June 6, 2008

This week in our continuing Foreigners Through Brazilian Eyes series we have an interview with Helio Araujo. Read on as Helio 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 was born in Lages, Santa Catarina. In 1993 I was accepted at UFSC in their Industrial Automation Engineering program, so I moved to Florianópolis, which is really today my 2nd home, whenever I go to Brazil. After I graduated I applied and got my first job at an international software company in Texas. There I worked for a couple of years as an Applications Engineer, helping customers solve technical problems and teaching different technical courses. I guess I wanted to keep travelling, and I wanted to find a place to live with a culture somehow closer to that of southern Brazil… That’s when I heard of a sales position in the company’s branch office in Montreal, Canada. Even though I could never have pictured myself working as a salesman, it didn’t take me more than a couple of days to think about it and start the paperwork to move over there. So here I am since June 2000. Last year I decided to quit my District Sales Manager job, and go back to school to try something new more related to arts, architecture and design, which are things that always had a big appeal to me. In April I finished my first year of Landscaping Architecture at the Universit de Montral.

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

First and foremost, the language. As many people on www.gringoes.com have said, it’s often not easy for foreigners to learn the language, which is actually the bridge to understanding the Brazilian culture and people. I believe that this is actually one of the things that make Brazil special. Once you get the hang of it, if you’re open to the new culture, you’ll start really understanding the non-written cultural codes by observation and interaction with the locals.

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

Assuming or expecting things to be the same as in their native country.

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

It’s hard to make generalizations, but these are some impressions I had when interacting with foreigners from different places.

In a business environment, one thing that struck me the most when working with Americans was that they tended to require processes” and “guidelines” in place for handling almost any type of situation. It’s kind of “I just do this and you just do that”. If a special situation came up, for which there was no process in place, they wouldn’t have the “jeitinho” or it would be very hard for them to improvise. In those cases it was hard to get their collaboration for getting the issue solved. I imagine people didn’t want to be held accountable in case things went wrong. In the beginning that would drive me nuts… hummm… I guess it still does, but I no longer work for an American company ;-)

Someone wrote in a past interview here that we Brazilians are really warm and will go out of our way to help someone we know, or someone who’s a friend of a friend, but often we are mistrustful of or may even lack respect for people we don’t know. I had never thought about it until I read the article, but unfortunately I guess it’s kind of true on certain situations. Anyway, my point is that this contrasts a lot with what I see here in Canada, where people will hold a door for you, or will do you a little favor without expecting anything in return and you will accept their kindness without second-guessing their real intentions.

I find the British fun for their sarcastic sense of humour and I find the Germans very interesting, so “by the book” and even a bit uptight in Germany but able to loosen up very quickly when they’re abroad with other people. I admire their sense of justice and fairness.

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

Canadian. Although I speak mostly French here, whenever I speak English…. I think I have their accent. Americans make fun of them (or us…). When we say “about” or any word with the “out” sound at the end, it seems that it sounds like “aboat” to their ears…. But it’s all good and fun.

6. Favourite place travelled abroad and why?

I find it hard to pick one single place. I always tend to see the good and the bad in everything, so as soon as I think, humm, I really liked this place because of whatever reason, I’ll immediately remember also all the little annoyances I experienced there… But anyway, I guess Montreal would be on the top of the list or real close. Montreal is really in the crossroads of the old and the new worlds. It’s so cosmopolitan, and modern, but at the same time it feels somehow European. Every time you step out, just walking on the street you’ll hear at least half a dozen languages being spoken. And the food variety and quality goes without mentioning… Those are some reasons why I decided to move here.

7. Favourite foreign food?

Humm…. another hard question. I don’t think I have one favorite food. I love Japanese, especially the freshness and delicacy of sushi; middle-eastern with all it’s spices and slow simmering stews that cook for hours; Thai (the hot peppers and the coconut milk remind me of the food from Bahia); French (all those refined sauces and the meats cooked to perfection); Indonesian (so… tropical), Ethiopian and Indian (for the complex and almost overwhelming mixture of spices and flavours, although my stomach is not being able to handle those anymore these days, which is too bad…). And the list goes on and on…

8. Favourite foreign band, book and movie?

I guess right now I’m listening to a lot of Jos Gonzlez, a Swedish guitarrist of Argentinian descent. I also like Sigur Rós, a group from Iceland, as well as Jean Leloup (now Jean Leclerc) a Qubec singer. About books, I liked most of the books by Dan Brown (Digital Fortress and Deception point). Movies, humm… several by Montreal’s own Denys Arcand like Invasions barbares and Le dclin de l’empire amricain.

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

I wouldn’t be able to say. Believe me or not, I never dated a Brazilian… Yeah, I guess I’m gonna be the freak on www.gringoes.com who hasn’t dated a Brazilian! :-)

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

In my second backpacking trip I went to Europe. While in Paris I was waiting for a train to go to the youth hostel, which was about 40-min away from the city. The train was simply taking forever to come. There was a middle-aged Parisian couple that were waiting for another train on the same platform and they started talking to me. I wasn’t really expecting that, but what came next really surprised me. Seeing that I was a backpacker, a student and probably didn’t have a whole lot of cash, they invited me to spend the night at their place. Of course, if you’re reading this and you know the Brazilian mindset, you’ll think just like I did “What do they want to do with me?”. But being open to others and new experiences – besides the fact that the damn train was just really taking forever – I decided to accept their invitation. We boarded their train and it took us about 40 long minutes to get to their stop. My anxiety was going up as we got off the train and started walking through some narrow and dark streets. I was just about to start thinking what the hell I got myself into, when we arrived at their house. They opened the door and their kids (6 of them!) were there and just waiting for them for dinner. I was sooo relieved. It was an actual family :-) We had dinner (my first smoked salmon ever, I remember that). Afterwards they got their Paris maps out and started showing me the spots to visit. The lady even offered me to do my laundry in their washing machine! The next morning I had breakfast with them (a humongous bowl of hot chocolate, accompanied by baguette bread, butter and jam – the typical French breakfast, which by the way as also something very different for me at the time. Coming from southern Brazil I was used to a salty breakfast with cheese and cold cuts). But back to the story, the lady actually drove me to the youth hostel after breakfast. I was speechless and very grateful for their immense generosity to a totally unknown person…

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

First and foremost accept all the invitations you get and start socializing as soon as you can. In other countries people will not necessarily be that warm and welcoming towards foreigners and that can cause a certain feeling of loneliness when you arrive. If you moved to Brazil, you shouldn’t have that problem so consider yourself lucky and simply go with the flow! You also have to travel to different regions in Brazil so you have a more complete picture of the country and its people. Brazil is not a single Brazil but several regions, customs, peoples, colors, flavours…. You’ll want to experience it all and learn the language if you want to establish yourself there.

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 gringoes@www.gringoes.com

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

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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