São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro both want to claim the title of “Brazil’s best city." But the differences between them are big - even their everyday vocabulary isn't the same
In almost every country, there is a feud between the two most influential cities. In Brazil, the protagonists of such a feud are São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. By far the best-known cities for foreigners, each claims the title as the city that best represents Brazil and its complexities. Rio’s case is made by its natural beauty, the magic of its streets and its abundance of cultural activities. On the other hand, São Paulo is the self-proclaimed “locomotive” of the country. This feud is comparable to the rivalry between New York and Los Angeles.
Foreigners who don’t actually live in Brazil may not have heard of this rivalry. But here, things can get real! Especially in places like the Internet, where common sense and tolerance are so abundant, right? Being a guy from Rio de Janeiro living in São Paulo for the past 12 years, it amuses me to compare both cities. This hobby eventually became a book called Ponte aérea: manual de sobrevivência entre Rio e São Paulo(literally “Air shuttle: a manual for surviving between Rio and Sao Paulo”).
Everything can trigger a discussion about which city is the best. Sure, Rio has the beach, but an apartment can cost a king’s ransom. São Paulo has a better public transportation system and a better business environment, but Rio is … Rio. People from both cities even dispute subjects like who has the rudest waiters, or the worst cab drives (Rio wins by far in both categories).
São Paulo and Rio don’t even agree when it comes to the Portuguese language. Sometimes, “translation” is needed. In Rio, plumbers are bombeiros (literally, firemen). In São Paulo, a street light is a farol(lighthouse). A cookie is biscoito in Rio, and bolacha in São Paulo. There are at least 800 different words used between the cities in everyday Portuguese – and that was only what I could count.
For my book, I interviewed 520 people to compare both cities: people from São Paulo living in Rio, and vice versa. And although each city has a particular touch, they are equal in their negatives. Safety issues, the high cost of living and traffic jams make life more difficult for residents of both. Cariocas, those who come from Rio, are the most attached to their hometown. More than half of those living in São Paulo (54%) still prefer Rio. But thinking that Rio is better doesn’t actually mean they want to live there again, as 88% declared they rather stay put in São Paulo.
I love both cities, and my journalistic integrity doesn’t allow me to play favorites. So I’m asking you, foreign readers: Rio or São Paulo?
FELIPE FRISCH is a journalist from Rio de Janeiro who lives in São Paulo since 2003. He currently works at Bloomberg News, and has written the book Ponte Aérea to talk about life between Rio and São Paulo