Following the huge success of ‘Brazil through Foreign Eyes’, we are launching a new series called ‘Foreigners through Brazilian Eyes’. This will provide an insight in to what Brazilians really think of foreigners along with some great advice on how to better adapt to the Brazilian way of life.

Fabiano Deffenti, our first interviewee, is well placed to provide advice and insights as he has lived abroad, married an Australian and has many years experience working with foreigners in Brazil. See what he has to say about dealing with Brazilian service providers, and how to adapt to the Brazilian way of life.

Where are you from in Brazil and what do you do?
I am from Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul.

I am a lawyer admitted in New York, Australia, New Zealand and Brazil and I specialise in advising foreign clients doing business in Brazil.

What are the main obstacles for foreigners in Brazil?
Firstly, learning to cope with the general lack of common sense that most Brazilian service providers have (particularly the low-skilled ones). Service providers (tradesmen especially) in Brazil do not undertake the same training as in developed countries, so the vast majority of them are unreliable and provide a poor quality services.

Learning to suss out who is likely to be trustworthy and who is not (and in what context) is also a problem. In Brazil, you can tell a lot about a person by the way they speak Portuguese, and some words are key (for example: to say pegumos” instead of “pegamos”). This is difficult for the foreigner who cannot understand the subtleties in the language.

Finally, I think that the bureaucracy, and the legal and taxation systems drive everyone crazy – yet that is not really something that only affects foreigners!

What are common mistakes that foreigners make in Brazil?
The most common is to assume that things can be done the same way as in their home country. Brazil has a very complex society, with problems peculiar to it.

Trusting the wrong people is unfortunately also a frequent occurrence. Due to cultural values, lenient criminal penalties and an overall lack of law enforcement, foreigners get ripped off all the time. It is essential that you do your due diligence before you get into any sort of relationship of trust (particularly with business arrangements).

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

This is a difficult question and it is always dangerous to generalise these things. I have travelled to many countries around the world and lived 10 years of my life in Australia – one of the world’s most multicultural nations – so I am quite used to dealing with different cultures.

Australians, New Zealanders and the British sometimes get stung when they use sarcasm in everything they say. Germans seem to find it difficult to deal with the everyday use of the “jeitinho brasileiro”. Koreans, Chinese and the Japanese seem to have the most difficulty with the language.

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

Australian, of course! I am very proud of being an Australian citizen and I am married to a wonderful Australian woman (who is now expecting our first child).

Favourite placed travelled abroad and why?
I’ve been to various places around the globe. I really had a good time in Peru, Singapore and Indonesia. I enjoyed New York as well. Australia is my other home, so it doesn’t really count.

Favourite foreign food?
I like to try different things and love a sweet. Chocolate caramel slice and sticky date pudding (as we call them in Australia) are my favourites.

Favourite foreign band, book and movie?
Band: Midnight Oil (for their tunes and what they had to say in the late 80s); Book: Alvin Toffler’s “Powershift” was a powerful influence in the early 1990s; Movie: “Jerry McGuire” – because it had everything: comedy, entrepreneurship and a bit of romance so that I my wife could enjoy it.

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

I have a view that human beings are very similar around the world, with slight differences between them. I think the most striking thing about dating foreigners is the absence of the games you have to play in Brazil. Brazilian girls will make eye contact with you and then turn you down (there are differences between the way people behave in different States in Brazil too). Foreign girls seem to look at you when they want you to approach them.

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

One of my clients really freaked out when he realised we were going to be late for a meeting. We were stuck in São Paulo traffic and we could not reach the other party. I advised him that they would understand it, as no-one knows when the traffic will be flowing in São Paulo. Despite all of this stress, we got there and the other party got there half an hour after us.

It is also very interesting to see the reaction of some foreigners when they realise the Brazil is not made up of forest and monkeys. When foreigners see the big cities they get very surprised as to the sheer size and sophistication of some areas. And, of course, when they see their first horse and carriage on the streets – that always raises some eyebrows.

What are 2 things you would recommend for a visitor to do in Brazil to better understand Brazilian people and their culture?
Directly going out on to the streets and talking to the less affluent people is a good thing. You will learn a lot about the way the poorest 40 million Brazilians live, which is very different from the way south-São Paulo dwellers do. You can meet them at soccer matches, “lancherias” or at home (just talk to the waiter who serves you, the shop assistant or your maid/housekeeper, if you have one).

Another important thing is to go to the real carnival where people are dancing and not only to the parades. The Rio parade is for gringos only. You will find good clubs and street carnival in the right places – join a “bloco” and dance all night! (Tip: leave your expensive watch and jewellery at home.)

Fabiano can be contacted at
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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