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Brazil Through Foreign Eyes

USA‘s Henry (Hank) Avellar spends part of the year in Utah and part in Paraiba, Brazil. Hank first visited Brazil in 1966 with the US Peace Corp and met his wife. Returning to Brazil he has noticed monumental change. He shares with us his experiences, impressions and advice on how to enjoy this wonderful country. Read his story about banks, adapting to Brazil and of course how to say ‘frog‘ is Portuguese.

Tell us a little about yourself, where are you from?
I have lived in Salt Lake City, Utah for the past 24 years. Previously, I lived in the Los Angeles, California area where I was raised.

What do you do?
I am recently retired. I worked for the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco for 34 years as an internal auditor and later as a bank examiner.

When did you arrive in Brazil and what brought you here?
My wife, who is a naturalized U.S. citizen, was born and raised in the northeast of Brazil until she was 21 years old. I was in the Peace Corps in Pombal, Paraiba and met her there in 1966. We were married in 1968 when my tour was competed we moved to Southern California and later to Utah. When I retired in 2003 we decided to live in Brazil most of the time as my wife has a large family there. Also, my daughter holds dual citizenship and is currently working and living in Brasilia.

What were you first impressions of Brazil?
When I left Brazil in 1968, I did not return until 1995 when we went there on vacation. I was surprised to see how technology and television changed the country and its people. In the northeast of Brazil in the Sertao in 1966 it was stepping back to a previous century. There was no television, very few telephones, and of course no cellular phones. Today, with a television (and cellular telephone) in practically every home, ATM's all over, and computer technology changing lives everyday, I find Brazilians not too much different than anyone else in the world. My biggest surprise I guess, is seeing how Brazilians treat their dogs (believe it or not). In 1968 dogs were kept outside and were more or less a nuisance and were not treated very well. Today, dogs are treated very much like U.S. dogs. They are part of the family and spoiled.

What do you miss most about home?
Currently, I travel every year from Brazil to the U.S. so I really don't miss much. We are in Utah at the moment as my wife is having knee surgery. We intend to return to Brazil in a few months and stay there for a couple of years before returning to the U.S. on vacation. When I am in Brazil, I do find myself longing to see the high, snow covered mountains in Utah along the Wasatch Front.

What has been your most frustrating experience/situation in Brazil?
My most frustrating experience in Brazil is probably common to all newcomers. Going to the bank to conduct business! Banking hours are short and the lines are long. Customer service is still several decades behind and leaves a lot to be desired.

What has been your most memorable experience/situation in Brazil?
While visiting a friend's home one evening, I was admiring a large wall calendar with a map of Brazil and its political subdivisions and several other details. Before I could say anything, my friend took the calendar off the wall, rolled it up and gave it to me. I forgot the Brazilian custom that if you admire something someone has, if it is at all possible, he or she will give it to you. This has happened to me in other circumstances as well. I have learned to be careful how I compliment something someone has.

What do you most like about Brazil?
That's an easy question. The Brazilian people. It's easy to make friends and have fun times. The country is huge and diverse. Brazilians love to live life to its fullest and will have a party at the drop of a dime. There is so much to see and do. Brazilians are very tolerant of a foreigner learning Portuguese and have a lot of patience. Also, time schedules are not locked in with Brazilians. As I am retired, I am learning to enjoy myself and not worry if I'm 15 or 30 minutes late or more for an appointment or party.

What is your favorite restaurant/place to hang out here?
In Joao Pessoa, my favorite restaurant is Dona Branca. It is located in the suberb of Bessa and is a block away from the beach. They have a good selection of seafood, pasta and meats. Also, they have over 100 varieties of cachaca! A good meal for two with a couple of chopes can be had for under $15.00 dollars.

Do you have any funny stories/incidents to tell about your time in Brazil?
Learning Portuguese can be frustrating at times, of course. I remember when I was first learning Portuguese I kept saying huh? When I didn't understand something and wanted it repeated, just like we do here in the U.S. Someone would say something, then I would say, huh? This had been going on for a few weeks when finally after getting nothing but funny looks, I asked a friend who speaks English well why I didn't get a response from "huh"? He said because huh in Portuguese is "rã" meaning "frog." So for several weeks when I thought I was saying "huh" I was saying frog, frog. I hope that I have since learned to speak more clearly and use words that really mean something!

What difference between your homeland and Brazil do you find most striking?
I find the spontaneity of the Brazilian people quite different from Americans. We are much more formal (reserved) when it comes to calling on friends, setting dates, having parties etc. We have to go through a much more laborious process to have fun than Brazilians do. In the States, it is very rare that you would visit a friend without calling first. In Brazil, dropping in on friends without calling first is normal. There are other differences of course, such as pervasive poverty, difficulty of acquiring a solid education, etc. But these are better left for another forum.

What advice do you have for newcomers to Brazil?
You will quickly become frustrated and feel out of place if you don't learn some basic Portuguese. You will also miss out on making good friends and enjoying a rich culture if you can't speak the language. You also need to have patience, lots of patience. Everything takes more time than you are used to, if you're coming from the U.S., Europe, Australia, Japan, etc. You need to realize that you can't change the government, or the people. You can only change your own behavior. Once you learn to accept things as they are and to go with the flow, the more you will enjoy yourself and end up loving Brazil and the Brazilian people.

What are some things that you would recommend for a visitor to Brasilia/Joao Pessoa (or anywhere else in Brazil)?
In Brasilia you will need to rent a car to get around unless you already know someone who has one. Brasilia is spread out with wide avenues and long distances between points of interests. The airport has the best rental deals. You can of course, get a driver for a day, week or whatever. This is the best way if you can afford it, as you will see the sights. Brasilia has many fine hotels and you will find several points of interest to visit.

My favorite city of course is Joao Pessoa in the state of Paraiba. You won't need a car to visit this historic city, founded in the late 1500's. City buses are new, clean and efficient. But the best way to get around the city is in a taxi. They are plentiful and inexpensive. You can spend the day taking taxis all over the city and only spend around $20.00 dollars or so. Joao Pessoa has beautiful beaches, good hotels, fine restaurants, tourist spots, and historic areas, buildings, churches, etc. to visit. Boat rides to the "Red Sand Beach" and other such places where you can see and touch tropical fish while snorkeling is exciting as it is beautiful.

Henry (Hank) Avellar can be contacted at: henryavellar@yahoo.com


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

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


Are you are foreigner living in 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 gringoes@gringoes.com

5/9/2005


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