Fernando Saffi from São Paulo has traveled, worked and lived overseas. Now back in Brazil he has some advice on how to better adapt to Brazilian life and some insights into the mistakes foreigners (and Brazilians) make. He shares with us a great story about a small misunderstanding that turned into something rather embarrassing. Also some observations about what the French and Brazilians have in common.
Where are you from in Brazil and what do you do?
I was born and raised in São Paulo city. My background is electronic engineering and I am studying for a Master in Business Administration. However, for quite a long time (more than ten years), I’ve been working with hi-tech companies in the telecommunication and information technology segments, always with business development, marketing and sales operations (all of them non-technical areas). In 2001, my employer at the time, offered me a position in their headquarters in Reston, Virginia – US (30 miles out of Washington D.C.) where I worked for almost 2 years. I also lived for a few months in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. During that time, I’ve visited many many different places within US and Latin America.
What are the main obstacles for foreigners in Brazil?
Language and Culture, in my opinion are the critical ones. Portuguese is not an easy language to learn, especially with verb tenses and other particularities. Also, foreigners should understand that, due to the dimensions of Brazil, cultures varies a lot, even from one state to another.
What are common mistakes that foreigners make in Brazil?
One of the most commom mistakes that Brazilians make when they travel abroad is repeated by foreigners in Brazil. They tend to stay with their country folks and live in that small community, where everyone talks the same language and has the same culture. It doesn’t really help to learn the Brazilian culture and language if all your friends are foreigners like you, and you speak your native language most of the time.
What characteristic of other nationalities strikes you as the most different (eg. sense of humour, formality, dress)?
I like the French sense of humor (believe it or not), Mexicans are really fun too. I like the British formality and the American way of getting things done.
Which English accent do you prefer and why (eg. Scottish, American, Australian)?
I don’t have a preference, all of them have there own particularity. The British accent sounds really formal, and I kind of like that. Working and living in US for such a long time doesn’t help my accent to be anything but American”.
Favourite place travelled abroad and why?
Fort Lauderdale, Florida, also known as the “American Venice”, because the beauty of the city, with the canals crossing the city, and visitors from all over the world (mainly Europe and Asia). I also liked Buenos Aires a lot, a little bit of Europe down here in Latin America. In Brazil, Florianópolis is my favorite place due to the beauty of its beaches and its people.
Favourite foreign food?
Of foreign food, French is my favorite. However, I need to confess that Brazilian food is my favorite overall. My friends and I used to spend close to USD$50 per month to eat in a Brazilian Restaurant in D.C. (THE “GRILL” FROM IPANEMA), the same place in Brazil would not cost more than 10 bucks.
Favourite foreign band, book and movie?
Favorite foreign band: Journey – 70’s, 80’s and 90’s pop rock. I used to have a tribute band when I was in college, we won several prizes in music contests at the university and others promoted by MTV. I also like a Mexican Band called “Manah”.
Foreign Movies: Back to the Future, Dead Poets Society. Armageddon. I also enjoyed Farenheit 9/11, a recent one directed by Michael Moore.
Foreign Book: One I read a few months ago, called BLUR.
What is the difference between dating a Brazilian and Foreigner (if this applies to you or perhaps a friend)?
I am engaged now, so I hope my fiancee will not fight with me because of this! I’ve dated a few American girls, one French and most of the others were Brazilians. It is interesting to realize that French and Brazilian people get along really well. Even some jokes and games are similar. American Girls are colder, most of the time they don’t really want a serious relationship, at least with the ones I’ve dated. I still prefer the Brazilians!!! Because of their muliebrity, natural beauty and other non-tangible aspects.
Can you share an incident, misunderstanding or ‘culture shock’ that you have experienced with a foreigner?
I have several. Once, we were having dinner with a group of co-workers in a small city in the state of Virginia, some of us were Brazilians, but the majority were Americans. Then, someone started to talk about zodiac signs. One Brazilian woman sitting on the table, asked one of the Company Directors if he was “virgin” (she meant to say, Virgo, but she said virgin as in Portuguese as it’s the same word for both meanings). Once she realized what she had said, she was so embarassed! Of course everyone understood the situation and we were all laughing so hard about it. I guess she finally learned that in English, there are two words for this different meaning.
I also recall several stories when I was younger, we used to teach the wrong meaning of the words to foreigners, to have some fun. So, one day, a Japanese guy asked us about some nice words to say to a girl if he wants to ask her for a date. Just imagine what type of words we had taught him! Of course, we clarified the situation before he received a slap in the face. He became our friend and after learning a little portuguese, he was the one tricking foreigners and making fun of them.
What are 2 things you would recommend for a visitor to do in Brazil to better understand Brazilian people and their culture?
Hang out with local people as much as you can. Take Portuguese classes, it’s not easy I know, but no pain, no gain.
Despite all the problems this country has, I still enjoy living here and would have a hard time leaving again. Have a nice stay for all foreigners!
If you would like to reach Fernando he can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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 email@example.com“