April 17, 2012

Meet Rob McDonell who first visited Brazil 3 years and is now living here. Read the following interview in which he tells us about some of his most memorable experiences and gives some useful advice to newcomers.

1. Tell us a little about yourself, where are you from, what do you do etc.?

Hi, my name is Rob, I’m Irish, from near Dublin. Right now I’m doing a doctorate in USP, the University of São Paulo.

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

I first came here three years ago with my girlfriend, who is Brazilian and now my wife. This time I’ve been here for a little over a year. The first time I came just to check it out, really. I’d never been in South America before so I didn’t need much of an excuse.

3. What were you first impressions of Brazil?

The friendliness of the people, the incredible beauty of the landscape, the mind-boggling size of São Paulo (I reckon Zona Sul has more people than Ireland), the concentration of social activities that involve only the family, and the sharp divisions between haves and have-nots. And it’s sunny!

4. What do you miss most about home?

I miss the pub culture in Ireland, and of course, family and friends. Brazilians tend to stick together in their own groups and not socialise so much outside family, friends and colleagues. Those great, rambling (and let’s be honest, drunken!) conversations you can have in Ireland with complete strangers who suddenly become great friends over a few drinks don’t seem to happen as much here. Maybe I’m just not drinking enough though…

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

Bureaucracy. Easy. Nothing else comes close to the hellishness of a day wasted in the Polcia Federal, at the end of which they tell you that you need to come back another day. And you’ll be back many times before it ends, oh yes you will.

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

My first time in Rio, going up Corcovado, seeing monkeys and then swimming at Ipanema… it was totally awesome! Having a caipirinha at the Copacabana as the sun went down… great.

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

Coming from Ireland, it’s just got to be the weather. I know Brazilians say São Paulo is grey and cloudy but they don’t know grey and cloudy! Having sun most days is still kind of a big treat for me.

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

I’m not sure I have one specific place but Vila Madalena is great. Much pricier than it used to be, though. Other than that, we live in Alto da Boa Vista and there are some nice small bars there in that part of Zona Sul. Once you get used to the madness of São Paulo, it’s actually a great city.

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

Haha! Yes… unfortunately. My very first time here, I was practicing my como via a senhora?” for my wife’s mother. I left the bags to greet her and as I was blurting out my horribly mangled phrase, I heard the crash of whiskey bottles smashing on the floor behind me. Not the best introduction. To make matters worse I called her ‘cenoura’ instead of ‘senhora’ the next day. (That’s ‘carrot’ for those of who you might not know.) She liked me somehow though!

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

Not that we don’t have rich and poor, but the difference here is shocking. Sadly, I’m getting used to it. But probably the biggest difference is that somehow most people know each other in Ireland, or know someone who in turn knows someone that you know! Forget about that in São Paulo, it’s hard enough to spot the same person twice!

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?

My Portuguese isn’t too bad! It’s necessary in USP so I get a lot of practice there but I’m forever confusing all those words that start with ‘des-‘. There’s so many. And they all look the same! As for sounds, it took me a long time to get the ‘ão/e’ nasal thing. I couldn’t ever hear the difference at the start but now it’s not too bad though.

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

Two things: learn the language and learn to deal with the fact that things tend to have their own rhythm here. Things’ll be done, it just takes time! And once you learn the language, you get a much deeper understanding of the culture.

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

One thing I’m constantly surprised by is just how many little museums and galleries São Paulo actually has. There are great little interesting places that you would never know existed. As for specific things, you can’t beat the Litoral Norte for chilling out on some beautiful beaches. After the 4 hour traffic jam, of course!

You can contact Robert via mcdonnell.robert5@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:

Rob McDonell – Australia
Jennifer Souza – USA
Scott Hudson – Australia
Bill Holloway – USA
Elaine Vieira – South Africa
Pieter Kommerij – Netherlands
Rich Sallade – USA
Robyn and Willem Van Der Merwe – South Africa
Michael Smyth – UK
Danielle Carner – USA
Chris Caballero – USA
Jaya Green – USA
Wiliam Stewart – USA
Andrew Dreffen – Australia
Meredith Noll – USA
Marcus Lockwood – New Zealand
Mike Smith – UK
Jonathan Russell – USA
Jan Hillen – Belgium
Jeff Eddington – USA
Arne Rasmussen – Denmark
Rod Saunders – USA
Don Fenstermaker – USA
Ken Van Zyl – South Africa
Angus Graham – UK
Anne Morddel – USA
Jessica Mullins – Switzerland
Evan Soroka – USA
Mary de Camargo – USA
Brendan Fryer – UK
Aaron Sundquist – USA
Jay Bauman – USA
Alan Williams – USA
Derek Booth – UK
Jim Shattuck – USA
Ruby Souza – Hawaii
Stephan Hughes – Trinidad and Tobago
Louis van der Wiele – Holland
Drew Glaser – USA
Barry Elliott – Canada
Joel Barsky – USA
David Drummond – Canada
Liam Porisse – France
Jim Kelley – USA
Max Ray – USA
Jeremy Clark – Canada
Don Fredrick – USA
Jase Ramsey – USA
Ben Pearce – UK
Nitai Panchmatia – India
Johnnie Kashat – USA
Jeni Bonorino – USA
Eric Jones – USA
Bill Martin – UK
Bernard Morris – USA
John Graves – USA
Deepak Sapra – India
Alison McGowan – UK
Brent Gregory – USA
R Dub – USA
Tara Bianca – USA
Jack Hurley – USA
James Woodward – Canada
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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