May 9, 2008

Meet Bill Martin from the UK who has both a Brazilian parent and wife, and travels to Brazil regularly. Read the following interview in which 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 from London, but spent most of my early years living overseas, Brazil included. My mother was from Fortaleza CE, where she met my father who was working there as a telecoms engineer. My wife is from Rio and we visit every year. Currently I work in EFL, and have done so for over 10 years.

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

I first went to Brazil as a child, my father having been posted to Rio. I have two vague memories of Rio at that time: the calcadao and Cristo Redentor. While living in various corners of the globe, we would travel back to Fortaleza on regular occasions with our mother to stay with a vast extended family. I first came to Rio in 1993 with my (now) wife. Arriving at ‘a Cidade Maravilhosa’ was an extraordinary experience.

3. What were you first impressions of Brazil?

I’ll speak of the first visit to Rio. The first thing that struck me on disembarking was that very distinctive smell of Galeao airport: humidity and tropical mould. Probably not a healthy environment, but I now love it as it means several weeks of Rio. The drive from Galeao to Zona Sul left an impression – from the grotesque to the sublime: the toxic sludge of Baia de Guanabara assailing the olfactory, the favelas of Complexo da Mare encroaching on Linha Vermelha, the graffiti-ed apartment blocks of Zona Norte, then through Tunel Reboucas and into Lagoa, Dois Irmaos, Ipanema, etc.

4. What do you miss most about home?

Banal things, really: the UK broadsheets, fresh milk, R4. Not family – they’re virtually all in Brazil.

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

I wouldn’t mention any one experience as there have been legion irritations, but nothing deal breaking. What does frustrate is the sense I have that Brazil and its people have lost their way. If you consider the immense engineering achievements that have moulded the economy and to an extent the culture: Brasilia, Ave Niemeyer, Cristo Redentor, Hidreletrica de Itaipu, etc. you can see that Brazil must have had individuals with the character, vision and energy to drive these projects. Yet standard attitudes now to poverty, corruption, favelizacao, etc. range from ‘e assim mesmo’, to ‘nao tem jeito/conserto’ and I consider this a surrender to fatalism. It doesn’t have to be this way.

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

Seeing Ipanema Beach in its entirety for the first time with my wife, having arrived at the corner of Joana Anjelica and Vieira Souto with the beach in front of us and the Dois Irmaos on the right.

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

The people. They are natural, tactile, very quick-witted and very instinctive.

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

I’ve never had an indifferent meal at Albamar in Rio. The restaurant is in a timber rotunda which was originally part of the covered market, long since demolished. The waiters (also co-owners) are old school, wear starched white jackets and take pleasure in their profession. The speciality of the house is ‘arroz de polvo’ which I doubt can be equalled anywhere in the Americas.

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

We were strolling along the calcadao in Ipanema with our son in his pushchair to which we had arranged a parasol to shield him from the sun. A guy sitting on the wall gestured to us, indicating that the parasol had slipped and the sun was hitting our son. Nothing unusual in that, except he was obviously from the favela, and we were white and supposedly moneyed. In theory, he didn’t owe us any favours, yet he had a genuine concern for our child. That’s the Brazilian Way.

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

In Brazil family members are very devoted to each other and they take pleasure in sharing everyday experiences, be that a trip to the padaria, watching the telenovela, anything in fact. I feel the British are obsessed with their individuality and as a result they tend to shun family.

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?

My spoken Portuguese is native speaker standard, though with various influences: carioca, nordestino and Portugues de Portugal. The word which regularly defeats me is ‘paralelepipedo’.

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

The newcomer has to get on top of the language. Once they’ve achieved that, they can access what sits behind the stereotypes the Media sells us: poverty, crime, football, carnaval, bikinis, etc. There’s much more. And don’t wave around shiny objects like mobiles and digital cameras!

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

Phew! That’s a tall order – there’s much to see in Rio. The obvious has been well covered by others, I’m sure, so I’d recommend the cultural attractions. Take in Belas Artes, Confeitaria Colombo, Instituto Moreira Sales, Museu de Arte Moderna, Chacara do Ceu, and so on. One more thing: while travelling on buses in Zona Sul, admire the stunning apartment doorways with their grandiose titles, polished granite and stoical concierges.

You can contact Bill at

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:

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

Can’t make this up