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Category Archives: Cost of Living

Ripping off the Electric Company

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So  we’ve been stealing electricity for the past year and a half.  When we first moved in we waited, and we waited, and we waited for the electricity bill to come, but it never did.  We rationalized, this is Brasil if we weren’t paying, they’d be certain to shut off our power immediately… someone was paying it.  Then we decided that maybe it was our landlord, part of the rent you know.

Well as we are moving out in a month, we got an email stating that our landlord would like our gas bill and electric bill for the last month, showing we were paid in full…. UH OH.. who has been paying our electric bills???

We headed down to the Electric Company (with baby in tow so we could take advantage of the preferential policy here in Brasil, bad I know) to work it out.  We were asked if we had electricity, as it turns out that they showed the electricity off since December 2010.  Yes that’s right folks, they’re sending someone out to read the meter from December 2010 (we moved in January 2011 ish).  We get to pay the amount, any guesses on what 18 months of electricity will cost us?  

We’re guessing R$7,000.

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I miss Sephora

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I stopped by a Cosmetics store the other day, a larger one as I needed to pick up some blue hair dye for some highlights.  They had a lot of hair products, but one thing that I have consistently found lacking is makeup here.  I’ve seen the MAC store, but to be honest I’ve never bought into the whole MAC cosmetics world.  I do however miss Sephora, walking in and looking at the various beautiful brands just makes me happy inside.   I’m more of a Laura Mercier and Tarte girl, and I don’t get that option here so I have to buy makeup whenever I go back to the US.  Well that was until I remembered a little site I had run across a very very long time ago.  www.strawberrycom.net.   I remembered they did free international shipping (from China), and they said if you got charged customs they would reimburse it.

Yes ladies, that’s right in English bren.strawberrycom.net and br.strawberrycom.net in Portuguese.  They have it all on the site, and they usually have deals as well, not as sweet as Sephora, but close enough.  I did read their FAQ, and all I remembered was right, they do reimburse and shipping is free.

 

**Update! Looks like we won’t be missing Sephora anymore.  http://vejasp.abril.com.br/noticias/sephora-abre-primeira-loja-no-brasil

Politics– in Brazil

Not that I really follow Politics in Brasil, I’m having a hard enough time keeping my house running, working, raising a child, growing a child, and keeping up with this blog.  But if I did, I’d be following the US’ election (my husband is an ardent Republican, so we spend many a night up till 2am watching each and every GOP debate).  I do happen to know a few Democrats, and one of them recently posted a Gallup poll stat, intending to demonstrate that things aren’t as bad as we think.  I tend to disagree, as I’m one of the few people I know who are happy with their financial situation.. and that’s because I’m in the ever so lovely (albeit expensive) Brasil.  Lucky me!!!

The Gallup Poll stats paint a pretty dismal picture of the US.  Basically when I started College the world was all roses, and then slowly began to decline until it hit right about where we are now:

The extent to which Americans are suffering financially because of the nation’s protracted economic downturn is evident in the large numbers — 49% — saying their personal finances are worse than a year ago. With barely 3 in 10 saying their finances are better, this is among the worst evaluations Americans have given of their finances since Gallup began measuring this in 1976.

Half the US Feel Worse Off Financially- Gallup Poll

So I mentioned this to the spouse, who pointed out that when President Lula left office after like 8 years, his approval rating was 88%. This is completely unheard of in US politics.  Almost all of our Presidents are hated by half or more of the US Population, then years later we look back on them with rose colored glasses. But still that high of a rating is unheard of in the US.

Now not everyone (I hear) loves Dilma, but I ran some stats on her, and she’s at a 72% approval rating as of January.  Employment is up, trade is up, and Brasil moved from 7th to 6th in GDP.  This is a growth economy.  So again, while people have their opinions, she seems to be doing okay.

Because I can’t be TOO pro Brasil, I will point out that there is still a lot that Dilma needs to take on politically.  For instance, the insane taxes.  I can always tell the Brasilians at the airport as they’re the ones with the carryons stuffed to the brim, and two 70lb suitcases.  Prices here are crazy high.

People still work like dogs here, other than the fact that they get like a month off for their Holiday, but the rest of the year they work HARD.  Crime is also a big issue, as I’ve noticed the whole pyramid scheme of employment seems to be big here. I.e the rich get richer, and the poor well they get a little less poor.  So the rich here are ever so rich, and the poor, well I’ve visited homes without toilet seats or formal showers.. and yes that’s normal, and no they were not in a favela.  Education is sadly still and issue here, and I think if that were to improve we would see a marked improvement in the living standards, crime, and salaries.  But Brasil is a huge area to manage, there are tons of severely rural towns, that we risk destroying rain forest by helping to “move into the current century” and provide running water etc., so it’s not an easy country to manage, and the solutions are not one size fits all.

