Brazil Through Foreign Eyes

August 23, 2011

Meet Michael Smyth who moved to Brazil ten years ago. 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.?

My name is Michael Smyth. I was born just outside Belfast in Northern Ireland and grew up there and on Guernsey in the Channel Islands. I&rsquot;ve been living in Paraty for 8 years now and run a hiking and kayaking tour company I try to spend as little of my time in front of the laptop and as much on the water and out on the trails.

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

I first came on a business trip in 1999, and enjoyed it so much I had to come back for Carnaval 2000, and then decided to move here in 2001.

3. What were you first impressions of Brazil?

Big. Exciting, but a bit intimidating. It&rsquot;s funny looking back but I think I wandered around most of the time expecting to be robbed at any moment.

4. What do you miss most about home?

An (affordable) pint of Guinness! I get people to bring out all the old favourites – tea bags, branston pickle, marmite and all that – so I don&rsquot;t miss them. For me the thing I miss most has to be friends and family. Even though people like to visit, it&rsquot;s never quite enough.

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

Like pretty much everyone else the frustrating experiences are caused by Brazilian bureaucracy. I think I must have gone through a lot of the bureaucratic processes here. Getting married, a resident visa, buying land, building a house, opening and operating bank accounts, employing staff, accountants and setting up a business. Difficult to say which one was most frustrating in terms of red tape. But the most frustrating incident was probably in the Cartorio (notary office) in Paraty. I signed a document in front of the staff with my passport in my other hand. When they went to &rsquot;authenticate&rsquot; the signature they claimed it didn&rsquot;t match. You have to be patient to get through the bureaucracy but on this occasion I couldn&rsquot;t take any more and ended up ranting and raving. They&rsquot;d watched me sign it in front of them. All that was missing was for them to tell me I wasn&rsquot;t actually me. I don&rsquot;t know how we got through that one but we did. Needless to say I avoid the cartorio as much as I can.

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

Getting married in Minas, especially if my wife ends up reading this. Joking apart, it has to be the most memorable experience. Nerve-wracking, at times chaotic but great fun on a special day. In second place would have to be the Bike Tour we recently did for David Byrne, founder of band Talking Heads, in Paraty during the FLIP literary festival. I don&rsquot;t imagine I&rsquot;ll ever have a GLOBO TV cameraman chasing me down the road on my bike again.

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

The people.

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

Through my work as a tour guide I get to eat at a lot of great little beach kiosks for lunch around Paraty. Vagalume at Trindade fishing village is an old favourite, or look for Deco on Sono Beach. But my current favourite has to be eating freshly caught seafood at Sr. Altamiro&rsquot;s kiosk on Praia Grande da Cajaiba. This is a stunningly beautiful, deserted sandy beach with waterfall a 10 minute walk behind it. It&rsquot;s a bit of a way out of Paraty but worth the trip. The food is excellent and if you time your visit right Sr. Altamiro will show you how to fish for pitu (similar to crayfish) or how to paddle a traditional caiara canoe, standing up of course!

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

Funny things seem to happen all the time in Brazil. Last week our telephone landline wasn&rsquot;t working so my wife phoned up on her cell phone to get them to fix it. Towards the end of the call the phone company employee asked for telephone numbers so that they could contact us. My wife gave her cell phone number. But the employee, in true Irish/Portuguese/Polish joke style, missed the point and insisted my wife give her our landline number. After such a display of efficiency and understanding you can imagine how impressed I was when it took them only 6 days to send someone round to fix it!

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

The heat and humidity. Even after all these years it still gets me. Mostly pleasurable, at times gruelling.

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?

Pretty good, pretty fluent these days. The fact that I&rsquot;ve been here for 10 years and am married to a Brazilian certainly helps! But there are always new situations coming along that bring with them new words. It&rsquot;s a lovely way to learn the language as vocabulary can end up being linked to certain events and incidents that often begin with misunderstanding and end up with you &rsquot;owning&rsquot; new words. I recently broke my elbow and spent a month in a sling to keep the arm in place. But the old brain isn&rsquot;t what it once was and from the reactions I realised something must be wrong as i went round telling people that yes I was &rsquot;de jiboia&rsquot;. It became clearer when my wife pointed out I was telling people I wasn&rsquot;t able to go paddling as I had broken my elbow and put a boa constrictor around my neck. I seriously considered using the correct word for sling, &rsquot;tipoia&rsquot;, but in the end decided against it as it was much more of a laugh referring to a boa constrictor. What can I say? Embrace your mistakes, is perhaps the best advice.

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

Learn the language. Study it properly. Don&rsquot;t kid yourself you&rsquot;re learning Portuguese by watching Novelas on the tv and chatting to people in bars and down the beach. You&rsquot;re not, and it shows. Take some lessons and then head for the bars and beaches and the whole country opens up for you. You&rsquot;ll see the results immediately as people love to mix. Brazil is great fun, even more so if you can communicate with the Brazilians.

13. What are some things that you would recommend for a visitor to do in Paraty?

The classic things to do – the boat trip of the bay, the stroll through the Old Town – will always be fantastic, but there are loads of other things to do here that get overlooked by almost all visitors. And the normal 2 or 3 night trip doesn&rsquot;t really do the place justice. The hiking and kayaking routes on the Juatinga Peninsular Eco-reserve are amazing – some of the best beaches, waterfalls and lush Atlantic Rainforest in Brazil. Hard to imagine you&rsquot;re midway between the 2 main Brazilian cities when you&rsquot;re spending the nights in fishing villages that have no mains electricity. The Mamangua Tropical fjord is another highlight – great panoramic views from the Sugarloaf peak there. And if you&rsquot;re looking for more of an adrenaline rush then you have to try the Canyoning, river rafting, micro-lighting or surfing on nearby beaches.

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 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:

Danielle Carner – USA
Chris Caballero – USA
Jaya Green – USA
Wiliam Stewart – USA
Andrew Dreffen – Australia
Meredith Noll – USA
Marcus Lockwood – New Zealand
Mike Smith – UK
Jonathan Russell – USA
Jan Hillen – Belgium
Jeff Eddington – USA
Arne Rasmussen – Denmark
Rod Saunders – USA
Don Fenstermaker – USA
Ken Van Zyl – South Africa
Angus Graham – UK
Anne Morddel – USA
Jessica Mullins – Switzerland
Evan Soroka – USA
Mary de Camargo – USA
Brendan Fryer – UK
Aaron Sundquist – USA
Jay Bauman – USA
Alan Williams – USA
Derek Booth – UK
Jim Shattuck – USA
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

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