This week in our continuing Foreigners Through Brazilian Eyes series we have an interview with Alexandre, a Jiu-Jitsu teacher from the Rocinha favela (slum”) in Rio de Janeiro. Note we are only giving Alexandre’s first name, as this is common practice and respectful if you live in a favela. He has travelled to both California and New York to teach Jiu-jitsu. Read on as Alexandre tells us about his impressions of foreigners, and gives some helpful advice also.

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

I am born in Rio de Janeiro and living in Rocinha. I am an academic student and teacher of Jiu-jitsu for kids in my community.

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

The biggest problem is not knowing the language. I think if you visit some place, is important to know some words. We speak Portuguese, not Spanish. Every place in Brazil is different. I think some foreigners expect things to work the exact same way they do from where they are from.

Cariocas are different from Paulistas. Mineiros are different from Baianos and favelados are different from asfaltos. There are many cultures here in Brazil.

Editor’s Note: “Asfaltos” refers to those who live outside the slum.

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

They think the life here is all about playing and not working. Play is important but, we all need to live, so work is important. My American friends who come to visit me always ask about the women. Women are strong here. Never underestimate women.

They think where I live in a favela, is always dangerous, this is not true. I think there is more danger in the asfalto because tourists stay there. The thief will find you there, not come to my neighborhood. There is no crime in my neighborhood. The only crime is when the police come to invade.

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

Other cultures can be confusing but this is what makes life interesting.
I enjoy people who come to Brazil and not expect it to be like their home, they accept Brazil for what it is and appreciate our culture.

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

I like American best because, I have difficulty understanding the others. Plus the Americans who come to visit, respect us.

6. Favourite place travelled abroad and why?

I’ve been to California to give seminars on Jiu-Jitsu. I like it there because, it is like Rio, beach culture, relaxed. I’ve been to New York too, but people there have very stressful lives. I would like to visit Japan because of the martial arts interest I have.

7. Favourite foreign food?

Pizza and Spicy Chicken Wings.

8. Favourite foreign band, book and movie?

I do not like just one band, but I like American Hip Hop, Reggae, R&B and Baile Funk. I am a young person so I think this is normal.
Books I like are those that teach me something. Right now, it is an English grammar book and books about foreign places. My favorite movies, I have too many to say but I like drama, suspense and mystery movies.

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

The cultures and ways of communication are different with foreigners. It is not a bad thing. Just different. I think it is only worth a relationship if you have many things in common, if not times will be difficult. And with somebody from a different country you have to try to work with them, not try to change them. I never dated a foreigner because with my language I do not feel confident to speak to them. Plus because of where I live, people may visit or tour but not stay a long time, so we do not meet many foreigners. The guys that visit me from America come to train in Jiu-jitsu, but very few women come. I would date a foreigner if she would not make a judgement of me based on where I live, but who I am as a person.

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

I had an experience with one of my American friends staying with my family. In Rocinha, public services vary depending on which district you live in. My father (he works in construction) installed a shower unit that hooked the water up to a timer. This is to save water.

The timer is set to give water for 30 seconds, so you have enough to soap your body, then after the soap is on, you push the button to wash the soap off. For the next person to shower, you have to wait 10 minutes for the pump to set.

Well, I tried to explain this to my American friend, but my level of English was confusing for him. He gets in the shower, unlike America where he says his showers are 15 minutes or LONGER, he is shocked when he pushes the button and only gets 30 seconds to get wet and put soap on. He starts to yell to us asking what is going on with the water. He puts his head outside the door and says “No more F****** water?”, he is full of soap and now has to wait 10 minutes for the pump to set to get all the soap off. I think this was a big culture shock for him, and funny for us, because this is life in a favela. But the culture shock for me was when I was in California to take a bath or shower for a long time was very enjoyable.

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

Before coming to Brazil, read something about the country and go to places where Brazilians are to learn how they interact. Learn just a little Portuguese and interact with all different types of Brazilians.

Note: Because of the details involved in some of the questions, parts of this interview were translated from Portuguese to English by Marco Almeida.

To read previous interviews in the Foreigners Through Brazilian Eyes series click below:

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

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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