New Zealand’s Graham Debney moved to Brazil with his wife Priscilla 7 months ago. He provides a wonderful and fabulously detailed insight into some of the differences between New Zealand and Brazil. He also shares with us the difficulties faced by a foreigner when they move to this vast, complex, confronting and beautiful country. And if you wanted to know the difference between a Motel – Brazilian style and New Zealand style, the answer is here.

Where are you from?
I am from a land down under, clean green New Zealand. Very distant from Brazil both literally and figuratively. Depending on the route you take from the other side of the Southern Hemisphere, NZ is literally over 20 flying hours away. Figuratively the distance is even further than that! The differences between New Zealand and Brazil are contrasting when you consider culture, language, people and the physical characteristics of the country and cities. Living in São Paulo I try not to think about home, as these differences are heart felt. It has been difficult to pick everything up and change cultures, languages, friends and family. Why did I do this you ask, one word answer, Priscilla (my Brazilian wife).

What brought you to Brazil?
This is a very complex question, but the answer is very simple in some respects, but people need to understand the differences in culture and history between NZ and Brazil to truly understand. Simply my wife is Brazilian and her best friend is her mother Livia and I want to give my wife the opportunity to raise our future family close to her best friend and her family.

What are some of the cultural differences you have experienced?
Here are a few cultural differences that are key to understanding the cultural gap between NZ and Brazil.

Family ties and values in Brazil are the foundation of a Brazilians way of life. Very contrasting to a New Zealander who also has these values but on a different level. We are a people who are much more independent and mobile. Families can live scattered over long distances. For example, a Brazilian typically lives with their parents until they are married, where in New Zealand, children leave their family home to make their own way in life at a young age. We usually live with a group of friends in a rented house or flat in our late teens or early twenties.

Travel. Extending the concept of leaving home at a young age, New Zealanders love travelling overseas to live in other countries and have what is commonly called an Overseas Experience or OE. These OEs can last anywhere between 1 and 10 years. This is a cultural phenomenon of the New Zealanders way of life and a huge part of growing up. Independent and adventurous may be an understatement to describe this characteristic of a New Zealander.

Motels. With the fact that young New Zealanders are independent and have their own home at an early age, there is no need for the Brazilian icon The Motel. Young people have their own flat in which they entertain their friends. Word of warning to Brazilians, motels in NZ are in fact exactly that, a small hotel to stay at while travelling by car, nothing more, nothing less.

What do you do here?
I am a full time student at this moment studying Portuguese. It is necessary for me to be able to speak fluently as I want to continue my career in operations management in Brazil, and speaking Portuguese is the key to fitting into the culture here. I have been here for 7 months, studying Portuguese for five months. I have recently completed a teaching course with the view of becoming an English teacher to stay occupied till I find something in the operations management field. Teaching will also help me make contacts, which is very important to for a foreigner in a new country. I also feel that to really enjoy living in São Paulo you need to be socially active, travel to the beaches and countryside whenever you have an opportunity, so an income is very important.

What do you miss about your home country?
I will only touch on the tip of the iceberg and mention the most obvious differences, as I could write a book on this. Compared to Brazil, New Zealand is an extremely clean country with very little environmental pollution where the air tastes fresh. It has very little crime (maybe 50 homicides in a bad year). I personally knew only a few people in NZ, who have ever been the victim of a crime, until I came to São Paulo. It makes me sad that crime is regarded as a part of life in Brazil. The police in NZ are respected and well paid, and do not carry guns.

With an average of 350 road deaths in a year compared to 40,000 per year in Brazil the roads seem safer and a lot less crazy. This is a reflection of the respect for the road rules and the law in NZ by motorists. There are very few people who drive through a red light, and next to no one will drive through a pedestrian crossing while someone is crossing the road. Roads are in excellent condition with correct lane markings, and people respect others on the roads and indicate and keep to their lane. Repairs to roads, crash barriers, bridges and signs are completed as soon as they are needed.

New Zealand has 15,000km of beaches and cities are surrounded by green clean countryside. This is the most conscious thing I miss living in São Paulo.

What do you most like about Brazil?
The climate, where the winter here is as hot sometimes as it is in summer in NZ. It is also amazing to see so much rain fall in such a short time period. The music seems to be an expression of the Brazilian personality. It is vibrant and rich, full of passion and heat. Family bonds here are tight as I have a real sense of belonging with100% love and support. The wonderful food here (especially BBQ) is an extension of the many rich cultures entwined together here in Brazil. Conservatism is not an expression that can be put on this culture at all.

What is your favourite bar/restaurant or hangout spot here?
I really like going to traditional Brazilian bars to enjoy a freshly poured beer, as yet I am not a regular bar fly in São Paulo, so I don’t have a favourite bar. I have so many favourite restaurants amongst the many Japanese, Italian, and Brazilian I have enjoyed, so it would be unjust to name one. I love hanging out with our friends, and enjoy cooking breakfasts, and dinners in our homes. But the São Paulo coast, with the combination of beautiful beaches and forested mountains, would have to be my favourite hangout spot where I can recharge.

What is your impression of the people/culture here?
I have felt completely moved to tears on occasions to see the suffering of some of the homeless people here. The complete extremes in wealth I have seen makes me feel bewildered at times. A guy driving a Ferrari past a street-beggar living in the gutter. The strength people get from their faith in religion is a physical thing. You can feel it in the air, you can see it in peoples faces, and understand there belief that their lives they are living is Gods will.

What are 2 or more things you would recommend to do for a visitor to São Paulo?
Take a walk in the early morning in Ibirapuera Park on a Saturday (9am), and then return in the middle of the afternoon (3pm) to see the different types of people at the different times of the day. Make sure it is a hot sunny day, try some fresh coconut water direct from the coconut, but ask for their coldest one. For me, people watching fascinates me, and there is not a better place to enjoy this activity in São Paulo.

Go to the huge indoor market (Mercado) in Republica, again a great place to people watch, and experience pure Brazilian culture. Try the food and fruits and enjoy the rich sense of tradition.

Pinacoteca is a very interesting building and gallery. It has a great garden bar and is great on a hot day to sit and relax. Inside or out. Yes people watch there too. Check the exhibitions and go when there is one you want to see, to increase your pleasure.

Graham Debney can be contacted at

To read previous interviews in the Brazil Through Foreign Eyes series click below:
Ken Marshall – Australia
John Milton – England
Pari Seeber – Iran
Jonas Helding – Denmark
Damiano Pak – South Korea
Kim Buarque – Wales
Carl Emberson – Australia
Frank de Meijer – Holland
Tanya Keshavjee Macedo – Canada
Silke Tina Tischendorf – Germany

Are you are foreigner living in Brazil? Are you interested in telling your story? If you would like to volunteer, or if you would like to recommend someone, please send an email with contact details and a brief description of yourself to

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