March 25, 2009

Meet Jim Shattuck who has travelled to Brazil several times, and moved to Brazil last year. Read the following interview in which he tells us about some of his most memorable experiences and gives some useful advice to newcomers.

1. Tell us a little about yourself, where are you from, what do you do etc.?

I was born in Detroit, Michigan and lived in San Francisco, California for 24 years prior to my moving to Niterói, Brazil. My passions connect with social justice causes. I have been a nonprofit executive director for one group or another for the past 20 years, including: anti-domestic violence work, fundraising for social justice groups, environmental conservation advocacy and most recently with the American Cancer Society.

2. When did you arrive in Brazil and what brought you here?

I moved to Brazil in January 2008 with my partner of 9+ years. He is Brazilian. We have been to Brazil together 6 times previously – typically for 3 – 6 months each time. With his aging parents and his being an only child – it was simply the right time to return and be with his family.

3. What were your first impressions of Brazil?

I am a big fan of Brazil. As so many people have commented – I have loved the openness and friendliness of the people. Regular folks on the street are ready to engage in a personal conversation. New friends are ready to welcome you into their circle of friends. It is not as cold” as you find in the United States.

4. What do you miss most about home?

Not so much. I guess I could fret about the low quality of consumer goods or the high cost here of simple items – but in fact this is not so important to me. I miss my friends, of course, but in terms of my new life circumstance – there is nothing to complain about.

5. What has been your most frustrating experience in Brazil?

Aside from carpenters and phone technicians never arriving anywhere near the time they said they would come – I would say what drives me most crazy is the lack of personal privacy within our family. Luiz and I are a couple accustomed to our personal space. Now that we live near his mother and father they are IN OUR LAP practically every day. It is frustrating to me to have to be open about all our personal business with his mother – or to be seen as rude and withholding from her.

6. What has been your most memorable experience in Brazil (specific incident)?

Luiz and I have done a lot of traveling in Brazil and have had many, many memorable experiences in beautiful places throughout the country. But I would say the most memorable was New Year’s Eve during the 2000 millennium celebration on Copacabana Beach. We were with a group of friends – celebrating without limits. The fireworks were incredible. Then after midnight Luiz walked me to the water’s edge and submerged two gold rings into the water – he asked Iamanja for her blessing – and asked me to cement our relationship together. What a joy!

7. What do you most like about Brazil (in general)?

I like our friends. I like the joyful times we spend together. I like the way our friends assume we will be together for many more good times in the future. I like the assumption of joy no matter how hard times may be.

8. What is your favorite restaurant/place to hang out here?

No specific favorites. We enjoy various restaurants on Itaipu beach who take good care of us when we spend the day on the beach.

9. Do you have any funny stories/incidents to tell about your time in Brazil?

This goes all the way back to my first visit to Brazil. We were walking the streets in Rio and I kept noticing the residential building names. I remember thinking: Who is the Ed guy? He seems to be everywhere. Ed this and Ed that. He must have been something! Later I was informed that Ed was an abbreviation for Edificio. Duh!

10. What difference between your homeland and Brazil do you find most striking?

The quality of simple consumer goods is striking. The higher price here is alarming. Pepper grinders, vegetable steamers, toaster ovens, ironing boards – the price here is stupid expensive. But then I see that everything is made in Brazil. Back in the US most of these items are made in China or some other low-wage country. Here we are living the reality of protectionist trade policies. But I understand the government’s impulse to do this.

11. How is your Portuguese coming along? What words do you find most difficult to pronounce/remember or are there any words that you regularly confuse?

I wish I were one of those people who pick up languages more easily. I have been living in a Brazilian social circle for many years. I thought once we moved here I could ‘pick it up’ more easily. Not so. I understand a great deal but I find it very difficult to express myself beyond simple conversations. I think I have a pretty good Carioca accent, but so often the teller at the grocery store just looks back at me with a blank stare when I respond to her questions.

I am again enrolled in a Portuguese class.

12. What advice do you have for newcomers to Brazil?

Come prepared to go slowly. Things will fall into place, but they need their own time. Bring a good quantity of financial reserves – you will need them to help tide you through the transition period to becoming a local.

Open yourself to the differences and beauties presented by your new neighbors.

13. What are some things that you would recommend for a visitor to do in São Paulo (or anywhere else in Brazil)?

Explore the margins.

Are you a foreigner who has lived in, or is living or travelling in Brazil? Are you a Brazilian who has a lot of contact with foreigners and/or lived outside of Brazil? Are you interested in telling your story? If you would like to volunteer for our interview series, or if you would like to recommend someone, please send a blank email to gringoes@www.gringoes.com with “Interview” in the subject. We will send you the interview questions by return email.

To read previous interviews in the Brazil Through Foreign Eyes series click below:

Ruby Souza – Hawaii
Stephan Hughes – Trinidad and Tobago
Louis van der Wiele – Holland
Drew Glaser – USA
Barry Elliott – Canada
Joel Barsky – USA
David Drummond – Canada
Liam Porisse – France
Jim Kelley – USA
Max Ray – USA
Jeremy Clark – Canada
Don Fredrick – USA
Jase Ramsey – USA
Ben Pearce – UK
Nitai Panchmatia – India
Johnnie Kashat – USA
Jeni Bonorino – USA
Eric Jones – USA
Bill Martin – UK
Bernard Morris – USA
John Graves – USA
Deepak Sapra – India
Alison McGowan – UK
Brent Gregory – USA
R Dub – USA
Tara Bianca – USA
Jack Hurley – USA
James Woodward – Canada
Tony O’Sullivan – Ireland
Anna Belavina – Russia
Jim Kirby – USA
Linda Halverstadt – USA
Michelle Monteiro – USA
Chris Mensah – UK
David Sundin – USA
Stephanie Glennon – USA
Julien Porisse – France
Hans Keeling – USA
Jim Adams – USA
Richard Murison – USA
Will Periam – UK
Jan Sandbert – Sweden
Jim Jones – USA
Mike Stricklin – USA
Edward Gowing – Australia
Adrian Woods – USA
Kevin Raub – USA
Pierpaolo Ciarcianelli – Italy
Zachary Heilman – USA
David Johnson – Bermuda
Cipriana Leme – Argentina
Timothy Bell – USA
Patti Beckert – USA
Timothy Bell – USA
Paul James – USA
David McLoughlin – Ireland
Pat Moraes – USA
Richard Dougherty – USA
James Weeds – USA
Tom Sluberski – USA
Peter Kefalas – USA
Sylvie Campbell – UK
Kathleen Haynes – USA
Matt Bowlby – USA
Alan Longbottom – UK
Eric Karukin – USA
Eddie Soto – USA
Kieran Gartlan – Ireland
Bryan Thomas Scmidt – USA
Emile Myburgh – South Africa
Bob Chapman – USA
David Barnes – USA
John Milan – USA
Chris Coates – UK
Matthew Ward – UK
Allison Glick – USA
Drake Smith – USA
Jim Jones – USA
Philip Wigan – UK
Atlanta Foresyth – USA
Lee Gordon – USA
Carmen Naidoo – South Africa
Lee Safian – USA
Laurie Carneiro – USA
Dana De Lise – USA
Richard Gant – USA
Robin Hoffman – USA
Wayne Wright – UK
Walt Kirspel – USA
Priya Guyadeen – Guyana
Caitlin McQuilling – USA
Nicole Rombach – Holland
Steven Engler – Canada
Richard Conti – USA
Zak Burkons – USA
Ann White – USA
Monde Ngqumeya – South Africa
Johnny Sweeney – USA
David Harty – Canada
Bill McCrossen – USA
Peter Berner – Switzerland/Brazil
Ethan Munson – USA
Solveig Skadhauge – Denmark
Sean McGown – USA
Condrad Downes – UK
Jennifer Silva – Australian
Justin Mounts – USA
Elliott Zussman – USA
Jonathan Abernathy – USA
Steve Koenig – USA
Kyron Gibbs – USA
Stephanie Early – USA
Martin Raw – UK
Sean Coady – UK
Hugo Delgado – Mexico
Sean Terrillon – Canada
Jessie Simon – USA
Michael Meehan – USA
Thales Panagides – Cyprus
Tammy Montagna – USA
Samantha Tennant – England
Ron Finely – United States
Bob Duprez – United States
Peter Baines – England
Youssef Bouguerra – Tunisia
Van Wallach – USA
Lesley Cushing – England
Alexander von Brincken – Germany
Hank Avellar – USA
Ed Catchpole – England
Penny Freeland – England
Yasemin de Pinto – Turkey
Amy Williams Lima – USA
John Naumann – England
Marsye Schouella – Eygpt
Rita Shannon Koeser – USA
John Fitzpatrick – Scotland
Liam Gallagher – Northern Ireland
Lorelei Jones – England
Adam Glensy – England
Tommie C.B. DeAssis – Japan
Aaron Day – Canada
Graham Debney – New Zealand
Silke Tina Tischendorf – Germany
Tanya Keshavjee Macedo – Canada
Frank de Meijer – Holland
Carl Emberson – Australia
Kim Buarque – Wales
Damiano Pak – South Korea
Jonas Helding – Denmark
Pari Seeber – Iran
John Milton – England
Ken Marshall – Australia

By John Fitzpatrick
March 20, 2009

Sky-high interest rates are as much a feature of Brazilian life as samba, football and television soap operas and the media constantly reminds us that they are the highest in the world. Well this particular soap opera may be coming to an end with the Central Bank decision on March 11 to slash the base rate by 1.5% to 11.25%. This sudden change would never have occurred had it not been for the international financial crisis. Of course, the rate is still meteoric by international standards and does not reflect the real rate charged by banks but the signs point to further cuts and some analysts are predicting interest rates of less than 10% by the second half of this year. While some economists and sectors have hailed the move, others have been critical and say it was still not enough to prevent Brazil entering a recession this year. To mark the prospect of single-digit rates, which I must confess I had almost never expected to see, Brazil Political and Business Comment and www.gringoes.com present the views of a number of economists and business and political leaders.

The risk still exists of the currency depreciation being passed on in prices which would lead the Central Bank to put its foot on the brake. We are facing a crisis of confidence in which the banks and consumers are becoming more conservative in granting credit regardless of the level of interest rates.”
Mailson da Nobrega, former finance minister and partner of Tendncias Consultoria Integrada

“It is reasonable to expect a new cut but the Copom does not want to commit itself to any size. It will need to assess the effects of what it has been doing. What could affect the interruption of the downward trend would be higher inflation. Inflation is expected to come to between 0.34% and 0.35% this month but if it were to reach 0.5% this could be alarming although it is unlikely. At the same time, the Central Bank could show some concern over the recovery in industrial production although this is also unlikely. The rise of the dollar could also have an influence if it reaches R$2.60 in the short term. This would lead to a pass-on effect on prices but the chances of an increase happening now are very small.”
Alexandre Schwartsmann, former Central Bank director and chief economist of Banco Santander