And of course, again I’m just some random expat blogger, so in the end what do I really know?

San Francisco comes to Brasil

Ok not really, but kind of…see plastic bags are prohibited in San Francisco.  This really shouldn’t be a surprised as San Francisco is the most liberal, green, super government regulates everything city in the US.  But today a friend mentioned that at Extra they were charged .50 for a plastic bag, as in January all plastic bags will be outlawed.   So thanks to Google I confirmed it, I totally missed the announcement in May when the law was passed.  It was also put on hold by the supreme court, but I think it will still take affect in January now.

from 1800recycling.com

A couple of arguments against the ban made me laugh.  One of them was that the lower income people use the plastic bags as garbage bags, and now they’ll have to buy real garbage bags.  This totally made me laugh, because that’s what we horde them for, all of the little trash cans in our house.  And in Brasil, with the whole don’t flush the toilet thing, I can see how families go through these little plastic baggies in bulk!  Yeah I have a nice big bag that I use to carry stuff in, as it’s sturdy and helps in walking home, but those little plastic baggies are so useful.  And when you have a kid in diapers, those baggies make things nicer when you’re on the go (for everyone).  I had to laugh at the argument against this, basically that the poor people should be happy that they won’t get to use the plastic baggies anymore, as then people will buy the proper plastic bags for trash, so then they won’t break and get all over the street especially when it rains, or clog the gutters (at least that’s what I got from my portuguese readings).

Per the law however it seems there still will be plastic bags for use at the feiras (street fairs), or for putting your meat (cuz seriously I don’t want my samonella mixing with my fresh fruit), or milk/dairy products.

The interesting thing is, in San Francisco they at least provided an alternative… these cornstarch based bags or paper bags. Here the only thing they’ve got are these teensy plastic bags, so they’re even one step more hardcore than San Francisco.

It will be interesting to see how the Brasilian jeito comes out, as even though buying a reusable bag once isn’t too much money, it does kind of suck when you bring one of those bags and then buy a little bit more than can fit in one, and are at the store forced to buy another one. For me not a big deal, for a Brasilian on a tight budget, I’m gonna say that’s the difference between milk for breakfast or not.  Plus why pay for something you know you could get for free… I guess we’ll see people using boxes to load things more now too, as like I said, paper bags don’t exist here.  Probably a good thing, as we all love the rain forest as it is now, not as a big soybean farm.

 

Cute Furniture.. and Slavery??

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As I don’t have a car, I rely on the internet for some things and mostly just walking around my neighborhood.  Here in São Paulo don’t just go to the “furniture area” or the shopping area, as nestled amongst houses can be the cutest boutique, chocolate shop, or furniture store.  So every day I manage to make it out of the house to somewhere other than the grocery store, I try and visit a new street.   In my neighborhood my husband ran across a cute rustic furniture store.  I would have loved to buy a bunch of cute things from the store, but the money miser pointed out that we are here for a little over a year now, and have to ship things back or leave them here.  So all I picked up was a cute office desk, which I will be shipping back.

The store is kind of a shabby chic, Brazil style store.  Deposito Mineiro The wood is all brightly colored,pink, blue, and yellow.  It is supposed to be made of wood from old houses (some of it at least). The website pretty much shows everything in the store, so you can check all of the cute furniture out, but I also took photos, and wrote down a few prices.  The desks were about R$540 to R$600.  The wrought iron rose decorations ranged from ~R$20 to R$300

I would have loved to buy one of the armoires made from old shutters, but they were around R$1950 and well, we have so much space in our house, we don’t really need it.  AND it would be HUGE to bring back to the US and heavy, but I think it is very cute, and would look great in a kid’s room.

They also had lots of various doves, kind of Spanish Catholic decor. I think they are really cute, and would rather put one of these on my wall for decor, than those 50’s style sun clocks that seem to be so popular with all of the interior designers lately.  I may just come back from the US with one of these.  This is the larger one, and they had little small ones, but I would much rather the larger one.

