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Random Traveller Stories: Brazil Through Foreign Eyes Pt 3

Brazil Through Foreign Eyes
Meet Lee Gordon, from the USA, who has travelled to Brazil many times, as well as meeting his wife there. Read the following interview where he tells us about his most memorable experiences from Brazil and gives some useful advice to newcomers.

1. Tell us a little about yourself, where are you from, what do you do etc.?

I'm American, born in Seattle, Washington, where I live currently with my wife, Eloisa and our 15-month old daughter, Isabella. Eloisa is Carioca from Ilha do Governador, and Isabella became a dual citizen a month after she was born last year. I've also lived in Northern California two separate times. My family is creole, originally from Louisiana.

Originally, my field was biotechnology, where I spent over fifteen years. Now, I have started a company with some partners, one of whom is Cabo Verdeano. We're launching our empire!

My long-term goal is to one day live in Brazil with business in Brazil, the US, Dubai, and other international locations.

2. When did you arrive in Brazil and what brought you here?

In college, I was a world-class sprinter, and traveled internationally. My friends also competed in international track meets, and had wonderful things to say about Brazil. I was very curious. Also, I was always drawn to Brazilian music- bossa nova, Tribalistas, Carlinhos Brown, Chico Buarque, Caetano, Marisa Monte, Suba, etc. The first time I actually went to Brazil was with my cousin and his friend from college. Having been to Rio three times already, he had invited me before, but there were always problems - however this time I was determined to go. It was in November of 2003, and we went strictly to play.

3. What were you first impressions of Brazil?

My first impression of Brazil was very strong - although I had been to Africa, Asia and European countries, as soon as the plane set down in Guarulhos I knew we were definitely not in the USA! Brazil has a beauty and ambience one could never find here in the states. I loved it immediately! The closest we have here is in the deep south - but adding the Brazilian people make it infinitely unique. It was so refreshing!

4. What do you miss most about home?

Not sure what we should do about this one; I haven't lived long-term in Brazil yet...

5. What has been your most frustrating experience in Brazil?

Most frustrating definitely was the strike last year by the Polícia Federal. The line for passport control at the airport was like nothing I've ever seen before or since... and hope never to again!

6. What has been your most memorable experience in Brazil (specific incident)?

Certainly, number one has to be meeting my future wife in the airport at the very end of that first trip in 2003! Eloisa was working in the Duty Free shop at Galeão - she was literally the last person I spoke to before heading out to my plane. Up until the plane took off I considered getting out of my seat to stay in Rio for good!

7. What do you most like about Brazil (in general)?

The ability people seem to have to enjoy life and understand being human.

8. What is your favorite restaurant/place to hang out here?

There's a Galeto's in Copacabana that is awesome! Eloisa used to tease me about it until I brought her there... Second is Suco Mania - juices from fruits we Americans (and some Brazilians) have never even heard of! Fantastic!

9. Do you have any funny stories/incidents to tell about your time in Brazil?

This experience is funny/sad, and came during one of the next times I went down to visit Eloisa - we were stopped near UFRJ - Fundão by the police. It was totally random - not even a 'blitz'. We were in my father-in-law's car, and he had not updated some minor paperwork. Once the cop discovered this, plus that I was American, he saw dollar signs.

He played the usual game - trying to intimidate my four-months pregnant wife into giving him money by quoting some outlandish fine that we clearly didn't have. He wasn't going to let her drive the car home, so she laid it on hard by saying, "you're going to make a pregnant woman walk home at 1 o'clock in the morning?". Having already seen what she had in her wallet (fourteen Reais), he asked if we could work something out. So she gave him the money and he let us go. After seeing how most police are in the US, she was outraged that this public officer would sell himself at all, let alone so cheaply. I was relieved we were on our way.

The second and third items (I have to include them because they were really cool): watching Eloisa - then my girlfriend - shoot the first Brahma video (Amor de Verão) with Zeca Pagodinho; and being "forced" to wait for 30 minutes in customs at Galeão right next to the Seleção.

10. What difference between your homeland and Brazil do you find most striking?

The differences are numerous. Laws in Brazil are merely suggestions.
All scandals end in "pizza". Favelas are indeed "rising". People are indeed much warmer. Dogs can bark all night long if they want to... Don't even mention driving... You can set off "bombas" or fire metralhadors without ever seeing a police officer at your door... the list goes on...

The similarities are numerous too. Both governments are weighted by corruption. Both countries are still struggling with racism 120 years after the end of slavery, yet both countries claim not to be (denial). Both are large countries in terms of land mass. Both have massive African diasporan populations that have richly contributed to their countries' development, but have barely begun to benefit. Both have huge wealth disparities.

11. How is your Portuguese coming along? What words do you find most difficult to pronounce/remember or are there any words that you regularly confuse?

My Portuguese is fluent - we speak it at home, but I hate the gender-based objects and adjectives. Also, there are so many ways to say one thing - it's crazy. Finally, "giria" (slang) is like a series of separate languages. I tease Eloisa by telling her that speaking native Portuguese is like belonging to a "clube secreto"...

12. What advice do you have for newcomers to Brazil?

Learn Portuguese. Don't expect Brazil to be like where you came from. Respect your new culture.

13. What are some things that you would recommend for a visitor to do in São Paulo (or anywhere else in Brazil)?

In Rio, go to the beach at Grumari. It's a few miles west of RJ, but you'll think you're on an island far from any city. Also, be sure to see the squirrel-sized monkeys along the trails at the base of Pão de Açucar.

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