Meet Thales Panagides, who was born in the USA and subsequently lived in Cyprus, and came to Brazil while soul searching and decided to stay. He has also opened a business here in Fortaleza. Read the following interview where he tells us about his 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’s Thales Panagides and if you think the name sounds Greek then it is. I was born in Ames, Iowa and grew up on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus. I’m happily married to Glauci, a beautiful girl from Fortaleza – Cear. Between us, we have a baby girl who’s three months young and growing faster than my business.

The question is how does someone born in the United States but raised in Cyprus end up in Fortaleza – Brazil? The answer is a matter of interpretation. Some call it luck, others call it destiny, but I’m sure my dream and desire to work from home with a view of the Ocean had a lot to do with it. I currently represent Brazilian companies abroad and have my wife’s permission and authorization to represent Brazilian bikinis, fitness and lingerie manufacturers. More of who I am and what I do can be viewed by visiting my website at: http://www.brazilian-bikinis.net

When asked how things are going for me in Brazil I respond with the fitting ending of many fairytales, “and he lived happily ever after.”

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

I arrived in Brazil in October of 1998 and came with the intent to spend a couple of weeks in Fortaleza. At the time, I had just recently graduated with an MBA and was in need of some soul searching so I took advantage of my cousin’s offer to visit him in Fortaleza. He was working on a consulting project for the government of the North East in conjunction with the World Bank. Seven years later and I’m still here.

What were your first impressions of Brazil?

The first impression I can vividly recall of Brazil was the overwhelming sight of São Paulo as the airplane began to approach Guarulhos airport. All I could see was a concrete jungle of endless buildings in every direction, North, South, East and West. I thought to myself, gosh, “what was I getting into?” After all, the total population of Cyprus was a mere 780,000 and here I was witnessing a megalopolis of 13 million citizens, almost 17 times the entire population of my country! The very second impression was the confusion of seeing Brazilian cowboys in a rodeo setting being transmitted on the television screens at the airport. At first I thought that it was a clip from Texas but they were all speaking Portuguese and it wasn’t dubbed. Only later did I learn that Brazil is one of the largest exporters of beef and that it had a large rodeo following among locals.

Overall, my impression of Brazil was one of strong contrasts, a country with immense natural beauty and wealth but at the same time degradation and disparity.

What do you miss most about home?

I can’t say I’m nostalgic for anything particular other than my family and friends.

What has been your most frustrating experience in Brazil?

Perhaps the most frustrating experience in Brazil has to do with how, for the most part, many businesses are poorly managed. It’s frustrating because you know they could do much better and that the only thing standing in their way is ignorance or a lack of interest. I could never understand (and still don’t) why they wouldn’t return my phone calls even if it meant I was the customer or buyer of their product. Customer service is practically non existent in Brazil. There’s also too much bureaucracy, red tape, inefficiencies, and lack of professionalism at the local, State and Federal level. But of course, Hurricane Katrina has shown that needless bureaucracy isn’t limited to Brazil but also to the most powerful country in the world, the United States.

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

Two memorable experiences in Brazil were a weekend trip to Ilha Bela and my participation in the Rio Half Marathon where I ran by the beautiful beaches of Leblon, Ipanema, Botafogo, and Copacabana. I can almost confess it was a spiritual experience.

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

Let me invent the three P’s – People, Potential and Praias (beaches). The diversity of its people, the county’s enormous potential and natural beauty (endless beaches) are some of the things I like most about Brazil.

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

Without a doubt, my favorite place to hang out is at the “Praa dos Estressados,” located in Fortaleza on the Beira Mar strip. It’s a rest and snack point on the beach front were you can order exotic fruit juices. My personal favorites are “suco de Aai” or “suco de Guarana.” Ask for these drinks in Portuguese and you won’t go wrong. You have to try them at least once in your life even if you think you won’t like them. They’re energetic and known to enhance all type of physical activity.

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

During my first 30 days in Brazil I noticed promotional banners being displayed around the city. Many of these banners contained the word “SEX” and I had thought that there were probably an excessive number of bordellos promoting their services. It seemed that almost every other street corner had a bordello until I asked my friend to explain why there were so many Bordellos around town advertising sex. He couldn’t stop laughing and went on to explain that SEX is the abbreviation for SEXTA-FEIRA which means Friday in Portuguese. There you have it, Portuguese 101!

If you’ve ever driven a car or been a passenger in Brazil I’m sure you have a horror or funny story worth sharing. After all, we all know that Brazilians are notorious for their driving skills, or lack of, and that signaling is optional. Here’s my story. I admittedly made a left turn were I wasn’t suppose to and ended up being pulled over by two traffic police. At the time, I borrowed a friend’s car and drove by the motto, “when in Rome, do as the Romans.” Well, to make a long story short, I didn’t want to inconvenience my friend and have him to pay the fine at another location so I asked, with a smile, if there was a way we could settle this on the spot. Legally, of course! He wanted a small tip for himself and his colleague. I thought twenty reais (R$) was more than fair for the both of them. As I offered the bribe (if that’s what you want to call it) he repeatedly said, “dobro” so I thought! My Portuguese was weak at the time and I thought he was asking for twice as much since “dobro” means double in Portuguese. I didn’t think it was worth it so I offered to settle it at the proper location. He then raised his voice and said, “no, no dobra.” It finally occurred to me that the subtle difference between “dobro” and “dobra” was the difference between “double” the money and “fold” the money. I ended up folding the notes discreetly, and as they say, the rest is history.

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

By far the greatest difference between the countries I grew up in (Cyprus and the US) compared to Brazil is the huge gap between the wealthy haves and the have-nots. A sight I still have difficulties adjusting to is seeing children, the old and handicap, beg for food and money on hundreds and thousands of streets across Brazil.

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 is good but there’s always room for improvement. I definitely want to enhance my vocabulary. The best tool, if you’re single, like I once was, is to date someone who doesn’t speak your language. The girl I once dated is currently my wife. I also find that using small flash cards helps a lot. On one side you should write down the word in your language and the equivalent in Portuguese on the reverse side. Stuff your pocket with these cards and use them throughout the day. Once you master the word you can trash the note and gain confidence in knowing that you’ve memorized one more word. If you’re like most mortals, you’re greatest challenge will be to learn how to conjugate verbs. It will take time but in the end you’ll get the hang of it. Good luck.

What advice do you have for newcomers to Brazil?

The best advice I have for newcomers is to be open-minded and flexible. Respect and value differences especially since we see the world, not as it is, but as we are. Don’t complain and waste your energy on things you can’t change. Never give up.

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

If you’re in São Paulo, I’d definitely recommend you visit Ibirapuera Park. There are dozens of other places but the park, by far, is my favorite destination. If you visit Fortaleza, the place to stroll is Beira Mar. That’s were you’ll probably bump into me because I’m there almost every day of the week. See you at the “Praa do Estressados.”

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

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

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 gringoes@www.gringoes.com

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