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Brazil Through Foreign Eyes
MatthewWard250

Meet Matthew Ward, from the UK, who has travelled to and is now living in Brazil. Read the following interview where he tells us about some of his most memorable experiences from Brazil and gives some useful advice to newcomers.

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

I’m 36 years old, British, from the Bournemouth area, where I was an English teacher for foreign students, though here in Brazil as well as teaching I’ve worked in Human Resources – mainly dealing with training and development for a large Brazilian metallurgical company until earlier this year.

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

I arrived here to live on 1 June 2002, though I’d already been for three weeks holiday during each of the previous three years, so I kind of knew what I was getting into – or thought I did! Mine is a classic EFL teacher’s story – I married one of my students (Brazilian of course) and though we lived in Bournemouth for just over four years, my wife found it hard to settle and so we decided to try life here.

3. What were you first impressions of Brazil?

I think the people made the greatest impression when I first visited. I was very lucky in that I had my wife’s huge extended family to welcome me, but I’ve always found the hospitality and warmth of Brazilians overwhelming. Another thing was the scenery – it was much greener than I expected, at least in the interior of So Paulo where I live. Being a hot country, I expected it to be brown and arid, rather like Spain. And of course the huge gap between rich and poor, which doesn’t exist on the same scale in Europe any more. It’s Dickensian, writ large.

4. What do you miss most about home?

Actually, I’ve just returned from my first holiday in England since I arrived just over four years ago. I miss family and friends the most, watching cricket and rugby, British comedy and the fact that people at home are instantly in tune with you, because of their similar backgrounds and cultural experiences. The hardest part in the beginning here was having no history with people, the fact that everyone I met was a total stranger who had very little in common with me. The longer I stay and the more I’m building a history here, the easier it’s becoming, but it was really difficult in the beginning.

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

Firstly, bureaucracy – it took me over a year to get my RNE and Carteira de Trabalho, despite legally being entitled to both by marriage. And secondly, the lack of information – especially signs. This has become something of an obsession. Though I lack political ambitions, one post I’d accept is Minister for Signs, I’d make sure everything was adequately indicated both in public places and in public buildings, especially outside So Paulo city. I simply can’t understand why people don’t think about these fairly basic necessities. At the company I worked for there was a bus station owned by the factory for all the coaches bringing workers to and fro all day on the various shifts, and none of the buses ever had any indication on them of their destination. Either you had to ask somebody, who often didn’t know either, or wait and follow someone you recognised who took the same bus daily, and had somehow gained access to privileged information.

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

Singing in the Teatro Carlos Gomes in Blumenau, Santa Catarina, during the Encanta Blumenau" choir festival in November 2005. By chance I saw the company’s male voice choir perform one evening and decided to audition, was accepted and we travelled to Blumenau to perform. I can’t imagine life without singing now. Having since left the company, I now sing with another male voice choir in Sorocaba. I blame my mother – she’s Welsh.

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

The warmth of the people, the warmth of the climate, the fruit (especially papaya) and the general racial and religious tolerance.

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

One restaurant stands out – Bar do Alemo in Itu, in the interior of So Paulo state. The same chef has been there for 45 years, and their "bife a parmeggiana" is second to none.

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

Whilst I was working in the factory, one day I was called to my boss’s office by his secretary, who said it was urgent. When I got there I was introduced to an English engineer who was working at the factory on a short-term contract and who was having difficulty negotiating his way through the trials and tribulations of renting a flat, as he spoke little Portuguese. He was only the second Englishman I’d met in Brazil. After helping him out we started chatting and I asked him where he was from. It turned out he lived in Wallisdown, in Bournemouth, about a mile from where my old flat was. And as if this weren’t coincidence enough, his wife was also an English teacher for foreign students in Bournemouth.

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

One thing I found difficult working for a large Brazilian company was how hierarchies seem very rigid and people are very aware of their status. It was never really clear how I should address people, it was something I had to feel my way through. It’s ironic, because Britain is a much more class-ridden society, but at the same time work relationships I had there were much more informal – respectful, but informal. My British bosses used to ask me to do things – my Brazilian bosses told me to do things.

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’m lucky in that I have a background in languages. I read Italian at University and also spoke fluent French and Spanish at one time. Working in a Portuguese-only environment also helped enormously, everyone in my department used slang so I picked up some very useful, if not always socially acceptable, expressions. So, I guess I’m pretty comfortable in most situations now. Knowing Spanish can be confusing – many words are similar or the same, but many are different too. You can’t simply use the Spanish word all the time.

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

Ride the culture shock. I went through the classic phases – loving everything because it was different, hating everything because it was different, then reaching a point where I just accepted everything was different, without the strong emotions. Also, be patient with the language. Pay attention to what people are saying and try to use expressions you hear. Concentrate on what you can understand and say instead of what you can’t – you are making progress, honest! And immerse yourself in the language, watch the appalling soaps, listen to the news, read. You’ll be learning all the time, even if you don’t notice it. Also, if possible, look into legalising your situation in Brazil via the Embassy or Consulate in your home country, which can often be much quicker than leaving it until you arrive. And joining a male voice choir is a great way to meet people…

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

As I’m not a city slicker, I can only indicate what I’ve enjoyed. If you like football, catch a game, it’s cheap and the atmosphere’s great (avoid the "classicos" though, which can suffer from crowd trouble). Eat at a churrascaria, if you like meat. Visit Ilhabela and the north coast of So Paulo state.

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.

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