Meet Justin Mounts, who has moved from the USA to live with his now wife in Rio de Janeiro. Read the following interview where he tells us about 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.?

I was born and raised in Wichita, Kansas, but I lived in San Jose, California for 5 years before moving to Rio de Janeiro. Currently, I work for an e-learning company developing management training software, am a freelance photographer, and I am the Brazilian Editor for www.ontheroadtravel.com.

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

I came to Brazil for the first time in February 2004 on a layover during a philanthropic expedition called Drive Around the World. It was then that I met my (now) wife, Fernanda. I made the permanent move to Brazil in August, 2005.

3. What were you first impressions of Brazil?

My first impression of Brazil was the people. Having arrived speaking virtually no Portuguese, I was overwhelmed at how open and friendly people were to me, even though we could only communicate through the simplest forms. The newness of the country to me was also impressive. I had just spent 3 months driving from California to the southern tip of Argentina, so being able to sit in one place for more than a few days at a time gave Brazil more of a chance to make a permanent impression on me.

4. What do you miss most about home?

I am asked this a lot by friends back home, and I’d have to say being able to watch NHL Hockey and buy Crown Royal whiskey. I mean, I also miss friends and family, but I’ve been living overseas or on the road for over 2 years now, so living without some conveniences is an experience I’ve learned to cope with well.

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

This is a toss up. Learning correct Portuguese grammar would be one frustrating experience, but also the difficulty I’ve had tuning my ear to the different Portuguese dialects. For example, when someone I don’t know talks to me on the street, if I’m not paying explicit attention to what’s being said, I’ll lose the conversation in a heartbeat. Answering the phone at home is the same experience.

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

My most memorable experience in Brazil happened in March, 2005. I was visiting for 2 weeks, when my fiance and I went to one of the islands surrounding Ilha Grande. We stayed in a rustic cabin with no electricity and no water. We befriended some of the local fisherman, who treated us with fresh fish every day in exchange for teaching them how to play poker. It rained almost the entire time we were on the island, so a lot of time was spent talking about family and the differences between the life that I’ve known and the life that these men had led. It was really an eye-opening and heart-warming experience.

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

I really like Brazilians’ abilities to open their heart to share what they have with other people. Perhaps not everyone in Brazil is as open as my social circle here in Rio, but everyone I know seems to do whatever they can to help out friends, family, and even strangers. It’s understood that nobody really has a lot extra, but if there is something extra, it seems to be used to help others. I think the world could learn a lot from this example.

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

I love to go down to Galeto Viva Flor, on Paula Freitas in Copacabana for a linguia na braa and a chopp. Without a doubt, the best sausage I’ve had in any of the 31 countries I’ve visited in my life. I also like to go walk Copacabana beach around 8am in the morning to see daily life begin to turn in Rio.

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

Nothing too funny yet, other than the fact that now when I negotiate with vendors along the beach they tell me that I’m getting a good deal because if I was American, the price would be different.

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

Two things come to mind right away. First, it would have to be the amount of fear that people live with on a day-to-day basis. People have to take an extra ordinate amount of caution just to go to the padaria or walk from one neighborhood to another. The constant warnings and reminders of personal safety has taken some getting used to. In many places I’ve lived in the world, San Francisco, Bangkok, etc. I’ve never been too worried about my personal safety when just walking around. I’m 6’3″ with curly blonde hair, so when I’m out in the streets, I’m used to attracting attention. But the stories I hear on a regular basis about friends that have been assaulted is shocking. The other thing I’ve noticed is the lack of well-paying jobs. Economy difficulties are unfortunate regardless of where you live, and there’s never an easy fix. However, looking at global economic development, I expect Brazil to be next in line behind what’s going on in China and India right now.

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?

Everyone I meet tells me that my Portuguese is amazing for an American. I started studying seriously in January, 2005 using the Pimsleur audio CDs. I think that combined with regular phone calls and visits to Brazil, my knowledge of Portuguese grew at an exponential rate. I still frequently confuse the words mentira and metido, the words for liar and snobby, and have difficulty using past tense correctly when speaking quickly or when I’m tired. When I arrived in August, it was also particularly challenging because I was working all day in my home office speaking and writing English for my job, but then having to switch over to Portuguese when I was done working. I’ve also noticed that my typing abilities have diminished substantially since spending the majority of my time speaking Portuguese.

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

My advice would be to come without preconceptions about the location or the people. Take time to read about Brazilian issues – both current and historical, before getting on the plane. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, show respect for Brazilians by making an effort to learn a little Portuguese. Never forget – you are a guest in their country. Things are not the same here as they are at home. You shouldn’t expect them to be.

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

Unfortunately, I’m not very familiar with São Paulo, however I think people owe it to themselves to get out of the major cities in Brazil to see community life. Every place always has the TV/Travel guide version that most visitors see, and they accept that vision as all there is to a place. My experience has shown that getting off the beaten path to explore more than what’s on the surface will leave a much longer lasting impression. My favorite side trip is up to the hills around Petropolis. Walking around the cobblestone streets thinking about the history of Brazil and how centuries of life have evolved always leaves me feeling humbled. Plus, and opportunity to get out of the chaos that is Rio is always appreciated.

Are you a foreigner living in Brazil, or 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, or if you would like to recommend someone, please send an email with contact details and a brief description of yourself to gringoes@www.gringoes.com

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

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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