23-hour journey to get from São Paulo to Mumbai, and that is just changing plane once in London. So I’m going to be dosing up on new films on the way, provided BA has something worth watching.

I’m going to be writing about political risk for Reuters, filing a daily ‘from the conference’ report for silicon.com, blogging about any interesting social media content for Computer Weekly, and anything related to Brazil and South America on IT Decisions, plus I am gathering research for a report I am writing for PA Consulting.

It’s going to be very busy as always, with meetings from breakfast until dinner and this year I am not staying in the conference hotel. It always helps if your room is just above where the conference is taking place, but never mind, I’m sure I’ll cope…

If you are going to be there then do get in touch. I am arriving in Mumbai on Monday and will be leaving very late on Thursday night… once the conference is over I will get dinner then go to the airport to catch the 02.45 flight to London.
NASSCOM Global Leadership Awards