February 1, 2008

Meet Jim Kirby from Paraguay and (in his own words) the USSA, who, though he does visit Brazil regularly, is almost unique in these interviews in that he has not yet married, divorced, or cross-bred with a Brazilian. 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.?

Born in Asunción, Paraguay, I grew up in Chicago and now live in Austin, TX, the so-called live music capital of the world.” Austin would be a perfect place to live if it weren’t so full of the bleeding-heart liberals that are a vanishing species in the rest of Texas. In compensation, however, it does have fewer damn Baptists and Methodists than do the other cities of Texas, except perhaps for Houston.

Formally trained in Physics, Theology and Law, I have mainly worked in research and development of nuclear weapons, ICBMs, bombers, fighters and other aircraft and in design of integrated circuits, consumer electronics and medical devices. Apart from the USSA, I have lived and worked in Germany, Scotland, Mexico and Argentina.

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

I first arrived in Rio de Janeiro in 1989, where I bought a VW Kombi, in which I then traveled and lived, getting to know primarily the five southern states of Brazil and the other countries of the Southern Cone. I was motivated by a desire both to see my native city, Asunción, and to get the hell out of Amerika. I subsequently bought a “terreno” in Teresópolis RJ, right across the street from some fine Brazilians I met while camping in São João del Rei, who made the mistake of inviting me to visit. When (surprise!) I did, the entire extended family helped me in the purchase and adjustment to fine Brazilian living, which has basically gone without a hitch. I now spend 4 months every year there, though I would like to live there semi-permanently. For a description of the joys and travails involved in the purchase of my Brazilian estate, see www.escapeartist.com/OREQ5/Real_Estate_Brazil.html.

3. What were your first impressions of Brazil?

Having grown up in Chicago, I felt more or less at home in Rio de Janeiro. I spent my first month in South America at the Hotel Novo Mundo in Flamengo, from which I set out to walk day and night all over the Southern Zone of Rio, from the Rodoviria to Leblón. I was impressed by the vibrancy of the big city and the openness of the people, the rodzios, pizzas with heart of palm, and all the sidewalk and open-air living. I have since been to every state of Brazil except for Acre, Amap and Espirito Santo, and I have spent months in every South American country except for the three Guianas.

Though I have gotten to know almost all of Europe by Kombi, motorcycle and bus (as a tour guide for Kosmos/Globus), Brazil is by far my favorite country.

4. What do you miss most about home?

Leaving obligatory recitations of how much I miss my family aside, there is nothing that would encourage me to return to the USSA, and I truly hope someday to get the chance to reside permanently in Brazil without having to first marry or breed. I do miss top-quality tools and appliances, cheap and good computers and software, high-speed internet at home, movies, quality wine and beer, and the superior choice in restaurants, particularly the Mexican, Mediterranean, Cuban and Italian ones we have here in Austin. I also miss no-questions-asked customer service and the availability of technicians who really can fix broken things instead of just pretending to. I also miss the availability of decent libraries and newsstands stocked with world-class newspapers and magazines like the Economist and the New York Times. There’s nothing wrong with Brazil that a nearby Walmart or Home Depot wouldn’t fix, though Brazilians might be well advised to skip the ridiculously priced Starbucks joints.

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

Almost unique among Amerikans, I work only to live, and not vice versa, and I have managed to enjoy 33 weeks of vacation per year on average since I began my professional career over four decades ago. I try to live my life so as never to be in a hurry, but if I ever were to put myself in such a position in Brazil, I might complain about the 36-hour bus rides, spending the night on the floor of an airport, or waiting hours for river ferries or for renewal of my visa at the Polcia Federal. But I find that I can get through all those long waits with a good “romance policial.” Furthermore, any gringo will find that the “fila” presents the perfect opportunity to get to know Brazilians, since, stuck there in a “fila,” they can’t avoid conversing with you! I know, however, that I would be frustrated if I ever had to deal in Brazil with bank accounts, work in the confiscatory tax system, start a business or, in general, put up with the almost insurmountable bureaucracy.

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

I’d have to say that my most memorable experiences revolved around the five or so riverboat trips I’ve taken on the Rio Madeira from Porto Velho to Manus and vice versa. Such a trip is an experience that can’t be had anywhere else, except perhaps on the Congo or on the Rio Paraguay. I found myself spending 5 days conversing, eating, drinking and laughing well the entire time. And the best part is that I was almost always the only gringo on the trip! I have never laughed so hard as I did on those boat trips when having to crawl to the bathroom at night over a floor covered by baggage under a ceiling of “bundas” swinging in hammocks stacked like sardines in three layers above my head.

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

I especially like the friendliness, openness and approachability of all the folks in the streets. Brazil is one of the few Latin countries in which a man can walk up to a woman or kid of any age and strike up a normal conversation. In Buenos Aires, in contrast, you virtually have to marry a woman in order to gain the right to approach her on the street for the purpose of asking directions to a bank!

