November 9, 2007

Meet Richard Murison, from the USA, who has lived in both Brazil and other countries. Read the following interview where 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.?

I was born in Madison, Wisconsin, and might very well have remained there all my life were it not for World War II, where I served as a Navy Supply Officer, and where I first came in contact with Brazil. After the War, and graduation from the University of Wisconsin, I attended the Thundrbird School (third graduating class) in Glendale, Arizona., with the intention of going into export” (we called it then, and now termed “International Business), where I learned Spanish and Foreign Trade. After graduation I drove to New York where I got my first “real” career job with the Sydney Ross Company, a subsidiary of the Sterling Drug Company, at the time one of the world&rsquot;s largest.

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

After a year in New York and three months of training in Mexico I was posted to Brazil. where I arrived to stay in August of 1950. I was transferred twice out of Brazil, once for 4 years and once for 5 years, during which I lived in Japan, Holland, New York, Pittsburgh, and Mexico City, and worked for various companies including Bristol-Myers, Pfizer, H.J.Heinz, G.D. Searle, and lastly McQuay do Brazil for my last 20 years of employment, during which I also owned, and operated for ten years, an English School in São Jos dos Campos. Educationally, I completed an MBA in the U.S. and a law degree in Brazil, where I continue to be a member of the OAB (Brazilian Bar Association). In short, my experience with Brazil goes back some 60 years, during which I have spent about 49 years, living in Rio, Recife (twice), the Interior of São Paulo State, and mostly in São Paulo City during recent years and especially in retirement (where I also live in Fort Lauderdale, Florida).

3. What were you first impressions of Brazil?

A little hard to remember after so many years, but I think the food was the most impressive after three months in Mexico where I lost 20 pounds. It was nice to eat again without rancid butter and uncuttable meat. Im talking about the food in Rio de Janeiro, since the food in the rest of Brazil (I found out later) was not as impressive.

Also, the Portuguese language – people had told me that it would be easy and was “just like Spanish” – which I remember thinking initially was a terrible lie – but really, they were right and, knowing Spanish, I was reasonably fluent in three months (for work purposes, that is). I will confess, however, that after all these years, and a law degree in Portuguese, Im still learning (as I confess that I am, even in English).

4. What do you miss most about home?

Not much these days, since “home” is here, and there as well. Today, just about everything is available in Brazil, with the exception of police protection and the prevalence of lightning kidnappings (which is pretty rare in Fort Lauderdale).

Perhaps it might be of interest to cite a few of the things that were REALLY different on a few decades ago.

– There were almost no paved roads when I came to Brazil (not even Rio/São Paulo). There was a very winding paved road to Juiz de Fora from Rio – dangerous, but paved. People traveled with “dusters” (long capes like an overcoat to protect themselves from the dust). Today, most of the principal roads are paved – much less dust, of course.

– There was no banking system and no way to compensate checks. Checks were practically impossible since one had to go to the agency that emitted them to receive payment. After 1964 (the military “dictatorship”) the banking system was founded and today I find it equal or superior to that in Fort Lauderdale. The problem of this was that (there were no credit cards, either) if you had to travel you had to carry enough cash, or know somebody in the City Bank in the major capitals. The real problem was that with no banking system, collections in the interior had to be made by “cobradores”, who had to go to the bank with their money and buy a check on São Paulo – and sometimes they didnt – and it could be as long as two weeks before we knew they had absconded with the money. Today, with proper identification you can cash a check almost any place.

– There was no telephone system, since practically nobody had a telephone – and even if one had one at home, there was nobody to call. Perhaps hard to remember. I bought an apartment in São Paulo in 1995 (where I still live) and had to pay a private party US$5,300 for a telephone line – but I had to have one, so that was the price – even knowing that the price would fall to nothing within the next couple of years. Today, the system works just like the States (next day installation) and costs about $35. Amazing!!! And the proliferation of cell phones is remarkable – my maid has two daughters (young) and they both have phones as does she and her husband. Under the old system, it was only possible to call the States (via radio) around 4 in the morning (and that was problematic) – and to talk with the rest of Brazil from São Paulo was literally impossible

– Supermarkets were unknown when I got to Brazil. They didnt come into vogue until around 1960. Everybody bought at the “venda” or “mercearia” and ran a tab to the end of the month when they paid (or didnt). In spite of inflation even then, the store owners were not accustomed to changing the prices, and this helped retard the growth of supermarkets, since they did know how to change prices, and people thought that were charging too much and that it was cheaper at the “venda”.

– There are many other things which were quite different and to which it was not so easy to become accustomed – but today there are still a few things – which I could elaborate on in future communications. There are also many stories about things at the mid-century which are interesting, but require further elaboration to be understood. Perhaps in future communications.?

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

The most frustrating experience (and there have been quite a few) was trying to get into the law school. One needs to have a transcript of one&rsquot;s secondary education. Mine was destroyed in a fire many years ago. I had the diploma, however – and a transcript from the University and of my Masters Degree in Business. No good – MUST have the secondary (high school) school transcript. I got affidavits from the only living member of the board of my high school, and affidavits from the local bank, etc, etc. and finally they let me in. Two weeks after classes started I was called to the office and told that my documents were “glossado”, meaning not accepted by the authorities – BUT – if I could present documents from my MBA (duly registered and attested by the Secretary of State), they would let me matriculate. It just happened that I had all of those documents already processed, and when presented, they let me stay in the law school, and even to graduate and pass the bar (That is another story for another time, but interesting).

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

I think this should await another communication – but I have quite a few. To do justice, however, would take too long and this is already too long for an interview.

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

There are so many things to mention – but the easy going life is probably one of the most intriguing. I can give a number of stories in the future for illustration.

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

Certainly the Terrao Italia – and the Bamboo Night Club – but there are obviously many others.

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

How&rsquot;s my Portuguese? Im still studying – and it goes in plateaus – as needed. Ill confess I never had a lesson, but I certainly have read a lot of grammar books, and look up a few new words every day (almost) after reading the editorial pages of the “Estadão” and at least a couple of books a month.

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

Quite obviously, the Brazilian “jeito” – for anything and everything. The prevalence of corruption, while existent in the U.S., certainly is probably more so here in Brazil – perhaps more obvious in recent years and especially months, as Brazil tries to come to grips with the “mensales”, etc.

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

Ride with the punch, dont take things TOO seriously, try to stay within the law (when possible). and continue believing that “Brazil is the country of the future” Who knows, the future may be arriving??

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

Almost anything one wants from night clubbing to sports, theater (not if one doesnt speak the language, though), trips to Guaruj, other towns nearby, etc. Always something – and lots of things for the foreign community, too.

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 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:

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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