Finally, this is a bad photo as I took it from outside the store, but I found this HIGHLY unusual, and I know I would never see this in the US, nor would a store prominently display it in their front window.  The store calls the larger than life figurine: Mucama em Madeira Maciça or Large Wood Mucama… which I tried to tell myself was just a woman of the house (come on I was trying to give Brazil the benefit of the doubt).

So what is a Mucama?  Per Wikipedia:

Chambermaid is the name given to a slave who was once black in Brazil concubine, the slave masters but also the sexual girl who was chosen to assist in domestic service or accompany family members, usually Sinha. She was chosen specifically for these functions and ended up being taken as a slave pet. Sometimes also was the wet nurse . Example in the literature have the Maid of Lucinda Joaquim Manoel de Macedo . The maids were often subjected to torture and threats to their masters. There are few novels that put such characters as heroes and as advisors of the daughters of coffee barons and owners of farms.

From a Brazilian dictionary site:

sf slave who helped in household chores, accompanying family members of Mr. and sometimes it was the wet nurse.

So yeah, a larger than life, slave figure is considered completely acceptable to use to decorate your home.  Race in Brazil is such an interesting thing.  Stereotypes, political correctness, all of that doesn’t seem to exist here.  People do not get offended over you pointing out their race or pigeon holing them due to their race.While slavery was practiced on a much larger scale here in Brazil than it was in America, the attitude towards slavery is very much different than it is in the US.  What I mean by that is I feel like in the US there is a shame of slavery, and for African Americans there is the sense of the injustice of what occurred in America.  However, here in Brazil, I get a sense that it is accepted that it was part of history, there is no ill feeling of deserving reparation for the former bonds of slavery.   The fundamental difference is that in Brazil slaves were just considered the lowest form of labor, they were (and probably the lowest workers are still looked on in the same way) looked down upon for being unskilled or uneducated.  However, they were not looked down upon because of their race, that never entered into the equation.  Slaves were able to marry, and today and then, Brazil is a huge melting pot of various ethnicities.  So it was not just the white plantation owner who had a slave, it was simply a matter of the classes (whatever ethnicity or ethnicities you may have been). In America, we turned them into nothing more than objects and took away their humanity… which probably links to why we were so incredibly horrible to our slaves compared to the Brazilian people. So in the end, I guess a Brazilian statue of a black maid, is just that a historical bit of decor, not as it would be in the US, a constant reminder that we actually thought another human to be nothing more than an object to be bought and sold.  I do think that the huge injustice felt by African Americans, probably provided them more opportunities to be considered equals in society easier and be given more opportunities, than the black Brazilian, whose role in society is still it seems, affected and stereotyped.  I know, I know, this was supposed to just be a piece on some cute furniture I found.

Shopping & Shoes!!!

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Ahhh, I have the best husband in the whole wide world.  Last weekend we had no plans to go anywhere as I just got back from going somewhere, so my husband thought it would be good to go explore downtown São Paulo.  We jumped on a bus.  He had previously instructed me to only take the train (he thought there would be a better chance of me not getting lost… see post here to see why that logic was flawed), so it was nice to just hop on the bus and head straight up.

We had two plans

Rua Direta and Rua Vinte e Cinco de Março. We wandered around in a big circle, most of the stores had cheaply made clothing, toys, and cheaper household goods.  There was Hering, which it turns out is also in my neighborhood. Hering isn’t too expensive, and is pretty GAP like in appearance.  Random boutiques…then we found it… the WHOLE reason this trip was worth it… Mundial Calçados.  The top was Munidal, the bottom floor was the Mundial outlet. And the shoes, ahh the shoes were wonderful. I am pretty picky on my shoes, and find more often than not I settle for a pair of shoes as I need them, but rarely truly love shoes (well sometimes I love them, but don’t love the price). I loved the price, and I loved the shoes. I bought three pairs… aren’t they all cute??  With winter coming on, I’ll probably not get much use out of the first two, but they are nice classics, so I think will work next summer just fine.

I wanted to buy this pair, but with a 10 month old, wearing heels like this just didn’t make sense. But aren’t they ADORABLE? Sporty and sexy all in one.  Tennis shoe high heels. AND one thing I found with the shoes, unlike American shoes that look good, these actually were comfortable too. Usually you need to pay for cute and comfortable.  No wonder Brasilian women walk around in heels, the shoes don’t hurt!

I picked this shot since you can see the wee one sleeping

After my little shopping pitstop, we learned that Rua Vinte e Cinco de Março was closed at noon on Saturdays, so we began to head back, when my husband saw his mother ship. The Brasilian Stock Exchange – BOVESPA It was kind of funny just happening upon it while we were discount shopping downtown.  That’s the thing, in Brasi, you never know what you’ll happen upon from one neighborhood to the next.

