March 5, 2016

This week in our continuing Foreigners Through Brazilian Eyes series we have an interview with Maggie Parra. Read on as Maggie tells us about her impressions of foreigners, and gives some helpful advice also.

1. Where are you from in Brazil and what do you do?

I am from São Paulo. I have worked as a bilingual executive secretary for 38 years working mainly with expatriates. I have also a degree in Psychology.

2. What are the main obstacles for foreigners in Brazil?

Number 1 always – the language. The huge amount of red tape also may pose a frustrating experience for most foreigners.

3. What are common mistakes that foreigners make in Brazil?

Some do not try to research about the culture of the country they are going to live in, which may prove to be annoying for them when living here. Another issue is to believe in what friends say about the country without checking the story. Once I had to drag an English gentleman, who lost his wallet, to a police station to file a report. He was freaking out since his best friend told him he might be be arrested (since his work permit was being processed), and also that the police are totally corrupt and he could be fined for no reason… LOL. Eventually, he understood my arguments and he finally had his "B.O" in hands to get new documents i.e. temporary foreigners ID card, drivers license, etc.

4. What characteristic of other nationalities strikes you as the most different (eg. sense of humour, formality, dress)?

British and Asians are very formal. On the other hand, French, Dutch, Italians are the least formal and mostly with a great sense of humor.

5. Which English accent do you prefer and why (eg. Scottish, American, Australian)?

Since Ive lived in the US, I prefer the American one.

6. Favourite place travelled abroad and why?

Barbados. It’s a beautiful tiny island with marvelous beaches hwith awesome sunsets. The locals are extremely welcoming and helpful. It’s also a place where you can mingle with a great variety of nationalities.

7. Favourite foreign food?

Mexican and Italian.

8. Favourite foreign band, book and movie?

Band = Rolling Stones & Alan Parsons Project. Book = Conversations with Morrie. Movie = City of Joy.

9. What is the difference between dating a Brazilian and Foreigner (if this applies to you or perhaps a friend)?

Dating a Brazilian is like driving a new car for the first time – it is hard to find the right buttons (ha, ha). There are exceptions, of course! The foreigner, on the other hand, usually is more attentive and more respectful, he tries to understand our culture and adapt to it and does not take the relationship for granted.

10. Can you share an incident, misunderstanding or culture shock that you have experienced with a foreigner?

When working at a British company, there was a scheduled visit of the British Consul and his aides, which demanded a lot of planning for the meeting arrangements. Everything was completed to the tiniest detail. When introducing him to the employees, I was the last one. When I was greeting him as formally as the situation demanded, my boss "poked" me and said rudely "Come on, give him your hand!". I was shocked at first and tried to sheepishly smile when shaking the visitor’s hand. Later on, an Irish manager, who noticed how bad I felt tried to explain the boss "culture" and the "why" he acted like that. I managed to say thanks and left. Honestly, it is not fun to be treated like a second class citizen…

11. What are 2 things you would recommend for a visitor to do in Brazil to better understand Brazilian people and their culture?

Learn a bit of Portuguese, although everybody in Brazil say they speak English, when looking for directions you will see that it is isn’t exactly true. Bear in mind that punctuality is not the best Brazilian distinguished quality, so do not get upset when a meeting, dinner party do not start at the set time. Go with the flow and enjoy it.

If you are Brazilian, or know a Brazilian, who has traveled abroad or has considerable experience with different nationalities here in Brazil, we would like to hear from you. Please send an email with contact details and a brief description of yourself to

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