Brazil Through Foreign Eyes
Meet Jennifer Silva, an Australian, who has had plenty of experience of travelling having met and married her Brazilian husband in Denmark, as well as living in different areas of Brazil. Unfortunately we dont have a photo yet for Jennifer, hence we just have a shadow. Read the following interview where she tells us about her most memorable experiences from Brazil and gives some useful advice to newcomers.
1. Where are you from and what do you do?
I am Australian and I married a Brazilian (gaucho) back in 1972 in Denmark. We came to Brazil in 1973. We spent a year in Porto Alegre and then we moved to Campinas to the still new UNICAMP. We moved around the world a lot but would come back to Brazil for the most part. Now we are living in São Paulo after an eighteen-month stint in Brasilia. For the time being I am improving my photography and making ways with Photoshop.
2. What are the main obstacles for foreigners in Brazil?
Bureaucracy has been the biggest demon for me to manage and it was much worse 30+ years ago during the Military Dictatorship. In those days we needed to get an exit visa to travel abroad that took four days to be issued and I use to have to PROVE that my Brazilian child was born from my stomach before I could leave the country with him. (Photos of the event didn't count).
3. What are common mistakes that foreigners make in Brazil?
Often foreigners take literally things that Brazilian say as good form or out of politeness - for example, once I commented how much I liked a calendar that was on the wall of a friend's (Brazilian) house. He immediately took it down and insisted I take it home. Now if I had done the same I would really have meant it or I wouldn't have offered it. The next day my husband made me take it back because he knew the guy was only being polite. To my utter confusion he just accepted it back and hung it on the wall again.
I remember feeling absolutely disgusted at licking someone's ice cream because they offered it to me but I felt that it would be insulting to them for me to refuse - now I know they probably threw it in the next garbage can! You can all see I had a hard time for a while figuring out how to behave.
4. What characteristic of other nationalities strikes you as the most different (eg. sense of humour, formality, dress)?
I have come to the conclusion that we all have the same sentiments but the way we are brought up determines how we express them. Also different emphasis is given to "manners". We interpret the behaviour of others through the prism of our own culture, which can lead to a lot of misunderstandings. A mother in English says "be good", in French she says "be wise" and in Portuguese she says "be beautiful". That is why it is not only important to learn the language but the culture as well. (Have you seen that ad for Cellep language school? The guy asks for a hamburger in a very impressive way but never says please or thank you)
5. Which English accent do you prefer and why (eg. Scottish, American, Australian)?
A nice aussie accent certainly makes me homesick. Its very frustrating all those aussie actors in Hollywood speaking with American accents.
6. Favourite place travelled abroad and why?
I suppose going home. I only realize how much energy goes into being a foreigner when I go home and everything is so easy and there are no misinterpretations. (People get my jokes) I compare it to once when I did a course in mouth-to-mouth resuscitation at school in Hobart and my partner (male) found it necessary to really breathe for me instead of just pretending. When I went back to breathing for myself I suddenly understood how much energy goes into the act of breathing. (If you don't believe me try it sometime)
7. Favourite Brazilian food?
The other morning I rushed out without breakfast and around 11am I was a little peckish and I stopped by a padaria and had a paozinho com manteiga na chapa and a pingada. It really went down well. Farofa, too. Australian Customs know all about farinha de mandioca now.
8. Favourite Brazilian band, book and movie?
Band, I don't know. Book would be one by Machado de Assis. His books are like armchair tourism - traveling to Rio into the house of a nineteenth century family and getting to know the culture intimately. Movie - probably Dona Flor e Seus Dois maridos.
9. What is the difference between dating a Brazilian and Foreigner (if this applies to you or perhaps a friend)?
I can't remember. We have been married for 33 years and he still eats my food (sometimes he begs for rice instead of potatoes) and I still laugh at his jokes.
10. Can you share an incident, misunderstanding or culture shock that you have experienced as a foreigner?
Well here is another one: Kissing was something that took me some time to get used to - when to kiss, who to kiss and how many kisses. I remember my friend's grandfather being rather taken back as I landed him a big whopper as we were introduced and well as surprising the maid with a big hug and kiss as I was saying goodbye to her. Also I tended to KISS the cheeks of those over-made up aunties and my lips would actually stick to the pancake makeup and come away with a big PLOP!
11. What are 2 things you would recommend for a visitor to do in Brazil to better understand Brazilian people and their culture?
Learn the language and fraternize.
Are you a foreigner living in Brazil, or 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, or if you would like to recommend someone, please send an email with contact details and a brief description of yourself to firstname.lastname@example.org
To read previous interviews in the Brazil Through Foreign Eyes series click below:
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