“Interest rates of 11.25 p.a. are still extremely high. Brazil needs a Selic rate of 8% at the maximum. As long as it does not fall to this level we will remain on the wrong path. Industry will start performing much better on the day interest rates reach 7% to 8%. The Central Bank should be acting to achieve this.”
Paulo Skaf, chairman of the Federation of Industries of São Paulo State (FIESP)

“This fall will benefit the consumer who will have a greater volume of credit at lower interest rates as the financial institutions have already announced lower rates. Companies will also gain as they will have a greater supply of credit for investment. Even the government will gain as it will pay less interest on the public debt and have resources available for investment. If the rate falls to a single-digit level in the second half of the year this will be extremely promising for the consumer and the Brazilian credit market as it will boost growth and encourage individuals who are ready to buy and lend although at a lower level,”
Adalberto Savioli, chairman of the National Association of Credit, Financing and Investment Association.

“The next Copom decisions will depend on how the inflation and activity figures perform but these should not prevent new adjustments in the Selic rate. We do not believe the cycle of interest rates cuts will end with today’s announcement. It is extremely likely that the Selic rate will reach a single-digit level by the middle of this year and be maintained to the end of 2009. In principle, we expect the total adjustment will take the rate to 9.75% at the end of the process although we also consider that it may even slightly lower.”
Silvio Campos Neto, chief economist, Banco Schahin

“The Central Bank was braver than usual but its approach will not be enough to rescue the economy from sudden death. I have been critical of the Central Bank for its timidity in reducing the Selic rate in 2006 and 2007 but I can see that since the crisis exploded it has acted in an austere, serious way faced with the danger of the higher dollar being passed on in prices.”
Paulo Rabello de Castro, chairman, RC Consultores

“I think the cut in the Selic rate should have been greater but the fact that the decision was unanimous shows that the members of the Copom are now much closer to reality.”
Marcelo Ribeiro, strategist, Pentgono Asset Management

“This acceleration of the cut in interest rates is still not fast enough for the current moment. The Central Bank is still showing that it is not following the right course to prevent a recession.”
Armando Monteiro Neto, chairman of the National Confederation of Industry and member of the House of Representatives

“The unfeeling technocrats of the Copom have lost a great opportunity to loosen the rope strangling the productive sector which creates employment and income. Unfortunately, once again the government is leaning towards the speculators.”
Paulo Pereira da Silva, chairman of the Fora Sindical labor union federation

“The Central Bank took an attitude which was compatible with the sharp downward movement in economic activity we have seen in recent months. At the same time, market expectations for inflation continue to decline and there is still a chance of gasoline prices being cut which would bring an added relief to the indices. A bigger cut of 2% would have come as a surprise and been better received by the market but it might have brought undesirable effects on the interest rate futures curve.”
Rubens Sardenberg, chief economist, the Brazilian Bankers Association

“In principle, we expect the Copom to cut the Selic rate by 150 basis points in April and make a further cut of 100 basis points in July which would take the level to 8.75%. However, we do not rule out the need for new cuts depending on how the external crisis develops and the Brazilian economy performs in the coming months.”
Maristella Ansanelli, chief economist, Banco Fibra

Note: these comments are edited translations from the economists themselves and the following newspapers: Estado de S. Paulo, Folha de S. Paulo, Valor Economico and Gazeta Mercantil.

John Fitzpatrick 2009

John Fitzpatrick is a Scottish writer and consultant with long experience of Brazil. He is based in São Paulo and runs his own company Celtic Comunicaes. This article originally appeared on his site http://www.brazilpoliticalcomment.com.br. He can be contacted at jf@celt.com.br.

Previous articles by John Fitzpatrick on www.gringoes.com:

Around Brazil: The Many Faces of São Paulo – Tips for Newcomers
Brazil: Will Obama Mention the “Brics” or just the “Rics”?
Brazil 2009 – The Year of Living Dangerously
Brazil: São Paulo Mayoral Election – a Foretaste of the Presidential Race?
Looking for Brazil’s Moon Under Water
Brazil’s Lula Finally Stops Playing the Blame Game
Brazil: Coming Up – Serra versus Dilma?
Brazil Becomes Middle Class but Not Bourgeois
Where is Brazil’s Barack Obama?
Brazil: Lula Loses Some of His Moral Luster
Lost Your Job on Wall Street? Head for Brazil!
Brazil: Lula Loves Investment Grade – Whatever That Is
There’s No Business Like Oil Business – in Brazil Anyway
Benefits of Brazil’s Growth Start to Spread
Let Brazilians Sort Out the Problems of the Amazon
Brazil’s Politicians Set to Cash in on Oil and Gas Discoveries
Brazil: Lula Learns the Lesson of Not Planning Ahead
Cops and Robbers Brazilian Style
Brazil: Oscar Freire – São Paulo’s Street of Dreams
Brazil: Lula Called to Account on Tax
Will Lula Leave Brazil in Safe or Unsafe Hands?
Senate Spits in the Face of the Brazilian People
The Lord Mayor Goes Zapping the NYSE in Brazil
Brazil: Economic Boom – Political Gloom
Around Brazil: Natal – Sun, Sand Dunes and Solitude or Hassle, Hustlers and Hookers
ACM – Brazil Will Never See His Like Again
Brazilians Let Politicians Treat Them as Doormats
Senate Chairman Upholds Tradition of Treating Brazil with Contempt
Brits Turn Their Backs on Brazil
Look Out for the New BBC – the Brazilian Broadcasting Corporation
Navel Gazing in Brasilia – Largesse in São Paulo
Brazil’s Politicians Share the Spoils
Cida – A Brazilian Entrepreneur
Ten Top Brazilian Songs to Download on Your iPod
Lula Lets Brazilians Down by Failing to Exercise His Authority
Brazil: Laid Back Lula Finally Gets His Team (Almost) Together
The George W. Bush PR Show Comes to Brazil
Briefing Bush on Brazil the CIA Way
US Authorities Tackle Brazil’s White Collar Criminals
Brazil’s Opposition Parties Try to End Disarray
Lula Faces Arm-Wrestling Contest with New Congress
Brazil Waits for Lula to Return from Holiday
Around Brazil: Santana de Parnaiba
Brazilians Start to Stand Up for Their Rights
Darfur – Brazil’s African Side Show
Economics and Politics in Brazil – a Tangled Web
Brazil’s Strange Idea of Democracy
Brazil: John Pizzarelli – the Boy from Ipanema
Brazil’s Stock Market: the Path to Riches or Rags?
Brazil: Lula Unlikely to Change Course after His Massive Victory
Brazil: Privatization – Lula and Alckmin Defend the Indefensible
Brazil: Many Emigrants, Fewer Immigrants Part 2
Brazil: Many Emigrants, Fewer Immigrants Part 1
Brazil: Alckmin Hits Lula but Lands No Killer Blow
Brazil: Lula Pays the Penalty for Complacency
Brazil: Does Lula Deserve to Win?
Brazil: Cardoso Writes a Poison Pen Letter
Monte Verde – Brazil’s Green Mountain
Brazil’s Gross Disappointing Product
Brazil’s Election – Alckmin Hands Lula Victory on a Plate
Lula Hits Back at Congress
Brazil’s Presidential Election May Not be a Walkover for Lula
Pity the Brazilian Voter
Brazil’s Fainthearts Let the Nation Down
Now is the Winter of Brazil’s Discontent
World Cup brings Out the Best and Worst in Brazil
Brazil’s Big Spender
Brazil: The Dogs of War are Unleashed in São Paulo
Brazil: Self-Righteous Indignation Marks Bolivian Nationalization
Brazil: Lula Still Vulnerable
Brazil: The PSDB Takes the Hard Road
Fooling Around with Brazilian Politics and History Part 3
Fooling Around with Brazilian Politics and History Part 2
Fooling Around with Brazilian Politics and History Part 1
Brazil: Alckmin the Hare Takes on Serra the Tortoise
Patronizing Brazilians the Politically Correct Way
Brazil: Election Gives Voters Chance to Clean Up Congress
Brazil: João Pessoa – a Victim of its Own Success
No Consistency in Brazil’s Foreign Policy
Brazil: Sitting in the Shadow of Sarney and Magalhes
Brazil: Gentrification Creeps Up On São Paulo
Dirt Flies as Brazilian Parties Aim for Presidency
Brazilians Vote for Guns and Death Not Peace and Love
Brazil’s Gun Lobby Launches Hysterical Campaign Against Arms Ban
Jews and Arabs Find Success in Brazil
Brazil’s Politicians Start Looking Ahead to Next Year
Brazil: Lula Down but Certainly Not Out
Brazil’s Congress Struggles to Cope with Ongoing Crisis
Brazil: Scandal Threatens Presidential Mandate System
Brazil: If Lula is to Survive He Needs to Change His Tactics
Brazil: Many Parties – Few Ideas
Brazil Through Foreign Eyes
Helping the Helpless in Brazil
Pinheiros – São Paulo’s Best District
Growing Old (Dis)gracefully in Brazil
Canudos, Still With Us 100 Years Later
The Rise of the Brazilian Empire
Brazil and Portugal – The Samba and the Fado
Brazil – Just A State Of Mind
Brazil: For Lula, is Ignorance Bliss?
Brazil: Pay Day – or Pay Dirt?

March 20, 2009

This is our regular column called Ask a Brazilian”, the idea being that you can quite literally ask a question of a Brazilian – for those issues you aren’t sure about but perhaps dare not ask someone else. It is meant as a bit of fun and answers should not be construed as expert opinion or the definitive reply on the matter. For that reason we ask you to please send your own comments and experiences in order to add to our replies.

Whenever I go shopping, I find it very hard to find real leather purses or shoes, except in expensive stores. The average price I’ve seen for a leather purse is R$200. In the US you can find leather shoes even in inexpensive stores. Why are these leather items so scare when Brazilians clearly love their meat and there isn’t a shortage of cows? Where is all the leather going before the cow makes it to the table?

Juliette

Hello, Juliette,

I believe that most leather produced in Brazil goes to China, around 80% or even more. Also that most leather shoes made in Brazil are exported.

If you go to the South you will probably see more leather articles, because of the weather I think. Up in the North people never use leather shoes, Havaianas are good enough. So maybe prices will only get worse. You may find better prices for shoes and leather goods in Argentina, particularly Buenos Aires. You’ll see they are all made in Brazil.

Thanks for dropping us a question,

Vanessa

Why is it when someone phones you in São Paulo (I hate to say Brazil as I know things can be different elsewhere in the country) they ask you “who you are” and talk to you as if you should know what they want already?

Andrew

Andrew,

Asking who you are “quem ?” is only to ask you for your name. For example: “Quem fala?”. “Vanessa”. “Oh, hi Vanessa, is Maria there?”. It’s simple as that. If you don’t like to say your name, just answer “and who are you?”, it’s fair.

I think this is a cultural difference that can confuse and even upset those who are not used to it.

