In early September, I attended the last of a series of international weddings in 2009. This time I ventured to São Paulo, Brazil, a city that holds a special place in my memory. In the early part of this decade, I spent an inordinate amount of time commuting between New York and São Paulo for work. Since my employer provided me with a Portuguese tutor, I also gradually picked up the language over time.
As I spent more time in Brazil, I knew that I wanted to gain fluency in Portuguese and I convinced my boss to let me work from São Paulo for a few months during the summer of 2001. I returned to live full time in New York just before September 11, 2001. As a result, I tend to think of São Paulo as the place where I lived out the last months of a simpler time. The events of September 11 ended a period of innocence for my generation.
In the intervening years, I left my job and entered graduate school. Although I traveled to Brazil in 2004 for New Year’s, I didn’t spend any time in São Paulo, but rather focused my time in Rio and the Northeast of the country.
When I arrived in São Paulo in September 2009 after an absence of over 7 years, the city seemed unchanged at first glance. Since I had taken a redeye for the 10 hour flight, I slept most of the day and woke up later than I had planned. Still, I knew I had time. The bride, Priscilla, was a Brazilian classmate of mine at business school but we had met prior to school through a friend. Over the seven years I have known her, she has made an art form out of arriving no less than 45 minutes late to any occasion. She’s a true Brazilian and she lives on Latin time, which means late arrivals, late dinners, etc. I have taken to making plans with her in the following fashion. I’ll make a reservation for dinner at 9:30 pm, tell her dinner is at 9:00, and arrive myself at 9:40. By the time she rolls in at 9:45, I’m comfortably seated at the table. Our little system works well and I never have an issue living by Latin time as long as I’m in the right mindset.
Since Priscilla’s wedding was meant to start at 4 pm, I arrived approximately 45 minutes late, all the while smugly congratulating myself for being so clever. Unfortunately, I had misread the wedding invitation and had actually turned up nearly 3 hours early. The irony killed me. I was so early, in fact, that the manager of the events space thought I must be part of the catering crew. After I determined that I had indeed gotten the time wrong and I clarified to the doorman that I was not part of the kitchen staff, I found myself with enough time to meet up with a few friends and check out some other parts of the city.
From that point on, I started to get a real sense that Brazil had experienced a game changing level of economic development since I had lived there. Of course, the usual signs of prosperity, namely packed shopping streets, bustling restaurants, and crowded hotels, were all present. More interesting, however, was the contrast in the generally feeling I got from my business school classmates regarding the present economic environment. Unlike friends in the United States whose careers are largely in various states of disarray, the Brazilians are thriving. In fact, they told me that they had observed an increasing number of foreigners moving to Brazil to take advantage of the tremendous career opportunities. Brazilians who have been living for years in New York and London are returning home to take part in the tremendous Brazilian growth story.
At 7:45, I returned to the wedding venue with a group of guests. We were just on time and the wedding began – exactly 45 minutes late – at 8:30. I later found out that Priscilla had been ready to go at 7:45, but a last minute wardrobe malfunction with a bridesmaid had caused the delay. It was her wedding day and she was determined to arrive on time. Of course, she told me this story over dinner in New York…a dinner to which she arrived 45 minutes late.
The wedding itself was a massive party that reminded me that Brazilians like to celebrate in style while retaining a relaxed and tropical mindset. For the stylish part of the equation, Priscilla, who works in cosmetics, commissioned a signature scent from a perfume designer in New York. At the same time, all guests were provided with Havaianas flip-flops and were encouraged to ditch their shoes before hitting the dance floor. Most of us did and we ended up celebrating São Paulo style until 6 the next morning. It seems that Brazilians have a lot to be happy about these days and it’s hard not to want to join them. Priscilla recently moved back to Brazil from New York to take part in the excitement. It seems that she has arrived right on time.