Brazil’s Bruno Santos was born in Brasilia where he grew up with many foreign visitors. After finishing his schooling in USA he returned to Florianopolis in Brazil to complete his degree. He has some great insight into some of the problems faced by foreigners in a foreign land, as well as some tips on how to enjoy your time in Brazil and make the most of this vast, diverse and colourful country.

Where are you from in Brazil and what do you do?
I was originally born in Brasilia, Brazil’s new and modern capital. It became Brazil’s capital in 1960, when president Juscelino Kubitchek moved the capital from Rio de Janeiro into Brazil’s interior mid-lands. The plan to move the capital was very old (dating back to the mid 1880’s), but only accomplished in the 1960’s, with the Congress’s approval.

I studied in the American School of Brasilia, and was taught English as first language – then had Portuguese classes as a second language. My friends were in the majority diplomat’s sons and daughters; meaning they also all spoke English or some other foreign language other than Portuguese, and were in Brazil temporarily. I travelled abroad frequently, as my father worked in the aviation industry – until I left Brazil, to Los Angeles, when I was 17.

I had moved alone in order to finish my high school senior year, and gain entry into college. After sometime in Los Angeles (which is quite similar to Brasilia — being an automobile city), I decided that I wanted to return to Brazil to conclude my education. I had made up my mind to study economics. I currently live in Florianopolis, in south of Brazil, and attend Federal University of Santa Catarina (UFSC). In the end I had to forget my SAT’s scores, and study hard for the vestibular”, which is the entrance examination for Brazilian Universities. I am currently finishing my degree and also work as an advisor and webmaster for UFSC’s international relation’s office.

What are the main obstacles for foreigners in Brazil?
As I work with many international students that come from abroad to attend my university, I have observed that there are two main obstacles for foreigners in Brazil. The first is Brazil’s international image. Being abroad, and having lived outside the country, gave me an impression of what others see and think of Brazil, that is of being an extremely exotic place. By all means it is, but not in the manner transmitted by popular folk and knowledge. Many people I have met thought that only one street separated Rio de Janeiro, the city from the Amazon region! People do get suprised once they fly to Brazil, and find huge cities full of skyscrapers and people eating Mc Donald’s hamburgers while waiting for the metro. Most people are surprised when I tell them that Paris is closer to Moscow, than Rio de Janeiro to Manaus, the Amazon Region’s capital city! Therefore the first obstacle can be the ideological barriers of Brazil’s image. This barrier can even prevents many people from coming here.

The second barrier is the language. Portuguese is a tough language to learn, and furthermore, slang changes quickly and is an integral part of daily speech in Brazilian Portuguese. This is a minor problem for foreigners, as there are many language courses abroad as well as at public universities here in Brazil.

What are common mistakes that foreigners make in Brazil?
I believe mistakes made by foreigners here in Brazil are the same as those when visiting other countries as well. A mistake is to come to Brazil and not experience what the culture has to offer – by this I mean it is not uncommon to see tourists eating in Mc Donald’s everyday. I know people miss home, but there is a vast number culinary specialties out there waiting to be tasted.

Foreigners can also make mistakes in respect to their own safety. Travellers need to be careful not to travel around with cameras around their neck, or wallets with more money than they need for one day out. Tourists, need to be aware that there are often thieves looking for easy opportunities to rob people and need to be cautious.

What characteristic of other nationalities strikes you as the most different (eg. sense of humour, formality, dress)?
What strikes me as the most different characteristic between nationalities is behavior and responses to different subjects. For instance if you ask an American about Hitler, they immediately respond with hostility, usually cussing Hitler. On the other hand if you ask a German about Hitler, the hostility takes form as a consummated shame. Obviously the response will vary with each individual, but you can see a pattern of behavior and impulsive response associated with nationality.

Which English accent do you prefer and why (eg. Scottish, American, Australian)?
My favorite English accent is definitely the Scottish one, because all words sound stylish.

Favourite place traveled abroad and why?
My favorite place abroad was a small region in Turkey which I enjoyed because it seemed so different from other places I had been, particularly the way of life of local people. It was a small village in the north part of Turkey, close to European habits, but at the same time so distant — Islamic temples mixed with Roman ruins. Just plain amazing.

Favourite foreign food?
Italian. We had a blast while traveling thru Italy, and would spend most days in restaurants trying different foods. At night we would explore the ice-cream stores with their delicious flavours.

Favourite foreign band, book and movie?
My favorite foreign band is Dave Matthews Band.
My favorite foreign book? That’s a hard question because there are just so many. From “Doll House” by Ibsen, to “The Stranger” by Camus, to The Steppe by Chekov. I guess I’ll take “Farewell to Arms” by Hemingway, if I may only choose one.
Favorite movie is “Wonder Boys” based on a book by Michael Chabon, and “The River Runs Through It”, directed by Robert Redford.

What is the difference between dating a Brazilian and Foreigner (if this applies to you or perhaps a friend)?
Brazilian girls are more protected by their parents. Even if they don’t live with their parents, they (most of them at least), have grown up in a tight family chain. From the North to the South of Brazil, it isn’t uncommon for parents to try to put a finger in their daughter’s relationship. This makes foreign girls seem more independent than Brazilian girls. This, at least, is my experience after having dated 4 foreign girls, and 5 Brazilian girls.

Can you share an incident, misunderstanding or ‘culture shock’ that you have experienced with a foreigner?
I had an “Algebra 2 and Trigonometry” teacher called Mr. Timmons. He was Irish, and taught in Chad, before coming to Brazil. Once, in the middle of class, he was recalling when, still in Chad, he had gone to a store to sharpen his knives. On his way home with a package full of knives he was mugged. The guy took his glasses and started running. Without thinking he ran after the guy for a few blocks and then eventually down a sewer. He eventually caught him and grabbed back his glasses, defending himself the thief put his hands on the paper wrap that contained the freshly sharpened knives. Mr. Timmons without thinking pulled the knives away, only to rip open the guy’s hand. The guy started running again screaming thru the sewer. Mr. Timmons told us, he wouldn’t have jumped in the sewer again if he had stopped to think. He explained, laughing, that in Chad during that period, it was a trend to wear glasses — not sunglasses, but just opticals. That’s why the guy got a hold of his reading glasses.

What are 2 things you would recommend for a visitor to do in Brazil to better understand Brazilian people and their culture?
Once in Brazil, you have got to travel around the country. Knowing only one or two main cities does not come close to knowing Brazilians and their culture. One region is very different from the other, in all ways: food, music, accent, architecture, literature, and daily life. Traveling by bus is a good and cheap way to get around. By all means go to the main tourists sites, but also to try to seek other places not so well known. To find out about them, you may need to talk to locals, or simply do some further research on maps or on the Internet. There are hidden beaches, Indian villages, canyons, small colonial towns that speak only French, or German and still maintain European traditions, there are places that snow (where you can try to build a snowmen), and there are places that seem like the Sahara desert, but one has to look for them.

Bruno can be contacted at

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