Brazilian Rosaly Loula is a teacher and linguist from Salvador, Bahia. She has travelled extensively and lived for two years in Canada. She is also engaged to a German citizen so is well qualified to share her experiences on foreigners in Brazil.

Before going on to the questions, Rosaly shares with us her favorite quotation, from Mark Twain: Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” To grow, we need to take risks in life.

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

Im from Salvador, Bahia and currently live here. Originally Im a teacher, with a university degree in Languages, an MA in Linguistics and a PhD, which Im still working on, in a different area. Over the past few years, and up to November of last year, I held a position as a University College Director.

What are the main obstacles for foreigners in Brazil?

For me, living out of your home town, after youve grown up, is always a challenge. We tend to get used to what is familiar and easier to deal with, from food and faces to social habits, and we tend to resist changes. We fear the unknown. We never know what might come out from a decision to move out of the comfortable area. It takes much determination and a big dose of risk for a person to just visit any other culture that might look different. But Id say that when a person decides to take that step, first thing to be done is to be well informed about the place youll be visiting/moving out to: the language, the economy and the historical background, just to mention some. That will make it easier for a foreigner to adapt because than he/she will understand better how and why people react and interact the way they do. But most of all, one should not try to see the new place as a Narcissus would. Just because something looks different, it doesnt mean it is ugly. While keeping our personality and cultural inheritance, we must be open to the new, and we must be aware that were going to experiment some complications and frustrations on our way to discovering the beauty that exists no matter where. That’s part of the process.
Hard to tell the difficulties foreigners might face living in Brazil. Brazil is too big a country with much difference in culture and geography from one place to another. Of course, some regions have more in common, more similarities than others. Instead of thinking of obstacles, Id rather say challenges that foreigners might encounter when they decide to visit/live in Salvador, especially if they come either from some European countries (Germany, England, France, etc), from the States or from Canada, even greater if they have also never been to a developing country before. Besides the language, Id say theyll have to adapt to what makes Brazil still a developing country: the outskirts of our big cities being the places where the poor live and where violence can flood over to the better-off areas, our poorly cared-for roads and our low quality public service in general, just to mention some of biggest impacts.

What are common mistakes that foreigners make in Brazil?

From a cultural perspective, Id say that though we are very critical about ourselves and very tough when it comes to pointing out defects and flaws in and around our own belly buttons, we dont enjoy the way some foreigners, or foreign agencies, criticize or give information about Brazil.
Now, from a more practical perspective, as in most big cities around the world, in Salvador, as a foreigner, sending all types of messages that you know nothing about the place is an invite for taxi drivers to take you on unexpected tours around the city when all you wanted was to be taken right from the airport to your hotel lobby. Or to have your dear, but unwatched expensive digital camera “borrowed” by some very nice, often smiling, kid. Just like in NY, cell phones, iPods and all objects that can mean higher social status are objects of consumer desires, so, you should keep them in a safe place before going out to enjoy the people and the places on your sightseeing tours. Also, again as in other big cities around the world, after dark, foreigners should not go to places that look suspect.

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

Well, hard to say, as each nationality has their own way of being. But because of all that is implied in it, I find sense of humor as one of the most difficult cultural traits for a foreigner to understand and get into the gist of. Before I got a grasp on it, the only effect some jokes people tell have on me is making me feel like a real outsider.
Social rules (like eating habits at the table), body language and other communication gestures must also be observed very closely if you dont want to offend the natives of the country youre in. A wise rule is “when in Rome do as the Romans do”

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

My whole English language learning experience was based on standard American English, but I have nothing against other accents, except that it’s hard for me to understand some other English accents (and all that is encompassed in that), everyday Australian English, for example.

Favourite place travelled abroad and why?

