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Random Traveller Stories: Brazil Through Foreign Eyes Pt 5

Brazil Through Foreign Eyes
January 27, 2009

Meet Stephan Hughes who first travelled to Brazil in 1995, and subsequently moved to Brazil to live. Read the following interview in which he tells us about some of his most memorable experiences 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 from Trinidad and Tobago, a twin-island republic in the Caribbean. Like most gringoes in Brazil, I work with language teaching, translation and some simultaneous translation. But I spend most of my time teaching English.

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

I got here for the first time in 1995 and spent a year in Brasilia. I returned home for 6 months then came to Rio de Janeiro to do a First Class degree in Letters/Humanities. Since then, I have also done an M.A. in Linguistics and several short graduate courses, apart from working with teaching.

3. What were you first impressions of Brazil?

They were the best possible. I came to soak up as much as possible of the culture and to blend with the people. What amazed me was the hospitality and the ease with which people welcomed me. People in Rio are easy conversationalists, in the space

of ten minutes in a bank line I can learn about a person's private life! They seem so open and easy-going.

4. What do you miss most about home?

The food and some of the cultural practices. Trinidad and Tobago are a blend of African and East Indian roots, in addition to other ethnic mixes - Chinese, Spanish, to name a few. I miss the way we celebrate Christmas and the local "dialect", which is a sort of broken English unique to our people.

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

I wouldn't exactly call it a frustrating experience but it was when I had to go through weeks and weeks of paper work, expenses and longsuffering to get my permanent visa. The federal police agents didn't make it at all comforting.

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

One of my most memorable experiences was when I successfully presented my dissertation before a panel of university professors in Portuguese. It was nerve-wrecking but in the end, I came out on top.

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

The people. More than the vast natural resources and the most diverse of landscapes, habits, regionalisms, the people have a quality that binds them - the way they see life.

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

I live on the beachfront of the so-called South Zone of Rio de Janeiro, so there are great places to hang out. As I'm now a family man, I love going to the shopping malls, the beaches etc...

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

There is one in particular, when I was living in Brasilia. At that time I knew very little Portuguese and I shared a flat with some Brazilians who didn't speak much English either. So communication was basically sign language. One day, my mates decided I had to go buy some bread and "taught" me how to say the word in Portuguese. The problem was that they taught me the word for wood, "pau", which is similar to "pão". The first word also has some sexual connotation. So you could have imagined the face of the guy at the bread counter when I told him I wanted some "pau"!

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

One striking difference is the way people here in Brazil are so easy to start up a conversation and to talk about some of the most personal things to an absolute stranger. Another difference is the amount of PDA - public display of affection. There is more physical contact between men and women, men and men here in Brazil.

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?

As I have been here for some time and having had to really delve into the language, I don't have any difficulty really. People usually don't believe me when I say I'm a foreigner.

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

Go with the flow and understand the "Brazilian way", the famous "jeito".

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

If in Rio de Janeiro, visit all the usual tourist attractions, but make sure to take time to walk around the city centre, take a bus and enjoy the view!

You can contact Stephan via

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