Foreigners Through Brazilian Eyes

August 23, 2011

This week in our continuing Foreigners Through Brazilian Eyes series we have an interview with Regina Scharf. Read on as Regina 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 a Paulista – born and raised in São Paulo, where I lived most of my life (apart from two years in Paris and, now, seven in New Mexico, US). I am a journalist, consultant and translator specialized in sustainability. I have been covering environmental topics since the late eighties and I write for several Brazilian magazines. Plus, I am working with the United Nations Environment Program, a few corporations and non profits. But, these days, my pet project is Deep Brazil, a website that offers cool, reliable info about the country in English.

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

Immigrating is never easy, even for those willing to, with a job or some savings, and able to speak the local language. There is a whole culture from which you are initially excluded, a series of codes you have to learn to interpret. This can be really fun, but also challenging.
As many of Gringoes&rsquot; readers frequently point out, bureaucracy is a big barrier for those who move to Brazil. It is tough to obtain financing, create an enterprise, hire workers. Also, in many circumstances, information is not readily available – not on the web, not on the phone, not anywhere. In fact, I wrote about all that recently in a post named 20 Best Advices if you are Visiting or Moving to Brazil.

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

Very few countries are more mythological than Brazil. Many foreigners have a Hollywood-made image of the country that has vague links to reality. Of course, Hollywood is not the only one to blame. For long decades the Brazilian Ministry of Tourism sent abroad brochures with close ups of big-reared girls. This seems to have changed lately. I think one of the main problems is how Brazilian women are perceived. We are frequently associated with easy sex, a clich that really has to end.

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

That&rsquot;s a tough one. Difficult to fit the whole world in this answer. So, I will talk about Mexicans. They live in the other huge, Latino, relatively rich country – but Mexico&rsquot;s culture is wildly different and Mexicans have a sense of extreme politeness and formality that are really endearing.

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

Definitely the Newzealander – one of the (many) reasons I got addicted to TV series Flight of the Conchords.

6. Favourite place travelled abroad and why?

Another tough one, because I travel a lot. In Brazil, I would choose Paraty, in the state of Rio, my favorite town in the whole country. What a delicious place to relax, eat good food, listen to some guitar music and talk to strangers. Abroad, I will have to go with Paris – so beautiful and intellectually stimulating.

7. Favourite foreign food?

Homemade Italian pasta.

8. Favourite foreign band, book and movie?

My tastes are pretty fickle, but I think I will go with South African Johnny Clegg and his band, the book Auto-da-F, by Elias Canetti, and the film Mephisto. Clegg balances the other two very dark references.

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

Dating a foreigner (no matter your and his/her nationality) can be an amazing experience. There is a whole universe that you don&rsquot;t share and years ahead in the relationship you will be still teaching each other stuff that your own nationals would take for granted. Plus, you will learn or improve your knowledge of foreign languages – a priceless Valentine&rsquot;s present.

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

On my way to Cuba, 25 years ago, I stopped in Colombia for one evening. I was young and not fluent in Spanish at the time. In the hotel restaurant, the waiter brings me soup, but I see no spoon on the table. I remember that, in Spanish, mulher” (“woman” in Portuguese) is “mujer”. So, I reason, “colher” (“spoon” in Portuguese), that sounds like “mulher”, must be “cojer” in Spanish. I call the waiter and say, pretty loud: “por favor, quiero cojer”. He looks at me astonished and I keep insisting. Now, anyone out there knows what this really means? Yes, you guessed – I told him I wanted to have sex.

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

I think certain books can act as shortcuts to understanding the country. Check this list post – Getting to Know Brazil – a Reading Tour written by Jim Shattuck, an American that lives in Rio. It might give you some ideas. Also, allow yourself to interact with Brazilians, even if you don&rsquot;t speak the language. Don&rsquot;t worry if your accent is bad or if you lack vocabulary. There is no better way to perfect your Portuguese.

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

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

Rebecca Carvalho
Augusto Uehara
Ana da Silva
Daniel Bertorelli
Marco Cassol
Ana Clark
Vanessa Agricola
Ubiratan S. Malta
Brescia Terra
Renata Andraus
Ana Vitoria Joly
Helio Araujo
Adriano Abila
Anderson Ferreira
Sandra Partridge
Samara Klug Szachnowicz
Flavius Ferrari
Daniela Ribeiro
Adriano Gomes
Elizabeth Sacknus
Geberson Coelho
Rosaly Loula
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

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