February 22, 2008

Meet James Woodward from Canada who travelled to Brazil to learn Portuguese and ended up staying. 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.?

My name is James Woodward, and everybody calls me Jim. I am from Canada. I was born and raised in Hamilton, Ontario (near Toronto) but lived in Vancouver, British Columbia for the last 28 years before I came to Brazil. I am an English teacher, do translations, and I also write textbooks to teach English as a second language here in Brazil. I married a Brazilian woman and after 5 years separated. I now live with another wonderful woman who more than makes up for all the problems and heartaches I went through with the first.

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

I arrived in Brazil on January 10, 2002. After I began to learn the Portuguese language (just out of curiosity) I decided to completely change my life, so I came to Brazil to make a fresh new start. I have never regretted my decision and these days don’t even think of going back to Canada to live.

3. What were you first impressions of Brazil?

My first few days in Brazil were spent in a small hotel in Guarulhos, then I took a flight to Manaus, Amazonas where I stayed for 4 months. I was amazed by the fact that everyone was so friendly. I stayed in a house close to a large favela, and when they found out there was a foreigner living there, they all seemed to want to get to know me. I guess I was the first foreigner who ever took up residence in the bairro, and I was a great novelty. I soon made many friends, and certainly was well received by everyone. I was completely heartbroken when I got my first taste of the poverty that people live in here in Brazil. Although I had heard stories about the poverty, nothing prepared me for the reality of what I saw.

4. What do you miss most about home?

Certainly not the cold winter weather! Seriously, there isn’t much that I miss about Canada. If anything it would have to be the quality television programming there, I think that the programs on public television here are just appalling, infantile. The only other thing I miss is the security. being able to go out at any hour day or night in safety.

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

Like everyone else says, the mountains of red tape that suffocate foreigners and Brazilians alike. There seems to be no logic for any of it, and worse still the rules and regulations vary dramatically from state to state, and city to city. It seems that all the ‘funcionrios publicos’ simply make up their own set of rules as they go along, and nobody’s are the same. For example, I traveled to São Paulo to get married because the regulations were easier there than in Minas Gerais.

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

Seeing the Amazon River from the air approaching Manaus airport. It was so-o-o-o-o much larger than I ever imagined. My boat trip to see ‘encontra das guas’, the meeting place of Rio Negro and Rio Solimes, it’s true, the water from each river doesn’t mix, just incredible.

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

Like every other foreigner who comes here and falls in love with the country. I love the Brazilian people most of all. I have never seen a people who suffer so much, work so hard, earn almost nothing – who are so happy and so receptive. I love the history of the country. In Canada you are hard pressed to find anything over 150 years old, here in Brazil houses, churches, towns that date back 500 years are everywhere. And the culture. so different every place you go.

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

Anyplace that serves a good feijoada. food just doesn’t get any better than that! While living in Porto Seguro, BA I found a small restaurant in Santa Cruz de Cabralia, I can’t even remember the name now, but they have the finest Moceca de Peixe I have ever had.

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

Yes, just after my arrival in Brazil when my Portuguese still wasn’t the greatest in the world, I was walking through a street market in a small bairro of São Paulo. I was telling him about the days when I was an ambulance driver and first-aider in Canada. When I said in my best Portuguese, ‘yes every ambulance has an oxygen bottle.’, he broke into uncontrollable laughter. Here you have to understand that the two words sound quite similar. He replied in Portuguese. ‘I’ve never seen a watermelon with an oxygen bottle!’ between fits of laughter. I shouted WATERMELON!!! What watermelon, Hell man, I’m talking about ambulances. To this he still laughing replied, ‘Oh Jim, I’ve been talking to you about the watermelon there for the past 2 minutes!’

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

Sadly, it is the complete absence of respect that Brazilians have for nature and the environment. Unlike in Canada, where everyone is quite careful to not throw garbage anywhere, damage the environment in any way, here in Brazil people throw garbage everywhere, polluting streams and rivers, clogging the drainage ditches, and causing blockages that result in horrible flooding during the heavy rains here, which they in turn complain about. While I sympathize with their situation, it’s hard to feel sorry for those who are the author of their own misfortune.

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?

Fortunately, my Portuguese is excellent. I arrived here in Brazil speaking fluently (but with a horrible Gringo accent), thanks to my Brazilian teacher in Vancouver. By the way, as it turned out he was also the Pastor at the Baptist Church that I began frequenting while taking Portuguese lessons. He told me nothing about this little detail, when I asked about a church in the area that held services in Portuguese. Imagine my surprise when I arrived there the following Sunday! After 6 years here in Brazil, I speak, read and write Portuguese better than a lot of Brazilians that I know, but I still can’t shake my Canadian accent.

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

First of all, and most important! If you haven’t arrived here yet. rush out to your nearest branch of the HSBC Bank and open an account. Deposit what money you will be using in Brazil there. If not, be prepared to spend more time getting to know the managers at the Bank of Brazil than you will sightseeing. Every time the ATM system is ‘off the air’ (which happens quite often), or something goes wrong with your transaction you will have to struggle to sort things out. Bank of Brazil is the only bank here where you can make international transactions in the ATM machines and only at specific ATM’s which are located only in the larger branches, if you aren’t an account holder at HSBC in your home country. After several months here in Brazil, and a great deal of frustration, I opened an HSBC account back home, through family members there. I have not had a single problem since. except once when my transaction was not completed here, but was there. It took 3 months to sort out the problem, but I got every penny back without any questions asked. Secondly, get used to the idea of waiting in lineups for hours on end for anything, especially at banks.

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

São Paulo, well there is just too much to list. Go to one of the many beautiful parks. If you are a Canadian go to ‘Parque da Cidade do Toronto’ you will love it and even find real, honest to God, maple trees there. In Belo Horizonte, go to Praa da Liberdade, the street market held every Sunday morning on Avenida Alfonso Pena, The Municipal Park and the nearby Museum of Art and Mangabeiras Park. In Porto Seguro, Bahia go spend a day or two Trancoso, it’s heaven. And, take the ferryboat from Santa Cruz and drive up to Belmonte, it is a wonderful drive and the beach restaurant there is excellent. But, be prepared for heavy waves if you plan on going into the water.

You can contact James at wm_james_woodward@hotmail.com

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:

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

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