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São Paulo vs. Rio – An Interview with Sarah Brown

It’s not easy to compare Sao Paulo and Rio; the two cities have very different personalities, operate at different paces and their residents often have very different ways of life. But which one would be the most interesting place for a foreigner to live in?

For this blog post I invited my good friend – Sarah Brown – to give us her opinion. I first met Sarah about five years ago when we both worked as teachers in São Paulo. But a year and a half into her time in the concrete jungle, Sarah swapped São Paulo for Rio de Janeiro, where she has since written for publications such as the Rio Times and the Culture Trip. She is also a co-founder of the new website dedicated to the culture of the marvelous city, Now In Rio.

With her insight into both cities, I quizzed her on the controversial Rio vs. Sao Paulo debate during my recent visit to in rio

Sarah, can you tell us a little bit about your new project, Now In Rio?

Of course! Now In Rio is a website designed to present a different side to Rio. It is a very comprehensive online travel guide, aiming to show things that are off the beaten track. It also attempts to break stereotypes surrounding Rio and give readers a local view of the city.

I am particularly interested in talking to you today because I know that you have insider knowledge of living in Rio AND São Paulo. How do you think that the two cities compare?

This is a question I’m often asked by the locals of Rio! Well, I think São Paulo is more cosmopolitan, it’s a very happening city.

Life in Rio is focused around the beach, on nature and hikes. Sure, there are great restaurants and nightlife here in Rio, but in this respect, it is not as exciting as São Paulo. Personally I prefer Rio though, because I generally find life in Rio is more relaxed.

What do you miss about life in São Paulo that Rio doesn’t offer? And what would you miss about life in Rio if you were to move back?

The diversity of restaurants in São Paulo is incredible, also the city seems more liberal. Since I’ve moved to Rio I have heard that the nightlife scene has really evolved in São Paulo, with many interesting parties taking place over the last few years. I’d have loved to have been a part of that.

Screenshot 2017-05-01 15.57.47

Sarah and I on a hike in Rio – 2015

If I were to move to São Paulo now, I`d miss the beach in Rio (of course!) as well as the nature and the hikes. I really appreciate the fact you can live in a massive city, but escape to nature very quickly here. I feel like the way of life in Rio is very beach-centric, very active. I can be very healthy here, and this is something I appreciate more nowadays.

By this do you mean that you exercise more?

Yes, but when I lived in São Paulo I was in my early 20s and I was going out and partying a lot! So São Paulo was great for that stage of my life. But now I am older, I’m approaching 30, and I’ve started taking care of my health. I’d say that Rio is perfect for this – going to the gym and thinking carefully about what you’re eating are both very normal here.

So you’ve touched upon exercising as a difference between life in the two cities, but are there any other cultural differences you can tell us between life in São Paulo and Rio?

This might sound like a stereotypical thing to say, but I do feel that São Paulo is focused on work. This is not to say that people in Rio are lazy, because this isn’t true; people do work very hard here. But they seem to have a very good sense of work-life balance. They will work the hours that they’re paid to work, and then make use of their free time.

My impression of São Paulo is really filtered through my experience as an English teacher in major banks. So, perhaps my opinion isn’t applicable to every working environment there, but I felt that people wouldn’t think twice about working extra hours – even if these were detrimental to their health. Also, I felt that people in São Paulo weren’t as good at disconnecting from work on the weekends.

Sarah and I enjoying a night out in the TV Bar in Rio!

Sarah and I enjoying a night out in the TV Bar in Rio!

Like you, I’ve been here for a number of years, and I’m often asked what I’m still doing in the country. People will ask, “Brazil is going through a tough time, what are you still doing here?” Do you ever get that?

I do, and I can understand why I am asked this; many Brazilians enjoy traveling in Europe. But for me I think Brazil is incredible, it’s beautiful. The way of life here is amazing and I am extremely happy here.

Usually I interview people based in São Paulo, and I always ask them the following question: Would you recommend São Paulo to those planning a trip to Brazil? How would you answer that?

I would say that people should definitely go to São Paulo, it’s almost off the beaten track in terms of conventional travel destinations. São Paulo can be a great experience if you know where you are going, it can also be a bad experience if you don’t. It’s such a big city that if you don’t turn up with a plan it can be difficult to fully enjoy. But of course, I should add that I’d definitely recommend Rio too!

Click here to take a look at the Now In Rio website.

Which city would you prefer to live in, Rio or São Paulo?

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