Vanessa

Readers comments:

As to Juliette’s leather question, living in R.J., but having travelled to Rio G. de Sul a few times, for fun and business, I’ve found the leather prices to be lower there. There are a lot of independant shoemakers and artisans that do very good work, at reasonable prices. (as well as eat a lot of beef). Rio seems to think the gringos have money to burn, and they post prices as such. IMHO.

I’m sure a lot of leather does go to China, P’k’stan, etc. but theres still a good market in R.S. de Sul for leather goods.

– Dave

Are there any burning questions you have about Brazil, or other issues that you’re curious about, such as Brazilian culture? If so, send your questions to gringoes@www.gringoes.com with “Ask a Brazilian” in the subject. We will forward to our Brazilian experts, and publish the best questions (and replies) on the site.

Previous articles in this series:

Ask a Brazilian: Tampons
Ask a Brazilian: A Brazilian CV
Ask a Brazilian: Gender Stereotypes
Ask a Brazilian: Answering a Question
Ask a Brazilian: Revoked Visa
Ask a Brazilian: Pedestrian Problems
Ask a Brazilian: Trash
Ask a Brazilian: Tiles
Ask a Brazilian: Headlights
Ask a Brazilian: Differences and Love
Ask a Brazilian: What Do the Police Do?
Ask a Brazilian: Contractor Frustrations
Ask a Brazilian: English Books and Brazilian Boys
Ask a Brazilian: Cold Cahaca
Ask a Brazilian: Interruptions
Ask a Brazilian: Travel and Security Concerns
Ask a Brazilian: Gestures and Toys
Ask a Brazilian: Hispanics or Latinos, and Duvets
Ask a Brazilian: Overbearing Sogros
Ask a Brazilian: Hotels and Bank Transfers
Ask a Brazilian: Swimming, Showers and New Year’s
Ask a Brazilian: Making Friends
Ask a Brazilian: Female Etiquette
Ask a Brazilian: Washing Machines
Ask a Brazilian: Picking Teeth
Ask a Brazilian: Lozenge or Candy?
Ask a Brazilian: Liberal or Jealous?
Ask a Brazilian: Truck Wheels
Ask a Brazilian: Tolerance
Ask a Brazilian: Screens
Ask a Brazilian: Brazilian Wax
Ask a Brazilian: Flashing Lights
Ask a Brazilian: Lemon and Limes
Ask a Brazilian: Shocking Showers

By Marc Burleigh
March 6, 2009

Beauty is a core value in Brazil. And nowhere is that more evident than during the annual Carnival parades that took place this week.

When I first came to Brazil, I came with the preconceptions so many have of the parades – I had in my head postcard images of bare-breasted, tanned dancing queens brandishing broad white smiles and extravagant plume-and-sequin headgear.

Those images are true, I can testify: They ARE largely undressed, they DO smile non-stop for hours on end, and the feathers ARE very long.

But how representative is that image of what you find beyond Carnival? What does it say about a society that it vaunts its female beauty, and has even turned it into a billion-dollar tourist draw? What is Brazil’s relationship to beauty?

The answers are: mostly what you expect, but with some surprises.

Yes, Brazilians are shameless in their adoration of the feminine body. Both men and women fawn over the sight of any toned women in a g-string small enough to be called here “fio dental” (“dental floss” in Portuguese).

Newspapers treat it as a matter of national importance to report on the diet of the dancing queens and to show pictures of any buffed celebrities in a state of undress caught accidentally or deliberately.

It is common here, when a Brazilian discovers you’re a foreigner, to be asked what you think of Brazil. This is not an invitation to deliver sociological or political critiques. You are expected to answer, pretty much in order: “The friendly people, the beaches, and the women.” They’ll be satisfied, and you’ll likely get a thumbs-up sign of approval that you’ve cracked the essence of the country.

Naturally (or rather, unnaturally), the plastic-surgery industry here rides high on this aesthetic priority. Beyond the standard breast and nose jobs, ribs are removed to bring in the waist, liposuction is common, and implants can be inserted into backsides and even the calves. And it’s not just a recourse for the rich: once a year a famous cosmetic surgeon and his team offer free operations to the poor.

As you can see, European or North American sensibilities founded on the feminist movements of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s have entirely passed by this great southern land. Trying to import them with you is a lost cause. In fact, politely treating a woman in a social setting as a gender-neutral counterpart of invisible physical attributes is often considered rude. Compliments are the rule. And they flow in both directions (by the way, being called a “cat” – “gato” for a man, “gata” for a girl – is considered more flattery than feline).

That doesn’t mean, though, that machismo rides roughshod in Brazil.

The women are adept at channelling male attentions – and at turning their good looks into a commodity that translates into higher salaries, TV stardom or, as the holy grail, marriage to a very wealthy man.

Carnival is an exaggerated form of those ambitions. Outside of the parades themselves, clothing choices are somewhat less risque – indeed, many Brazilian women express shock at seeing European women going topless on beaches, something illegal here. Amusing, given the brazen displays during Carnival.

A paradoxical aspect to this pervasive emphasis on physicality is that women don’t need to be a top model to act sexy. All shapes and sizes strut and saunter with the confidence of a femme fatale, regardless of morphology.

That self-assurance goes some way to affirming the adage that beauty comes from within. It’s also adopted during the all-important Carnival parades, where the dancing queens might be leading the pack, but the pack itself is made up of all types, all ages, all of them twirling and singing with the same gusto, their smiles just as broad.

