January 11, 2008

Meet Chris Mensah, from the UK, who first visited Brazil 7 years ago and is married to a Brazilian. 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.?

My name is Chris Mensah, I’m 38 years old, I live in London, England with my wife who is from Bahia and our two young sons. I work for a Swedish Telecoms Vendor as an Engineer. I enjoy most sports, music, travel and meeting new people from different cultures.

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

I first visited Rio in February 2001 for a day as I was on my way to Salvador, Bahia for carnival. I stayed at a friends apartment in Lagoa in Rio for the night and was in awe of the view from the apartment as it took in the radiance of the Corcovado (Statue of Christ).

3. What were you first impressions of Brazil?

I instantly fell in love with the whole culture of how the Brazilians love to express themselves
through music, football, food, beach life and the beautiful landscape. I knew then that this was the place for me.

4. What do you miss most about home?

When we do travel to Salvador I do sometimes miss the TV in England and the way that you can joke around with your mates, it’s not quite the same in Brazil.

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

I know this has been highlighted before but the red tape in Brazil has been taken to a whole new level, you have to speak to several people just to get the right information in the first place, then to get anything done you may (I don’t like to say this) need to part with some Reais to speed up the process. I now tend to let my wife initiate things as it’s usually the case that being a gringo has it’s disadvantages.

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

The most memorable experience was meeting my wife in Salvador, she worked for the hotel that I was staying in as a garconete. I wanted breakfast, Lunch and Dinner all at once but not speaking a word of Portuguese it wasn’t easy but many words are spoken without saying a thing. We often talk about that moment and how it changed our lives.

7. What do you most like about Brazil (in general)?
I like the way that you can come to Brazil from anywhere in the world and people think that you belong there, the diversity is refreshing. Being from West African parentage Salvador has a special place for me as it has its roots clearly identified from West Africa, and the way black Brazil embraces its heritage.

8. What is your favorite restaurant/place to hang out here?
When I first visited Salvador I just visited the comida por kilo places as it was cheap and tasty. Now Habibs is the lick for me, also my mother in-law’s cooking is second to none.

9. Do you have any funny stories/incidents to tell about your time in Brazil?
Well I do, but it may be funny for some but not for me. When I first visited back in 2001 I couldn’t get a flight to Salvador from Rio, so I took the coach without realising that it took 27 hours – being English it didn’t look that far on the map! Well we stopped every 5 hours to get a bite to eat and shower, on one of the stops I decided to try some of those cheese and ham toasted sandwiches. It tasted good but after only 5 mins I had a cold sweat and was bending over with stomach cramps, I wanted to use the toilet onboard the coach but one of my mates managed to block the toilet so we had to stop the coach. The driver indicated that I could go right by the roadside, but I took exception to relieving myself in front of a coach load of Brazilians watching. So I made my way into the bush and did the business but then realised that I didn’t have any toilet roll to hand, so I had to call out to my mate to bring some for me. When i returned to the coach everyone erupted into a fit of laughter, I kept my head down for the rest of the trip.

10. What difference between your homeland and Brazil do you find most striking?
I do notice how exotic the women look in Brazil compared to the Plain Jane’s that you get in Blighty. The hospitality doesn’t compare as the Brazilians will welcome you with open arms and make you feel. At home in London you’re lucky to get anyone to say hello to you.

I do feel that you can lead quite a nice lifestyle in Brazil for less money, but the opportunities are fewer in Brazil which means to raise your standard of living is more difficult. The social differences are clear as even though there appears to be the mixing of races in Brazil, on the surface I do feel that black Brazilians are more likely to be discriminated against than in England. Which seems strange as black Brazilians have helped to build the country from the beginning but I guess there are parallels to the USA without the civil rights movements.

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 Portuguese is coming along OK but I do tend to use the same words quite a lot and get my tenses mixed up a bit. I do always speak with a smile as that helps me feel better when I make a mistake.

12. What advice do you have for newcomers to Brazil?
Expect the unexpected as Brazil is like no other place that you have visited, be streetwise as you’re gonna need it if you want to go off the beaten track.

13. What are some things that you would recommend for a visitor to do in São Paulo (or anywhere else in Brazil)?
Well the usual spots in Salvador, Pelourno, Campo Grande and Bahia during carnival, Itaparica and Morro São Paulo, Praia do Forte and Costa do Sauipe, but remember Salvador has plenty of beautiful beaches. Visit the shopping malls, take the local bus service, and if you can go to a football match, especially if Bahia are playing Victoria – the passion is unbelievable. (Well not at the Fonte Nova)

You can contact Chris via christophermensah@yahoo.co.uk.

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.

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

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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