Brazil’s Maria Cecilia Schmidt Maluf is an English teacher and translator. She has lots of experience working with foreigners and has traveled extensively. Read what she has to say about Brazilian culture, tips on overcoming obstacles and hints on better adapting to the Brazilian way of life. She also shares with us a great story describing her difficulties when traveling in Italy!

Where are you from in Brazil and what do you do?
I’m from Promissão, a small town in São Paulo state, but I have lived almost all my life in the city of São Paulo. Nowadays I live in Capivari. I’m an English teacher at the Michigan School in this city. I also teach piano and do some translating for Americans who visit my city. Capivari is in São Paulo state, near Campinas.

What are the main obstacles for foreigners in Brazil?
The number one obstacle is not learning at least some elementary Portuguese. We love it when foreigners make an attempt to communicate with us because we know that Portuguese is not an easy language to learn. But even if the person speaks a little Portuguese, there are some expressions that really confuse them. For instance, pois não”. It’s difficult for a foreigner to know if we are saying “yes” or “no”. Another obstacle is to get used to the Brazilian “relative notion of time”. Normally Brazilian people are not punctual, mainly in social situations. It’s terrible for foreigners.

What are the common mistakes that foreigners make in Brazil?
I would say “about” Brazil. Thinking of Brazil as the country of Samba and Carnival, underestimating our capacity for working hard. Foreigners have a tendency to stick with people from their own countries and language groups. This makes it difficult to adapt to our culture. Foreigners often come to live here without an adequate knowledge of our history, customs, and culture. It would help if they could learn a little about Brazil beforehand by reading books, watching videos, etc.

What characteristics of other nationalities strike you as different (eg.sense of humour, formality, dress)?
Among others, I can mention Canadian kindness, British formality, a little disorganized Italian happiness, German strictness. In the USA I stayed among lovely friends, so I can say American loveliness.

Which English accent do you prefer and why (eg. Scottish, American, Australian?)
I prefer the American accent because I’m used to it. I have many close American friends, and at my school we teach American English. We find that, because of American English in movies and on TV programs, many people nowadays prefer to learn American English.

Favourite place travelled abroad and why?
Europe in a general way. I loved Vancouver, Canada too, but the best place was Princeton, New Jersey USA. It’s a wonderful place. I have good memories from the time I went there to visit my good friends. We also drove up to Vermont and into Montreal, Canada. I loved it all. This was an unforgettable time in my life.

Favourite foreign food?
Italian food. For me it’s the best.

Favourite foreign band, book and movie?
As I have a preference for classical music, so all the great orchestras.
I’m a book worm. So there are a lot of books I could mention. The last one I read was Angels and Demons, but I want to mention an author I like, Johannes Mario Simmel. His novels are wonderful. Who doesn’t remember “Nem só de caviar vive o homem” ( I don’t know the name in English. In German is “Es Muss Night Immer Kaviar Sein”.)
Movie: The House of Spirits. It’s one of my favorites.

What is the difference between dating (marrying) a Brazilian and a Foreigner (if this applies to you or perhaps a friend?)
I am married to a Brazilian and I never dated a foreigner!!

Can you share an incident, misunderstanding or ‘culture shock’ that you have experienced with a foreigner?
It’s a kind of joke on myself. I was driving in Italy, looking for a sign for a specific city. I don’t know Italian, and I saw many signs saying “UCHITA”. I was thinking that it was an important city, if there were so many indications. Then I learned that “UCHITA” means “EXIT”. People laughed a lot at my mistake. Me too. If I knew the language…

What are the 2 things you would recommend for a visitor to do in Brazil to better understand Brazilian people and their culture?
Try to hang out much more with Brazilians to start understanding not only the language but mainly our culture, the “Brazilian way”. Enjoy the time they are here, in this beautiful country among a friendly and hospitable people.

Maria can be contacted at cecimaluf@terra.com.br

To read previous interviews in the Brazil Through Foreign Eyes series click below:
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 gringoes@www.gringoes.com

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