And that there – that boundless joy, that celebration of the body, whatever body you have – is the true beauty of Brazil.

By Jake Howie
March 6, 2009

Flying into a metropolis like São Paulo can be overwhelming, to say the least.

It seems like youre flying for another hour after you see the first sparkles of city lights. But that’s Sampa for you – it’s extremity and grandness can be compared to no other city. If Iguacu Falls was to find it’s enormity in a city, it would need not look past São Paulo. Both are beautiful, both are unforgiving. Both are forces to be reckoned with, and at times both can scare you, potentially leaving you weighed down and gasping for breath.

Right now, I am gasping for breath. I am a city boy, this is true. I love the fast-paced, action-packed life a truly good city brings you. But my hometown is the type of city I am used to. Auckland, New Zealand – city of sails, city of ocean, city of pretty gardens, and, up until early February, the city of me. Auckland is the biggest city in New Zealand, and, at 1.5 million, it’s easy to see why this Kiwi boy is struggling to inhale all that this city of over 20 million people has to offer. It’s kind of like a little mouse trying to eat a meal made for an elephant: the mouse may feel daunted by the task ahead of him, but, hopefully, with a teaspoon of patience and a sprinkle of time, the mouse will vanquish the challenge and emerge victorious.

Luckily I have a big appetite, and I am ready to take in all that Sampa has to offer. This city is not your regular city. It’s more like it’s own little world (if I can use the world little against São Paulo… this may be an oxymoron). Already I have been aghast with the diverse facets of this city. The buzzy, vivacious, boisterous Vila Madalena, the quiet, serene parks of north Zona Norte, the glam, chic, trendy restaurants of Jardims, the simple, modest, challenging life in some of the eastern suburbs, the extravagance available on Rua Oscar Freire and its surroundings, the beat-up, unkempt reality of the streets of downtown. Diverse, yes, but boring, no. That is one adjective one could never use for São Paulo. You can feel scared, alive, free, depressed, angry, euphoric or confused in São Paulo, but no sane person could ever feel boredom or apathy. And that, my friends, is the spirit of São Paulo.

I sometimes do feel like an alien. Going from Auckland to São Paulo is like going from a state of meditation to extreme sports… and I am the random guy who is still in a peaceful trance as he bungees off the world’s tallest bridge. But, despite my fears, I cant help but feel an auspicious energy in this city. The slums may seem endless to cynics, but the opportunities are what seem endless to me. Whatever I want, and most certainly whatever I need, lie in the boarders of Sampa. I can feel this is the place I am supposed to be, and only good things will come from this. I am not embracing São Paulo as much as São Paulo is embracing me, with it’s big, sometimes dirty, always welcoming arms.

But it’s only Week 3, I admit. If this is like most of my relationships, it will peak during Week 4, turn sour by Week 6 and by Week 7 I wont be returning it’s calls. But that’s just fine by São Paulo. After all, it has 20 million other lovers!

March 6, 2009

The first full festival to celebrate Irish culture will be held in São Paulo (and other cities too) from 17 to 27 March.

It will begin on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17 (Ireland’s National Day). The ambassador, Michael Hoey, will be present for the opening ceremony of the festival, entitled Cara Irlanda”. There will be a whole series of events aiming to bring the many faces of Ireland to people in São Paulo and Brazil and to provide an authentic immersion into Irish culture.

It is organised by the Irish Institute website.

Irish cuisine is already prominently featured at Mulligan(restaurant and pub) in Porto Alegre.

At the ‘Memorial do Imigrante’
James Concagh, a radical Irish artist based in Brazil, presents the show entitled “Recent Works” as part of the “Cara Irlanda” festival in the ‘Memorial do Imigrante’, São Paulo. There are 15 works (120cm by 150cm and 150cm by 150cm) employing a technique of mixing directly onto the canvas.

The opening of the exhibition will be at 11 am on 21 March with a speech by Munira Mutran – a professor at the University of São Paulo (USP). The ambassador, Michael Hoey, will also be present. The exhibition is open to the public until April 26, from 11:00 to 17:00. Free.

The prize-winning dance group ‘Banana Broadway’ will present an Irish dance spectacular at the ‘Memorial do Imigrante’ on Saturday, March 21, at 13:30. Free.

On Saturday, March 28, there will be two short visual presentations about Ireland and Dublin – and also a special presentation about the ‘Celtic Woman’ band (filmed during a sell-out concert in the Helix Center, Dublin). The latter brings together five exceptional singers/musicians singing Irish traditional songs, both popular and classical. From 14:00. Free.

Complete program (at the Irish Institute website).

March 6, 2009

Brazil may not seem the likeliest of venues for a St Patrick’s Day knees-up, but the sounds of samba and Irish fiddlers collide to celebrate all things Irish on March 17.

St Patrick’s Day has been celebrated as a ‘feast day’ since the seventeenth-century in the Emerald Isle, and St Patrick is Ireland’s patron saint. With Irish expats and their Celtic culture spread all over the world, St Paddy’s Day customs have gone global, with revelers wearing green, drinking beer, and performing in parades.

An Unlikely Pairing
The link between Brazil and St Patrick actually dates back to the eighteenth century, when two Portuguese monks were inspired by the Saint’s good deeds to name a town, statue, river and valley ‘São Patrcio’ in his honor! To this day parishioners in the town carry a statue of the Saint in a procession around the town on March 17th.

If the Rio de Janeiro carnival is anything to go by, Brazilians throw a good party, and with Irish pubs all over Brazil hosting events this St Patrick’s Day, it’s a great time to visit.