Again, another hard question to answer, as all places I’ve been to have their own charm and beauty, open or, sometimes, hidden from the not-very-much-attentive eyes of a foreigner. My first experience was in Canada. I lived in Ottawa for two years while studying for my MA. A real striking and beautiful experience I had in my life, one that helped me grow in my understanding, accepting and integrating in another culture. But then, Ive been more then once to Argentina, to the States, and Ive visited some European countries. For its most beautiful landscapes, delicious food, but also for sentimental reasons, Bavaria, Germany, is now my favorite place. For aesthetic reasons, Paris is a must-see city, definitely. And for its special charm, my Oscar goes to London.

Favourite foreign food?

Hard to list. Again, each place offers different gourmet experiences to those who will not be craving for MacDonald’s anywhere they go. Japanese food, tapas and paella in Spain, parillas in Buenos Aires, grilled sardines and red wine in Portugal, Gouda cheese in the Netherlands, sauerkraut and sausages in Germany. And a lot more.

Favourite foreign band, book and movie?

Band? Any question about that? The Beatles, definitely!!!! Book? Who can run away from Dan Brown’s bestselling “The Da Vinci Code”? But I also stopped and reflected about life while reading and enjoying Mitch Albom’s “Tuesdays With Morrie”. Movie, now. well, “Sophie’s choice”, starring Meryll Streep, among many others.

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

Well, right now Im engaged to get married to a German, and I have also dated men from other cultures, but my previous marriage was to a Brazilian. I dont think the difference applies to dating only, though that has its own ritual in each culture. Without overgeneralizing and nor wanting to stereotype, I for one think the real difference is in the way anglo-saxon Europeans, and Americans as well, interact in a partnership. Brazilian men still tend to see their partners as the only person responsible for home chores and for the kids. Even without being aware, they also tend to have sexual attraction as one of their top priorities when deciding who theyll be dating. Sure, that’s important, but Europeans and Americans, because of their cultural background, are also more like looking for partners and companions in a relationship. For them, compatibilities between partners can be as important as looks.

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

Because I try to practice what I preach, I havent had remarkable incidents or misunderstandings with foreigners. Nonetheless, I had a real culture shock during one of my trips to the Sates. I was staying with a very close friend of mine in Berkeley, CA. As I wanted to buy some CDs I knew had been out of the market for some time, she told me we would go to a special place where there were shops specialized in selling second-hand CDs. She warned me in advance that in that special avenue, Id see many drugged people and that I should not be afraid. But, when I got there, I was really shocked with the number of young people who were just lying on the sidewalks (some of them having their dogs sitting by their side), totally stoned. Most were asking for money and some were bruised. As I had a very strong reaction because I got scared (my experience in Brazil said that where there were drugs there could be problems and possible violence), my friend let me take some time just observing as other people passed by them. As I saw that nothing more serious was happening, we went ahead and I finally had a good shopping spree.

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

Id tell them to first think of Brazil as a country that, aside from our Native Brazilians, has been receiving people from many different parts around the world coming to live here. Because of historical factors, distinct racial groups were immigrating to Brazil at different times, and, due to the need of the economy in each period, the flow of immigrants from the same country went more to one region in Brazil than to another. Africans, as slaves, more to the Northeast, for example, while Germans and Italians went to the South. So, one should not compare the different cultures we can find here. Just enjoy each in its singularity.
There’s one thing, though, that spreads all over Brazil. Brazilians tend to be fun, nice, friendly and willing to help foreigners. But only if those visiting us are also willing to belong while here. If they feel and behave as if they are frustrated and disappointed because the real Brazil might not be as beautiful as it looks on the postcards they saw from the distance, well also see and treat them as outsiders.

Last, but not least, I want to express my joy for having the chance to share my thoughts with the Gringoes readers, thank the Gringoes team for the invitation they sent me and for putting together such neat and useful site. Congrats, Kieran!! Keep up with the nice job!!

Rosaly can be contacted at:

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

Andreas Saller
Elvis Renato Barbosa Lima
Bruno Santos
Maria Cecilia Schmidt Maluf
Marta Dalla Chiesa
Cludia Ramis De Almeida
Vivian Manasse Teixeira Leite
Fernando Saffi
Gabriela Kluppel
Patrcia C. Ribeiro
Fabiano Deffenti

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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