Meet Tammy Montagna, a New Yorker who came to Brazil to be with her husband, and also opened her own business in Itaim-bibi. Read the following interview where she tells us about her most memorable experiences from Brazil and gives some useful advice to newcomers.

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

My name is Tammy Montagna.I am from New York City. Recently, I opened an exercise studio in Itaim-bibi called Belong Studio ( last November. I teach classes based on an exercise technique that has elements of pilates, ballet, yoga, etc. which I studied in the USA.

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

I arrived in Brazil on March 10th of 2004. What brought me here? Love…of course! Coincidentally, I arrived on the day of a strike at the airport and was stuck in line for about 4 1/2 hours! This was my (and my two American cats) initial welcome to Brazil. After waiting in line all that time, I found my husband anxiously awaiting me in the airport and being interviewed by journalists. Our arrival was noted in the news about the strike in the newspaper the next day….quoting my husband’s worry of my initial impression and, naturally, preoccupied with what his mother-in-law would think of the situation (this being 4 days after our wedding!).

What were you first impressions of Brazil?

My first impressions of Brazil… when I think about it now, so many thoughts race through my mind. Of course, the traffic and disregard for driving laws scared me a lot–especially considering I was a die hard subway and bus person. I couldn’t imagine myself behind the wheel here. Aside from the obvious traffic, I was impressed with the rigorous social schedule of the Brazilians and they managed to arrive (YES ARRIVE!) at a birthday party at 11 and be up for work the next day! Also it takes a while for Americans to open up and share with strangers. We tend to be more reserved and to ourselves. At gyms in NYC people go, do their thing and go home.I see here at the studio how students immediately open up and ask a lot of personal questions right away and talk, talk, talk. Any situation becomes a social outing and a chance to get to know someone new. I always try to tell my Brazilian friends that Americans are, indeed, friendly but sometimes we take some time to let you into our personal space–don’t confuse it for rudeness. Once you crack our exterior, we are friends for life!

On a sad note, the glaring differences in social classes and children begging on the street were very distressing to someone who is used to the middle class majority back home. And how could I forget the beauty and variety of the landscape–beaches, mountains, farmland? And the people… all these mixtures of races meld into some of the most gorgeous people I have ever seen.

What do you miss most about home?

My family! I also miss riding my bike and walking at any time of day or night through the neighborhoods of nyc…

What has been your most frustrating experience in Brazil?

I would have to say the lack of independence in the youth. I understand this is a very cultural thing… but I am always surprised when I learn that young people (even in their 30’s) still live at home and are rather protected and spoiled. I know that it isn’t easy for young people to find work or odd jobs in Brazil like in the USA (restaurant etc) that they can use to sustain themselves financially while they are studying and also, I realize the family unit is much stronger culturally in Brazil–it takes a longer time to cut the umbilical cord, so to speak! (And obviously I don’t want to generalize here.) My parents really pushed me to be independent and responsible at an early age. My brother and I always had domestic responsibilities (of course not having maids made a difference) and we learned the value of money, independence and hard work. I think that in the USA, we believe in that “so called American dream.” Being born poor and/or of a different race or social class will not hold us back if we are willing to work hard and fight for our dreams. And I think this quality spills over and continues with us throughout life. It makes us professional, reliable, disciplined and able to adapt easily to all of life’s challenges.

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

My most memorable experience in Brazil would have to be the wedding party my in-laws hosted for our wedding at the beach. Our celebration in the USA started at 6 pm and ended promptly at midnight because of the location we rented—they wouldn’t bend the rules–very typical american! Here the party started at 6 and went until 5 am! The staff wanted to make sure that the event was magical and didn’t think twice about putting in all those extra hours for an such an important celebration. And, naturally, the love and support of all those guests. I felt truly embraced and welcomed here. My husband and I went for a walk on the beach the following day and everyone stood up and applauded! Brazilians know how to commemorate special moments and make one feel close to their hearts.

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

The fact that people take time to enjoy life. I appreciate that things do close on holidays and Sundays… even if sometimes I complain about it! :)

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

I wouldn’t be able to name one specifically. I do think that the cuisine in São Paulo is marvelous! And I also greatly appreciate the fact that Brazilians often sit down to lunch/dinner and enjoy home cooking. The sense of family is very strong here and sharing a meal together is a sacred thing. This has become rarer and rarer in the USA. But off the top of my head two places I enjoy frequenting: Bistro Gil for its low key, relaxed environment and Condessa/Merceria de Conde for its always dependable and delicious food.

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

Well… I haven’t quite adapted to all this kissing. Unfortunately there seems to be some unspoken rule on who to kiss and not to kiss and if course how many times. In the beginning it seemed that everyone kissed everyone (even in professional situations). Naturally, the motor-boy from my building appreciated and was rather surprised with the kisses when he delivered a package and I thought he was a client.

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

Without a doubt the disparity between the classes.

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?

I have to admit I am proud of my Portuguese considering I haven’t had any lessons. I am learning like a child and not putting pressure on myself to be perfect. I think this helps it flow much better. Also I think opening a business and forcing myself to jump right in really helped. I find the pronunciation of words that are similar to english the most difficult. Okay and how about cabeleireiro? Yikes… what i really miss is the word “THE!”

What advice do you have for newcomers to Brazil?

Try not to expect things to work like they do in your native country, try not to compare. Accept and embrace the differences…be open. There is nothing like learning a new culture… it should be a requirement for everyone.

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

New Years at the beach–best in the world
Praia Vermelha in Ubatuba
Enjoy an agua de coco in Parque Ibeurapeira (okay that is spelled wrong)
Praia do Forte Bahia
Pizzarias on Sunday nights
Barbacoa (Rodizio)
Tickets to Grupo Corpo

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

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

Are you are foreigner living in 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

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