Brazil boasts immaculate beaches, dramatic scenery and vibrant cities, and a trip there doesn’t have to cost the earth. There are a range of safe and comfortable hostels in Brazil, and if you fly in March you’ll catch the tail-end of the summer and miss the high prices of Carnival season.

Celebrate in São Paulo
The sprawling São Paolo, the second-largest city in the world, has a 150-strong Irish community, and is home to the most St Patrick’s parties in Brazil, plus several Irish pubs. A trip to São Paolo combines a chic and cosmopolitan city with a drop of Celtic culture.

Celebrating in the city is easy; all you have to do is pick your pub. The Bridge Restaurant (on the Rua Ferreira De Arajo), is the place for a St Paddy’s shindig. Punters tuck in to a hearty Irish stew with soda bread, washed down with pints of Guinness and a glass of Irish whiskey.

O’Malley’s Bar (at 1529 Alameda Itu) is constantly counting down the days until St Patrick’s Day, and usually imports a traditional Irish band ‘Murphy’s Law’ for the occasion, lasting from ‘noon ’till dawn’. The All Black Irish Pub (on Rua Oscar Freire), hosts live music every night, and is holding not one but two St Patrick’s Day parties- one with a Brazilian line up, the other with a mix of Irish and Brazilian bands.

When the Party’s Over…
When you’ve had enough of shamrocks and leprechauns, take your time to explore the rest of São Paolo and soak up some of Brazil’s own unique flavor. This is South America’s New York City, with esteemed art galleries, fashionable boutiques and a wild club scene. Those immaculate beaches on the coast are also only a few hours away.

Before joining HostelBookers in 2009, Lauren Smith indulged her passion for travel, backpacking around South America and staying in

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March 6, 2009

Meet Ruby Souza who first travelled to Brazil in 2001. Read the following interview in which she tells us about some of her most memorable experiences and gives some useful advice to newcomers.

1. Tell us a little about yourself, where are you from, what do you do etc.?

I was born and raised in Hawai’i, I am a teacher back living here now after about 9 years away living in both Florida and Brazil (Nova Friburgo, RJ). However, my family and I do want to move back to Brazil in the next few years.

2. When did you arrive in Brazil and what brought you here?

I went to Brazil for the first time in August 2001 at the age of 22 after marrying my Brazilian husband. I also was about a month pregnant with my first child when I got there. I had been intrigued with Brazil since I was a teenager and a professional surfer friend of mine went to Brazil, and she taught me my first word in Portuguese, obrigada.” When I moved to South Florida, I began working in a Brazilian restaurant, and really got interested in learning the language and traveling to Brazil. So we did!

3. What were you first impressions of Brazil?

I’m pretty sure that my mouth was hanging open after we left the airport in Rio and began to pass the favelas… I think any American who has not really left the USA would be shocked to see the way truly poor people survive (prior to this my international experience was limited to one trip to Tijuana). It completely changed my perspective, and I always tell people to try and live in another country for a time if possible.

4. What did you miss most about home?

Probably food! I was pregnant for a lot of the time that I lived in Nova Friburgo, and if there was any time where I wanted to eat three full course meals a day, this was it. The lighter meal (sometimes just bread and coffee) that my husband’s family would eat at night was just not sufficient for a pregnant me. I would often force my husband to take me out to eat pizza or something heavier for dinner.

5. What has been your most frustrating experience in Brazil?

Since my daughter was born in Brazil, every time one of us wants to travel back and forth to Brazil with her we have to get a letter of permission from the Brazilian Consulate. I know the rule is in place to protect children from kidnappings, but it is extremely inconvenient and as many know, dealing with the Policia Federal is not the easiest thing.

6. What has been your most memorable experience in Brazil (specific incident)?

I would have to say the birth of my daughter, since she was born there. I was very impressed with the level of medical care that I received, and while I did have her in a private hospital, I’ve been to the public hospitals and I thought the quality of care was impressive as well (especially for a public institution).

7. What do you most like about Brazil (in general)?

I know it’s been said before, but the people. My in-laws are wonderful, and I love the way people are so social in Brazil. I wish we Americans were more like that and less about work, work, work.

8. What is your favorite restaurant/place to hang out here?

I have grown to love Brazilian food and miss it with a passion out here in Hawaii (there’s only one Brazilian restaurant on Kaua’i, the island we live on). Honestly my mother-in-law, Erodia, is the best cook (I love her Stroganoff). Other than that I love any restaurant where you can go for lunch by the quilo because I love the variety. I also love Brazilian pizza, hot dogs, bakeries, everything!

9. Do you have any funny stories/incidents to tell about your time in Brazil?

Soon after I gave birth to my daughter I was talking to my mother-in-law and mistakenly informed her that I needed to buy “camisinhas” (condoms) instead of “calinhas” (underwear). My husband was standing in the room and didn’t correct me until after his mom walked out. But being that it was only a few weeks after I had my daughter she was probably agreeing with me!

10. What difference between your homeland and Brazil do you find most striking?

Obviously the poverty level, “poor” people here in the United States may not be poor by Brazilian standards. Also the way people in Brazil put up with the utter lack of customer service in some major institutions (i.e. waiting in tremedous lines at the bank), and how much Brazilians pay just to own a car!

11. How is your Portuguese coming along? What words do you find most difficult to pronounce/remember or are there any words that you regularly confuse?

Of course, while I was living in Brazil it was great, I was learning new words every day, but since we’ve moved back to the USA I’m forgetting a lot… I’m trying to study on my own so it doesn’t get too far gone. When I make mistakes it’s usually because I mess up the verb endings. I also often try to just make an English word Portuguese by changing the ending (sometimes it actually works though).

