Page last updated at 23:01 GMT, Monday, 25 September 2006 00:01 UK

Gringo culture makes its mark in Brazil

By Robert Plummer
BBC News, Sao Paulo

Brazilians who move to the UK soon find that their fellow countrymen and women have set up an extensive support network, helping them adjust to a country that can be chilly for them in more ways than one.

Gringoes.com website screen grab
Gringoes.com has filled a gap in the Brazilian market

Glossy magazines in Portuguese with names such as Leros, Jungle Drums and Brasil.net are given away free in British bars, restaurants and bookshops wherever Brazilians get together.

But when Kieran Gartlan first arrived in Brazil, he was amazed to find that there was no similar handy guide, publication or other source of information to help foreigners get to grips with the country.

Taking the initiative, he decided to start his own in cyberspace. Now his gringoes.com website is a forum for lively articles from a wide range of contributors that attracts about 200,000 visitors a month.

Expensive

Originally from County Monaghan in the Irish Republic, Kieran has come a long way since he arrived in Sao Paulo in 1994 at the end of a round-the-world trip.

Kieran Gartlan, owner of the gringoes.com website
Kieran spent six years in Brazil before setting up his website

To make ends meet, he started teaching English, then learned Portuguese and got a job as a translator.

"From the early days, I always had an idea of maybe setting up a newsletter or a magazine," he says. "But printing costs are extremely high in Brazil.

"So it was only around 2000, when the internet started growing in popularity here, that I thought, 'Well, I should really look at setting up a website,' and that's when the gringoes.com idea was born."

Kieran cheerfully admits that without the help of his then girlfriend and now wife Rose, a Brazilian lawyer, he would never have managed to overcome all the bureaucratic obstacles to setting up a business in Brazil.

Language essential

One contributor to gringoes.com who writes with passion about both the positive and negative aspects of Brazil is John Fitzpatrick, who also has his own website entitled Brazil Political Comment.

Working as a consultant, journalist and translator, he uses his website to, as he puts it, "encourage debate and discussion on this dynamic country which, unfortunately, is often seen abroad only through clichéd images of the Carnival and football".

Sao Paulo city centre
Making it in Sao Paulo is an achievement, foreigners say

John, a Scot who has lived in Sao Paulo ever since he moved there with his Brazilian wife Monica in 1995, has some words of warning for anyone considering moving to Brazil.

"It's absolutely essential that you know how to speak Portuguese if you come here. Don't think you can get by speaking a bit of Spanish," he says.

"You have to speak Portuguese and you have to be prepared to work really, really hard.

"I know many people who have got two or three jobs. I know very few people who have stable jobs and who have any kind of job security."

Hierarchical society

Even so, devoting your life to doing business in Brazil can pay dividends. Bill Wattie, a New Zealander who first came to Sao Paulo in 1995 as a conference producer, went back to his native land after several years and found that his experience and language skills had become a major asset.

He returned to Brazil as a trade commissioner for the New Zealand government's economic development agency and is now his country's consul general in Sao Paulo.

Bill Wattie, New Zealand consul general in Sao Paulo
Bill Wattie bemoans Brazilian bureaucracy

He complains about Brazil's "life-sapping" bureaucracy and the high interest rates that make investment difficult, but he still gets a sense of satisfaction from his work.

"It's a little bit like New York - if you can make it here, you really can make it anywhere," he says.

"A lot of Brazilian business people have done very well and are often poached by multinationals to head up operations in other countries, so I find it challenging.

"But coming from New Zealand, I've come from one of the most classless societies in the world to Brazil, which in reality is a very hierarchical and very stratified society, so I do miss the more informal nature of New Zealand sometimes."

Culture shock

An even bigger contrast faced US-born Matthew Shirts, now editor-in-chief of National Geographic Magazine's Brazilian edition and columnist for the Estado de S. Paulo newspaper, when he first came to Brazil in 1976 as a high school exchange student.

Having grown up in liberal southern California, he was completely taken aback when he arrived in the town of Dourados, which is now in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul.

Matthew Shirts, editor-in-chief of National Geographic Brasil
Matthew Shirts has edited National Geographic in Brazil since 2000

"It was a very powerful and interesting experience for me, because it was very different," he says.

"Southern California was kind of peaking out on the wildness - rock 'n' roll, sex, drugs, alternative lifestyles, naked jacuzzi parties, long hair and funny music.

"And all of a sudden, to come to a very rural and quite conservative part of Brazil during the military dictatorship was really quite a formidable culture shock and it took a lot of getting used to."

Fortunately, it proved inspirational for Matthew, who returned first to study at the University of Sao Paulo, then to work as a journalist.

"I got lucky. I met some people," he says about his break into the Brazilian job market. "That's always how things work in Brazil. It's very important who you know - it's a very personalistic culture. If you know people here, things happen and jobs open up, and if you don't, it's much more difficult."

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