Japanese born and U.S. raised Tommie C.B. DeAssis moved to São Paulo with her Brazilian husband Luis Roberto over a year and a half ago. She misses Jiffy peanut butter and the snow at Christmas time, but loves Brazilian fruit as well as the nappy changing facilities and drug store delivery services in São Paulo.

Where are you from?
Marion, Ohio…a true Buckeye. GO BUCKS!
I was born in Iwakuni, Japan, where there is a US military base very near Hiroshima. My mother is from Hiroshima and my father was stationed in
Japan. He hails from Ohio, so he took his new family to Ohio when I was about 1 1/2 years old. I grew up in a small town called Marion which is about 50 miles north of Columbus. I never realized what a country girl” I was until I came to SP!

When did you arrive in Brazil and what brought you here?
April 2003. First visit was in 1998 with my then fianc. In 2000 we got married in Hawaii. After having lived in Japan for 8 years (my husband lived and worked there for 12 years) and starting our family, we decided it was time to return to either Brazil or the US. Personally, I didn’t want to live in the US (with my current President) and my husband, Luis Roberto, was
longing to return to his homeland.

What do you ?
Stay-at-home mom for my two sons, Stephen Robert (2 years) and Othon Luis (7 months).

My degree is in Japanese literature and language with a minor in English Linguistics, so this naturally led me to live and work in Japan. In 1995, I was invited into the JET Programme (an English teaching exchange program). I worked under the auspices of the Japanese Ministry of Education as an Assistant English Teacher throughout various school systems in Hiroshima Prefecture. After 3 years in this program, I got my teaching license and taught in a private boys’ school for 5 years. This is where I learned how things *really* work in Japan, but this is a whole other subject, right?

What do you miss about home?
I’ve been away from home-home for almost 10 years, so I would have to say friends and family. As for more tanglible things? I miss Jiffy peanut butter and buying milk in the gallon plastic jug, rather than the 1-liter box. I miss seeing snow at Christmas time, snowboarding and other winter sports.

What has been your most frustrating experience in Brazil?
I don’t think it really has to do with Brazil so much. It’s probably more of a personal challenge. When I first arrived here, I was hit with a double dose of culture shock (some reverse culture shock mixed in as well). I got used to the safety of living in Japan, so I had to re-learn my street smarts, like, locking your doors and windows when leaving home, not walking out of a store with money still in hand, carrying $200-500 cash in your purse!!! Japan is still predominantly a cash-based society and is not uncommon to carry that much in your purse or wallet, especially since I could easily spend $200 just at the grocery store.

So, to answer this question, it is the general lack of safety of having to look over one’s shoulder that can be frustrating, although nothing really bad has happened to us.

What do you most like about Brazil?
Speaking as a mother, the fraldarios (nappy changing areas)!!!! I really appreciate the over-all attitude and respect to pregnant women and mothers here. I also really like the Ventrega” (delivery) system here. I’ve had to call the pharmacy on several occasions when I found the baby Tylenol almost gone and a crying-n-teething baby in tote. Also, I love the wonderful assortment of CHEAP fruit! I used to pay $30 for a watermelon in Japan!

What is your favorite restaurant here?
Wow…I wish I could remember the names of some of them. I quite like a couple of the Japanese and Korean restaurants found in Liberdade. But for something that may be unique to São Paulo? I would have to say that I really enjoy Bora-Bora ( 2 in Pinheiros and one in Moema). This restaurant specializes in “Pizza Frita,” basically a deepfried calzone. How heavy does
that sound?

Do you have any funny stories/incidents to tell about your time in Brazil?
I can’t think of anything in particular since I seem to stay pretty much at home with my boys. I guess I do get a kick at how people react to my oldest son. It’s not too common to see a Japanese looking boy with light brown hair, so whenever we take a walk around my neighborhood or at the shopping malls, he draws a lot of attention. Also, being half-Japanese, most people think I’m Brazilian until I open my mouth in response. I get a kick out of their reactions and it is often a great ice-breaker.

What difference between your homeland and Brazil do you find most striking?
The sense of time. I’m used to it now. I came up with this time reference when I first arrived. This is based on 3 countries and I use the US/North America as the base. USA: 1 day = 1 day; Japan: 1 day = 20-23 hours; Brazil: 1 day = 48-72 hours. Perhaps a bit exaggerated and is meant to be tongue-in-cheek. I get frustrated at how long it takes to buy groceries at the supermarket. You wouldn’t find the cashiers sitting on chairs or “bate-papo” with the neighboring cashier. When things do get done on time, I get a sweet surprise, but for the most part, things are as slow as molasses (still sweet though). Also, when visiting friends, when you say good-bye, it usually means we won’t leave for another 30 minutes to an hour.
Still can’t get over it! Of course, all of these things I mention are cultural and I am sure I’m repeating a lot of what has already been said.
I guess now, I appreciate that my life shouldn’t be dictated by the clock so much and now I’ve come to accept and enjoy the relaxed sense of time.

What are some things that you would recommend for a visitor to do in São Paulo?
Aside from the essential museums, parks, etc. I recommend going to “feira” (street market) whether it be the veggie/fruit or the arts and crafts kind. Not only do you get to see and try the wonderful choices of “exotic” fruit (may be common place here, but certainly not in Ohio), “feiras” are a great place to people-watch. The one in Liberdade on the weekend is good if you want to try the local fare (tempura, tako-yaki, etc).

Tommie C.B. DeAssis can be contacted at Tommie@globo.com

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

Aaron Day – Canada
Graham Debney – New Zealand
Ken Marshall – Australia
John Milton – England
Pari Seeber – Iran
Jonas Helding – Denmark
Damiano Pak – South Korea
Kim Buarque – Wales
Carl Emberson – Australia
Frank de Meijer – Holland
Tanya Keshavjee Macedo – Canada
Silke Tina Tischendorf – Germany

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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