Gabriela Kluppel from Sao Paulo has traveled, worked and lived overseas. Now living back in Sao Paulo she works with foreigners looking to do business in Brazil. Read her advice about common obstacles foreigners can meet in Brazil, some of the mistakes they can make. Also the power of communication and how a small slip can have a large impact on what you meant to say! And yes once again the British accent is the favourite amoungst the Brazilians!
Where are you from in Brazil and what do you do?
I am from the city of Sao Paulo. I work as an interpreter and business analyst for foreign companies who come to Sao Paulo on trade missions, for meetings and exhibiting in trade fairs. I help these companies with translation, market research, feed back, contacts, event planning, etc.
What are the main obstacles for foreigners in Brazil?
Most people that I have worked with arrive here without preliminary information about Brazil and other Latin American countries. Not understanding the law, taxes, fees and the way business is done here can make negotiations a little bit harder. The language can also be a problem sometimes. When arriving in Brazil, my clients are amazed that not many Brazilians speak English, especially in the service industry. On the other hand, they find Brazilians receptive to trying to understand English even if they only know just a few words. There are business people who speak English, especially in the IT industry, but there are many who don‘t.
What are common mistakes that foreigners make in Brazil?
From what I have seen, some people bring travel checks with them. My advice is to leave travelers checks at home as they can be hard to exchange here. Some banks don‘t accept them and hotels can charge fees of 20%!
Some foreigners carry credit card, money, camera, etc in their pockets. In Rio de Janeiro, even with the beautiful scenery, be aware and avoid taking cameras. I had a client who went to Morumbi stadium to watch a soccer match, Sao Paulo vs Corinthians. He was sitting in the “arquibancadas”, unfortunately his credit card and a 100 USD bill was stolen from his pocket. Despite this incident, and even if he knew he was going to be robbed, he would go to the match again, as there was no better feeling then being there! Well, in any case I think it is better to leave your money and credit card at home. Sao Paulo is a fun city, but please, when going to certain areas or places that you are not familiar with, go with a local friend.
Some foreigners says that it is our fault that we have problems with the environment because we are destroying the Rain Forest, inferring that no other country is doing anything wrong. Brazilian people don‘t like to hear this. We know what other countries having been doing to destroy their environment.
What characteristic of other nationalities strikes you as the most different.
The way people greet each other in countries like Russia and Poland was quite strange when I first saw it. Polish girlfriends kiss each other on the lips. Usually they just give you a quick kiss, but in a wedding, for instance, the bride, my friend in this case, was kissed 3 times on her cheeks and the fourth kiss was on her lips, from most of the guest at the ceremony!!!! Some Polish people when greeting me, tried to kiss my lips, however I always offered only my cheek! I was worried that people would find me impolite or arrogant.
I also found it quite different when some Moroccan friends invited me to their place for dinner. They served chicken with sauce. When the dinner was ready and we were sitting around the table, one of them said “ok Gabriela, help yourself”. There were no knives, forks or spoons! I was frazzled. Suddenly one of them took a piece of bread and started eating with his hands. I just did the same. I don‘t know if it is like this in Morocco or only this family.
That is why I found traveling interesting; you can always learn something new: a word, human behavior, or different way of life. You start to understand why people act in the way that they do. You judge less and you accept more. There is always a reason why people act in the way that they do.
Which English accent do you prefer and why (eg. Scottish, American, Australian)?
I like the British accent. It is easier to understand and sounds very posh. I also find it beautiful when African people, with say Zulu descent, speak English. Their voice is stronger and harsh/husky (rouco). It sounds marvelous. It seems that don‘t only speak with their mouth but there whole face.
Favourite placed traveled abroad and why?
I lived in Boston, USA, for two years. The city is very “alive”, with students from all over the world. Boston is close to New York, Montreal, Cape Cod and to many tourist destinations. So, there were no weekends at home..except when there was a snow storm. I also had a great group of friends, most European, whilst living there. Having those friends made Boston a special place.
Favourite foreign food?
I like Mexican food a lot, for instance, quesadilhas, tortilhas, nachos. Unfortunately I haven‘t had the chance to visit Mexico yet. I have only tried the American and Brazilian versions of Mexican food. I have been told that Mexican food in Mexico, is really spicy. No, I do not like jalapeņos.
Favourite foreign band, book and movie?
I am not really into music. I like some bands, like Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, U2, Eric Clapton, James Taylor, Rockapella. Can I tell my favorite play instead of a book or movie? I love Phantom of the Opera. I saw it three times and would go again.
What is the difference between dating a Brazilian and Foreigner (if this applies to you or perhaps a friend)?
I think that when you date a Brazilian person, or someone from the same country as you it is easier. Because of the traditions, culture, values, etc. But, I have also found it interesting dating someone from another country. It is an opportunity to learn something new. You become more interested in learning a new language and reading more about your partners home country.
Can you share an incident, misunderstanding or culture shock that you have experienced with a foreigner?
When you write in another language, sometimes you write the word you want but with the wrong spelling. Once I was writing an e-mail to an American friend and I wrote at the end of a phrase. “I do not need one, I just want you”. What I meant was: “I do not need one, I just want one.” I was writing about a notebook. He was a little confused! A Polish friend once asked me: “What does “R” mean? (American movie rating). I replied to her: “Army means, when guys get together to fight to defend the country, like when they go to a war.” She looked at me with a strange face.
What are 2 things you would recommend for a visitor to do in Brazil to better understand Brazilian people and their culture?
1) In Brazil, do like Brazilian. Does this phrase sound familiar?
2) Do not read travel books or magazines. Get out on the road. Do not follow maps! There are plenty of nice places, restaurants, views that you can find yourself. You will discover “something different”, often something special. This will give you the opportunity to meet local people and interact with them. Avoid places where they will give you an English Menu!!
If you have any questions for Gabriela about Brazil or if you are interested in doing business in Brazil she can be contacted at KluppelG@aol.com