I like the fact that I can get to know kids even in small-town bars, where I have often bought a round of cokes and performed magic tricks for them. The freedom of kids in Brazil is akin to the freedom I remember our having as kids in the Chicago of the 50s, where we happily roamed on our bikes throughout our neighborhood. In my opinion, rearing a kid in the Amerika of today is a form of child abuse, in view of the fact that young kids are continually supervised by “helicopter” parents who later insist on driving them everywhere in the SUV. In Amerika, parents will call the cops on you if you dare to talk to their kid in a neighborhood park. I find Brazilian kids a joy – inquisitive and enterprising, much freer and, on the whole, much better behaved.

Brazilians excel in family and festa, and many of my neighbors have freely adopted us gringos into their family for the celebration of birthdays, Christmas and the World Cup. I just love the fact that the religion of Brazil is soccer, instead of that distasteful christianism of Amerika. I also appreciate the fact that the Brazil of today has fewer cops in the streets arresting folks for enjoyment of drugs, booze and strange sex positions. Here in Texas, for example, we can’t buy beer on Sunday before noon on account of our Baptists. In Helen, Georgia, the Baptists even force on us an “Oktoberfest” where – this is true – you can attend but you can’t buy a beer anytime on a Sunday. In Brazil, on the other hand, you can get a beer to quench your thirst 24/7. Now I call that civilized!

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

Most of my social-climbing Brazilian friends and acquaintances will not eat where I prefer to eat – at simple sidewalk restaurants serving “prato feito.” The best place to hang out and eat, however, is at the houses of my many neighbors, who all prepare “churrasco,” or even savory rice and beans, with loving care. Sure, I read here about all the hoity-toity pubs and restaurants of São Paulo. Not for me, no way!

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

I had the immense pleasure of getting to know Celso Rossi and Paula Andreazza at Praia do Pinho, a nudist beach and resort just south of Balnerio Camboriu – the first in modern Brazil. Even clothed they surpass the typischen kleinkarierten Amerikaner. Since 1990, I’ve visited that nudist beach numerous times, but what sticks in my memory is the very first time there, when I was taught the lambada by a garota pelada – a gorgeous 18 year-old Brazilian. Wow.

On my next visit there and because of my English-language skills, the Brazilian Beach Nudity Squad sent me out to explain to a couple of young British cruise-ship dancers that the nudist beach policy demanded that they take their bottoms off too. From my libertarian perspective, nobody has the right to require another to take his clothes off on a public Brazilian beach that really is, by law, part of the “patrimonio” of all Brazilians.

Their rationalization for the enforcement of total nudity is that, absent such a rule, Brazilian men would all just stand around clothed, gawking and trying to cop a bunda-feel at the first opportunity. A Brazilian woman once opined that the Brazilian man is too insecure in his machismo to visit a nudist beach with his wife, lest other men gaze upon her naked beauty.

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

One thing I find particularly striking is that Brazilians do not appear to read books. I have seldom seen a person reading a book in a restaurant, on the beach or on a bus, but, for those few times I do, the reader turns out to be a German or some other gringo. I can’t imagine riding a bus for 24 hours, or even two, without reading a book, newspaper or magazine. I imagine that Brazilians deem their education done the moment they’re sprung from school and that reading a book afterward amounts to an admission of ignorance! To me, education begins the very moment you get out of the damn school!

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?

Having studied Greek, Hebrew, Latin, German, Italian, French and Spanish, I have no problem reading Portuguese fluently, though at my age it is hard to acquire the speech fluency, rhythm and accent. Having to speak Spanish in Texas with the local Cubans and Mexicans just leads to the confusion, since even common words like knife, fork and spoon are entirely different in Spanish, French, Italian and Portuguese. And there are so many “false friends.” It can be embarrassing to recount to a Brazilian how you spent an entire 24 hours from Santa Elena to Manus confined in a hot “busseta,” as they refer to a small bus in Colombia, for example.

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

The most valuable advice is to just get down there as soon as possible. Everything else is easy, except for mastery of the language, the importance of which cannot be overemphasized.

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

I am no great fan of São Paulo, though its skyscrapers are definitely worth viewing out the bus window on your way to fun places like Rio, Curitiba or Foz de Iguau. The best advice I can give a person stuck in São Paulo is to get the hell out and visit interesting places in SP state like Campinas, Serra Negra, Campos do Jordão, etc.

Over the years I’ve had the most fun just camping, in places like Praia do Pinho and São Miguel de Iguau, SC, Colina do Sol and Santa Cruz do Sul, RS, or São João del Rei and Tres Marias, MG, and walking and camping along all the beaches from Porto de Galinhas, PE to Barra de Sto. António, AL, which I have now done in both directions.

You can contact Jim via bankofbosta@gmail.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:

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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