Meet Sean McGown, from the USA, who are after some travel in Brazil met and is now engaged to a Brazilian, and moved here last December. Read the following interview where he tells us about his most memorable experiences from Brazil and gives some useful advice to newcomers. To contact Sean send an email to farbewerk@gmail.com.

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

I’m originally from Dallas but I’ve lived in New York, St. Louis and Chicago as well. I am a graphic designer by trade and am delving into all sorts of stuff lately. My college degree was in music, trumpet performance. I’m working toward learning more jazz.

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

I came to Brazil the first time in August of 2004. It was a simple pleasure trip but I met a woman and her husband that were vacationing. At some point she mentioned that I might like to meet her sister and I sort of filed it away in my mind under “Bridges I’ll cross when I come to them”. Well, as it turned out, a number of bridges showed up and I decided to spend a couple of months in Rio. As luck would have it, I met the woman’s sister and we began a relationship we carried on long distance all of last year. In October of 2005 I asked her to marry me and she said yes. I moved here in December.

3. What were you first impressions of Brazil?

Well, I was in Sao Pedro da Serra near Novo Friburgo and Lumiar and only spent 1 hour in GIG. So my first impressions were based on very rustic views of the countryside. When I returned for my two month stay, I was apprehensive even after having lived in Chicago and NY but that wore off pretty quickly. Things are chaotic, yes, but no more so than living in some of the places I had before. Of course my command of Portuguese was wretched and made things far more difficult.

4. What do you miss most about home?

Being able to communicate. I like to share with people and I’m still not up to speed with the language. I love language and literature and I’m working to improve. Another minor gripe is the difficulty in getting American football coverage other than over the internet but that’s pretty low on the totem pole.

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

I am frustrated that people who live here who have never even visited the States believe they know exactly what it’s like to live there and exactly what problems we should begin fixing immediately. I’ll be the first to admit that the United States needs some serious fixing but sometimes I get tired of the pummelling I take over things I have no control over. By the way, this behavior is by no means the exclusive domain of the Brazilian people. These days it’s a world-wide sport that’s beginning to rival the World Cup. And there’s nothing I can do about it. So I just started refusing to talk about anything but my family and things I liked to do when I lived in the States.

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

Asking my fiancé to marry me. We were in her parents house with most of the family around and I had planned on asking her that evening without any forewarning. I looked over at her Dad and noticed he was drifting off to sleep! So, I just blurted out a request to her father for permission to marry his daughter. I guess my Portuguese was good enough because this seemed to get a little attention and provoked the response, “Voce ‘sta brincando?” Nobody knew I was going to ask and it went over very well. I had heard from Brazilian friends in the States that this was a very unorthodox method in Brazil but I decided I’d rather do it my way. Thank God it went over well!

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

How active life is here. I lived for two years in NY and 12 years in Chicago and I got used to walking and being active. Dallas isn’t as easy in this regard so I was very happy to return to a more active lifestyle.

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

I don’t think I’ve been to the same place twice since I arrived. I love being in the house with Marcia and her children. We also rented what amounts to a closet in Ipanema for my office and it’s a lot of fun to walk with her around Ipanema. The hippy fair is great.

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

In April of 2004 I visited Rio for her birthday. We went to Parati for 3 days. One evening we were walking the old streets and we paused to look into a club where music was playing. A young man struck up a conversation and asked where we’d met. I launched into an epic retelling of our meeting in the most pathetic Portuguese you can imagine. Suddenly, he mumbled something and took off. I looked at Marcia and she was steaming mad. Evidently, the boy was trying to pick me up and I completely missed it. Very quickly, she went from furious to laughing hysterically. What could I do but shrug?

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

I would say personal security but I’ve lived in places in NY and Chicago that are pretty rugged. I guess the intensity of personal contact between people. Even in NY there is sort of an unwritten rule of personal space. I really like the closer contact here. It’s so much more energetic.

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?

In general, I remember words but the standard difficulties (gender, verb conjugation, plurality, syntax) just kill me. It is still hard for me to hear what people are saying. As I was typing this, I received a call from my fiancé’s secretary and didn’t hear it right so I gave her a message that was wrong. Sigh. It’s also much more difficult to remember things said to me in Portuguese.

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

If you’re moving here, learn the language and learn it well. Spend the time learning and when you think you know it, study twice as hard. Think you really know it? You’re wrong. Also, understand that living here is no game. It’s great but it’s no game. If you fall here, it can be a long drop.

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

Unfortunately, I haven’t visited SP yet. I’m looking forward to seeing the Symphony and hitting some restaurants. I really like Penedo/Serrinha along the highway (I think BR-101) between Rio and Sao Paulo. Very relaxed and picturesque. Anywhere you go, try and go with someone who is bilingual if you’re not quite good at Portuguese.

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@gringoes.com

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  5. […] Peter Berner – Switzerland/Brazil Ethan Munson – USA Solveig Skadhauge – Denmark Sean McGown – USA Condrad Downes – UK Jennifer Silva – Australian Justin Mounts – USA Elliott […]

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