July 20, 2007

Meet Cipriana Leme, an Argentinean who has spent most of her life growing up in London, and moved to Brazil around 10 years ago. Read the following interview where she tells us about some of her 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 was born in Argentina but raised in London, England. I did all my schooling in London and decided to visit Argentina after finishing English Language and Linguistics. After revisiting Buenos Aires, I went to São Paulo, Brazil where my father was born for the first time and learnt Portuguese in a Language School. After marrying and having my first child, my new family and I lived two years in Ibiza and Madrid, Spain and later returned to Brazil. After my divorce, I lived 2 years in Bahia (Itacar and Ilhus) and am currently living with my second husband and two children in Florianópolis. I am a translator and also worked as an English teacher for more than 15 years.

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

I first arrived in Brazil around 1995 and came here because my parents had just moved to São Paulo after living in England for 10 years. It was more like a family reunion than actual interest in visiting Brazil.

3. What were you first impressions of Brazil?

I was quite young at the time (around 20) and remember it not at all what I had expected. I didnt have the same impressions foreigners usually have because I went straight to my parents new house in Jardins and hardly left expect to study Portuguese. I later ventured out and got to know some people and remember loving the night life. As I didnt know anyone, I would go out alone at 3 in the morning and walk up Brigadeiro Faria Lima and along Av. Paulista without ever feeling the paranoia people in Brazil feel. I never thought of São Paulo as dangerous.

4. What do you miss most about home?

The food, definitely. British food is awful but I still miss silly things like Jaffa Cakes and Hula Hoops. I miss the junk food and breakfast cereal mostly. I also miss the beauty of European cities, the old buildings, museums, parks, cafs and that sophistication and art you find everywhere but never actually notice until you are away from it for too long. Although I love Brazil and honestly think it is one of the best countries to live in, I find the Brazilians uncreative and think they lack sense of art and beauty.

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

It’s difficult to pinpoint one experience but what really makes me cringe is the lack of interesting things to see or places to go. This may not be the case in São Paulo but where I live it is almost impossible to find a decent bar with pleasant music and good food or a place to go that isnt a shopping centre or the cinema. It might be great for tourists that love the beaches but when you live here you miss the quality leisure time you had back home.

The chaos and lack of organization also bothers me but that depends on where you go. Bahia is total chaos and most people are completely unaware of basic rules of society like excessive noise, hygiene, etc. I almost had a heart attack when I first went to an open-air market in Bahia.

Another thing is classism. Even children in Bahia thought I was someone’s maid no matter how hard my friends tried to convince them I was their work colleague.

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

There are lots of memorable experiences, but one I will never forget was when I was waiting for a bus in Ilhus, Bahia. The bus stop was packed and it was boiling. Everyone was just dying to get home and were busy pushing other people or jumping queues. Suddenly a man in a wheelchair appeared at the bus stop and stuck out his arm to stop the bus. There are no special buses in Ilhus for wheelchairs so the people next to him did not hesitate. Two teenagers and an adult man he did not know immediately picked up his wheelchair and put him in the bus. Everyone said their thank you’s and continued on their way.

Another time, I almost lost my son in the shopping centre and everyone got involved in finding him, which I did immediately. I was amazed at how people had noticed him and knew where he was in such a crowded place.

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

I like the way people generally take care of one another. There is more respect for children, old people and the handicapped here than anywhere else I have been. They may not be the brightest, most instructed people on the planet but they are definitely the kindest I know.

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

Havent found one in Florianópolis yet but I hope it will be the bar Im planning on opening shortly! Other than that, the beach in Pntano do Sul is nice because of the bustle not because of the beauty of the beach. There’s a good restaurant called Arantes that has decent food (on weekends) and good coffee. Also the French restaurant in Ribeirão da Ilha has an excellent apple pie that you can eat on the beach bar they have in front.

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

The fact that no one thinks I am Argentinean. A man once said he would give me his entire shop if I proved I was Argentinean. I did and obviously let him have his shop. As I am black, Brazilians think I am from here (for some reason they think all black people are poor and therefore cannot be foreigners) and tell me their opinions about foreigners when I mention I have been abroad. My Portuguese is pretty clean but they eventually realize I am not Brazilian and have to apologize!

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

The classism. The difference between social classes is so evident I think it is impossible to eradicate in Brazil. Classism will therefore always be present in Brazil even if people try to deny it and promote equality. In England (which I consider my homeland) I never perceived that problem as I never even knew what racism was. I was the only black girl in all the all-white schools I attended and never felt any form of racism. I dont think that that would have been possible in Brazil.

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?

All the words with ~, like não, pão, etc. I always get words muddled up with Spanish like bolsa, bolso and those dangerous words like, saco (which in Spanish means coat”).

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

Be discreet in all you do. Feel free to visit anything at any time but be discreet. Don’t show off your Mercedes, Rolex or fancy trainers unless you want them stolen. Remember that Brazil is a mostly poor country so as long as you respect that you will have no problems whatsoever.

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

Try and make Brazilian friends, their advice and company is priceless.

Be adventurous and go out as much as possible. When you pass the initial panic you will discover that cities like São Paulo have wonderful surprises. I will never forget when I bumped into a run-down old theatre in São Paulo and saw that Chaka Khan was playing that night!

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:

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

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply