Where would you rather be?
Tyler Brule FT.com
A couple of days in Rio or São Paulo can work wonders for anyone feeling they're about to lose their groove
I f you reside in the northern hemisphere and feel you're about to come down with a terrible case of the autumn blues mixed with an attack of the economic shakes then there's a very simple, effective prescription – book a ticket to Brazil. Sunny personalities, fine hospitality and booming economyaside, a couple of days in Rio or São Paulo can work wonders for anyone feeling they're about to lose their groove.
If you live in Perm or Chennai or Chengdu and are about to start rattling out an e-mail in defence of your motherland, save your energy. First, you'll be waging an argument with a fierce Brazil fan and not a big booster of Russia, India, or China. Second, you'll have to ask yourself – who is the strongest soft superpower? Third, you'll have to be very honest with yourself and recognise that you may be embarking on a futile debate.
Without even trying I can list at least 20 brands, personalities, establishments and forces I love about Brazil. From the ground up I like the Made in Brazil pride of Havaianas flip-flops (they've now done Japanese-style socks so you can wear them like a good German or Kyotoite), neighbourhood street-markets on a Sunday, the kiosks along Ipanema, the simplicity of the sunga (the Brazilian version of a pair of Speedos), the functional style of the VW Brasilia, the architecture of modern talents Isay Weinfeld and Marcio Kogan, the restaurants and hotels of Rogerio Fasano, Livraria la Vila bookstores, Piaui magazine, the cool sounds of Barbara Mendes, Bebel Gilberto, Taryn Szpilman, Marcela Mangabeira, Marcelo Rezende and Liz Menezes, the D Dock News magazine store in São Paulo, the furniture of Sergio Rodrigues, Rio's jolly mayor Eduardo Paes and the aircraft of Embraer.
With Russia, India and China combined I'm struggling to come up with three. I like Air India's iconic maharajah mascot but I don't want to fly the airline. I like Russian pickles but I have a suspicion that they probably all come from Georgia.
As for China? It's tough, in part because I still haven't been. While I keep trying to get there for business reasons, it's yet to happen. Part of the problem is that I'm always alarmed by meetings (these take place in Hong Kong) and conference calls that suggest I'll need to do things the "Chinese way". When I ask what exactly a potential client means by the "Chinese way" I'm lectured about having to be sensitive to Chinese culture and that any work I might undertake in China has to have a serious appreciation of Chinese history and tradition. As these discussions frequently involve issues about design and architecture I'm often left wondering why I've even been contacted in the first place when the people sitting in Dalian know I'm in London, that Brûlé isn't a name from Sichuan province and I'm not big on red lacquer, jade or snorting dragons.
Several months ago I decided it was time to make amends and open a Monocle shop in Beijing. I was quite excited about the concept until I was informed that we wouldn't be able to sell our magazine in Beijing as it required a special licence. We still opened the shop, but visitors are only allowed to buy our other merchandise and are only permitted to browse through the magazine. Need I say more?
While I was in São Paulo last week, our magazine was selling briskly – for £22 ($35) a copy and no one was asking us to pay for a licence. When I asked a kiosk owner if we shouldn't work on lowering the price he said Brazilian consumers didn't really care about the price. "If they like it, they buy it. People are hungry to find out about opportunities around the world," he explained. "That's why we sell out of the FT, Monocle and The Economist. We're on a shopping spree."
While much is made of the Chinese shopping boom and high spending Russians, it's the Brazilians that get hotel managers and managers of airline revenue excited. "I don't really know where the rich Chinese stay as they don't stay with us," a hotel general manager in Milan recently told me. "The Brazilians are a whole other story. They check-in, they spend and they're fun. They're now the highest spenders per night across our entire group."
While Brazilians are on a spending spree abroad, they'd be wise to invest a little more at home. Social issues and the associated security problems need to be tackled, creaking infrastructures in São Paulo and Rio need to be addressed urgently and then there are the logistical challenges that come with airports and public transport networks that are well past their sell-by dates. As Beijing breaks ground on a nine-runway airport, the federal and state governments in Brazil are still dithering about how to tackle the country's growing aviation sector and what shape it should take.
Security and transport issues aside, if I was going to pack up and head for greener pastures it would most definitely involve a boarding pass with the airport designation GRU or GIG printed in bold.
Tyler Brûlé is editor-in-chief of Monocle magazine
Sent from my iPad