12. What advice do you have for newcomers to Brazil?

Don’t compare it with home, don’t complain and have as much fun as you can. Try to learn the language as best you can because Brazil is a very social country so you will want to be able to communicate.

13. What are some things that you would recommend for a visitor to do in São Paulo (or anywhere else in Brazil)?

Go to Nova Friburgo or one of the other cities in the mountains when it’s a little chilly, it’s a Brazil that you wouldn’t believe existed.

Are you a foreigner who has lived in, or is living or travelling in Brazil? Are you a Brazilian who has a lot of contact with foreigners and/or lived outside of Brazil? Are you interested in telling your story? If you would like to volunteer for our interview series, or if you would like to recommend someone, please send a blank email to gringoes@www.gringoes.com with “Interview” in the subject. We will send you the interview questions by return email.

To read previous interviews in the Brazil Through Foreign Eyes series click below:

Stephan Hughes – Trinidad and Tobago
Louis van der Wiele – Holland
Drew Glaser – USA
Barry Elliott – Canada
Joel Barsky – USA
David Drummond – Canada
Liam Porisse – France
Jim Kelley – USA
Max Ray – USA
Jeremy Clark – Canada
Don Fredrick – USA
Jase Ramsey – USA
Ben Pearce – UK
Nitai Panchmatia – India
Johnnie Kashat – USA
Jeni Bonorino – USA
Eric Jones – USA
Bill Martin – UK
Bernard Morris – USA
John Graves – USA
Deepak Sapra – India
Alison McGowan – UK
Brent Gregory – USA
R Dub – USA
Tara Bianca – USA
Jack Hurley – USA
James Woodward – Canada
Tony O’Sullivan – Ireland
Anna Belavina – Russia
Jim Kirby – USA
Linda Halverstadt – USA
Michelle Monteiro – USA
Chris Mensah – UK
David Sundin – USA
Stephanie Glennon – USA
Julien Porisse – France
Hans Keeling – USA
Jim Adams – USA
Richard Murison – USA
Will Periam – UK
Jan Sandbert – Sweden
Jim Jones – USA
Mike Stricklin – USA
Edward Gowing – Australia
Adrian Woods – USA
Kevin Raub – USA
Pierpaolo Ciarcianelli – Italy
Zachary Heilman – USA
David Johnson – Bermuda
Cipriana Leme – Argentina
Timothy Bell – USA
Patti Beckert – USA
Timothy Bell – USA
Paul James – USA
David McLoughlin – Ireland
Pat Moraes – USA
Richard Dougherty – USA
James Weeds – USA
Tom Sluberski – USA
Peter Kefalas – USA
Sylvie Campbell – UK
Kathleen Haynes – USA
Matt Bowlby – USA
Alan Longbottom – UK
Eric Karukin – USA
Eddie Soto – USA
Kieran Gartlan – Ireland
Bryan Thomas Scmidt – USA
Emile Myburgh – South Africa
Bob Chapman – USA
David Barnes – USA
John Milan – USA
Chris Coates – UK
Matthew Ward – UK
Allison Glick – USA
Drake Smith – USA
Jim Jones – USA
Philip Wigan – UK
Atlanta Foresyth – USA
Lee Gordon – USA
Carmen Naidoo – South Africa
Lee Safian – USA
Laurie Carneiro – USA
Dana De Lise – USA
Richard Gant – USA
Robin Hoffman – USA
Wayne Wright – UK
Walt Kirspel – USA
Priya Guyadeen – Guyana
Caitlin McQuilling – USA
Nicole Rombach – Holland
Steven Engler – Canada
Richard Conti – USA
Zak Burkons – USA
Ann White – USA
Monde Ngqumeya – South Africa
Johnny Sweeney – USA
David Harty – Canada
Bill McCrossen – USA
Peter Berner – Switzerland/Brazil
Ethan Munson – USA
Solveig Skadhauge – Denmark
Sean McGown – USA
Condrad Downes – UK
Jennifer Silva – Australian
Justin Mounts – USA
Elliott Zussman – USA
Jonathan Abernathy – USA
Steve Koenig – USA
Kyron Gibbs – USA
Stephanie Early – USA
Martin Raw – UK
Sean Coady – UK
Hugo Delgado – Mexico
Sean Terrillon – Canada
Jessie Simon – USA
Michael Meehan – USA
Thales Panagides – Cyprus
Tammy Montagna – USA
Samantha Tennant – England
Ron Finely – United States
Bob Duprez – United States
Peter Baines – England
Youssef Bouguerra – Tunisia
Van Wallach – USA
Lesley Cushing – England
Alexander von Brincken – Germany
Hank Avellar – USA
Ed Catchpole – England
Penny Freeland – England
Yasemin de Pinto – Turkey
Amy Williams Lima – USA
John Naumann – England
Marsye Schouella – Eygpt
Rita Shannon Koeser – USA
John Fitzpatrick – Scotland
Liam Gallagher – Northern Ireland
Lorelei Jones – England
Adam Glensy – England
Tommie C.B. DeAssis – Japan
Aaron Day – Canada
Graham Debney – New Zealand
Silke Tina Tischendorf – Germany
Tanya Keshavjee Macedo – Canada
Frank de Meijer – Holland
Carl Emberson – Australia
Kim Buarque – Wales
Damiano Pak – South Korea
Jonas Helding – Denmark
Pari Seeber – Iran
John Milton – England
Ken Marshall – Australia