Nearby there were some street performers.  A very talented singer who’s generator powered mic kept dying on him, and one of those guys who pretends to be a statue.  This guy stands still until he sees a good target, then bends down and blows a little “peep” whistle, startling them.  Most kids are kinda freaked out by this.  As you can see from the photo ours was more curious than scared. I tell you, he’s 2 minutes away from taking some strangers hand and disapearing into the sunset.

 

Funny Stories from that day

FIRST

The bus stop is right across from a large cathedral.  My Uncle is Catholic, but I am very much not, so haven’t ever actually been in a Catholic church… so we decided to pop in and see it as our last stop for the day.  It was a bit odd, as it was a tourist attraction, with signs everywhere, but it was also a working cathedral with confessionals and people buying candles and other paraphernalia at the “catholic items stand” in the church. The mixing of sacred and tourist was a new one for me… seriously people were walking around taking pictures (even though signs clearly stated otherwise).  It was beautiful inside… unfortunately my son wasn’t well behaved. See he’s very musically inclined, and at a young age recognized that certain environments are very conducive to echoes.  Yes, anytime we enter a parking garage he starts “echoing”… well I guess he figured out with the high ceilings and all of that concrete he could get a good echo… he was right of course.  We quickly headed out the back door with my husband’s hand clasped firmly over little screamer.

SECOND

As we exited the back door two little urchins were trying to get into the Cathedral.  The security guard wouldn’t let them in to the building. My husband said one was telling the other to go in and “confess all of his sins” and the other yelled back, “I’m not confessin’ my sins to anyone!”.  They’re probably 8 or 9… and I’m certain they had more sins to confess than I did at that age.

THIRD

More of an observation really. We stopped some Federal police, and by that we mean went up to the Federal Police that were just standing there… with all of the “Activity” going on downtown, there are Federal Police stands where they just kind of stand around and watch (in fact everywhere we go there are usually Federal Police just standing around…but that’s for another blog). We asked the group of Federal Police where the bus to get home was.  They looked at us, and then said, “Zona Sul?”  My husband is pretty certain it is because we were white, obviously out of place, and pretty nicely dressed.  Because see that’s where all of us expat folk live… Zona Sul.. that and rich Brasilians 🙂

Maids and such

When I sit an work in my office during the day, I notice all the maids cleaning the windows and window sills and patios of the apartment building across the way.  As it’s a daily thing, I see the wiping of window sills, and balcony banisters, and every other nook and cranny.   A little army of maids making sure everything is spotless.  Some maids are in their street clothing, other maids are in maid outfits, and they all come in a little line up every am through the “maid entrances” of buildings.

I read a blog months ago (and I don’t remember where) about how there is dog poop on the sidewalks here and they just don’t get why no one will pick it up.  It is true, there is dog poop all over the place, and we wipe down our stroller wheels with Clorox wipes when we get home to get the nasty off. We also don’t wear our shoes in the house – EVER.  This is theory according to me, but I think most people know that the apartment building’s maid will be scrubbing the front sidewalk with LOTS of water and clorox so why should they pick it up, when that’s what the maids exist to do?  Just a theory of course, but Brasilians in general are pretty clean, so I’m thinking it comes down to the social mores of who does what.

 

My  maid came today. Yes I’m hoite toite enough to now have a maid. While a weekly or daily maid is common, we only have her come every week and a half. So Tuesday, then the following week Friday.  It seems to be working pretty well, and lets me do enough household chores to feel like I’m not a total bum.  We pay her R$70 plus R$7 for the bus.

My maid cleans better than I ever would, she moves beds and cribs and washes windows.  As is the o jeito Brasileiro , she dumps heaps of water on everything.  She even washes my patio, which is kind of pointless as the endless torrent of rain and soot constantly undermine her hard work. She is probably not the best maid, as most of the day she is on her cell phone, and she is definitely not efficient.  I also make her lunch…. and I think it is supposed to be the other way around.  However, I prefer the time to be creative and try new foods out, so I cook for my maid.  She probably thinks I am a sap.  I use the time to embarrass myself by trying to speak Portuguese. “Eu gosto de Farofa e Feijão.”  Things like that.  I did have to hide my Shout stain spray that I brought down as she kept trying to use that to clean things.  But all-in-all, by the end of the day, everything I have asked her to do is done.