Place of birth: Chatham, Kent, United Kingdom
Overseas history: Brasil (São Paulo): February 2012 – present. I also had a period of travel around South America between 2007 and 2008.
Occupation: NGO Volunteer, English teacher, blogger
Cyberspace coordinates: The book is on the table: An Englishman’s guide to living in São Paulo (blog) and @andyhpmartin (Twitter handle).
What made you give up London for São Paulo?
For some reason — probably because I’m a massive football geek — I had always wanted to go to South America, and so when I found out that one of my best friends was planning to travel there, it took very little persuasion for me to tag along. Then whilst there I met my future wife, who is Brazilian, and it all got a bit more complicated.
First she moved to live with me in the UK. We got married and stayed in London for three years. However, she had deferred her degree in Brazil to move to London, where I had a job as a social worker. I am a qualified social worker and spent almost nine years working in various social or community work roles. For most of that time I specialized in supporting refugees and asylum seekers. But when my job became uncertain due to government cuts (due to the economic crisis), it seemed like the perfect opportunity to move to Brazil so that my wife could finally get everything finished.
So now you’re a trailing spouse. Does anyone in your immediate family share that fate, or do they all live in the UK?
When I first traveled to South America in 2007, I was pretty much the first person in my entire family who had ever traveled outside of Europe, so I can’t really say there’s any significant history or influence of having the urge to want to explore or become “displaced.”
You haven’t been in São Paulo for long, but can you pinpoint a moment when you have felt displaced?
I had been to São Paulo twice before I moved here and I was already quite familiar with South America as a whole, so was pretty well prepared for what to expect — although there’s no doubting that living somewhere and just visiting are entirely different things.
But if I had to pick one thing, it wouldn’t be a moment but more the constant challenge of living somewhere where you are unable to speak your mother tongue. We Brits are notoriously bad at learning languages, and I can barely remember any of the French or German I learned at school. I did learn some Spanish whilst traveling in 2007, and in some ways this helped because of its similarities with Portuguese, although on the other hand it was also a hindrance because of their very many differences.
Not being able to fully communicate your thoughts is obviously very frustrating and when you’re having a bad day, it just intensifies your sense of displacement and dislocation. Fortunately, Brazilians are pretty intrigued by people (especially those from the “West”) who have moved to Brazil and are trying to learn Portuguese. They’re often very forgiving when you make mistakes. It also helps that many Brazilians themselves tend not to speak grammatically correct Portuguese, so in effect your own mistakes are just contributing towards the evolution of the language (that’s what I like to convince myself, anyway!).
When have you felt the least displaced?
One of the things I love about Brazilians is their general informality. As someone who’s never worked in an office or a suit, I feel right at home. For example, people are often referred to by their nicknames (even the former President was) and rarely, if ever, by their surnames. Also, Brazilians tend not to make a big deal out of social occasions — it’s more about making sure you’re surrounded by the people who matter to you. As long as there’s cold beer, everyone’s happy.
How could you not feel at ease?
You may bring one curiosity you’ve collected from the country where you’ve lived into The Displaced Nation. What’s in your suitcase?
Again, as a self-confessed football nerd, I think it would have to be my collection of football shirts. I have one from pretty much every country I’ve been to, and I’ve lost count of how many I’ve acquired in South America.
You are invited to prepare a meal for the Displaced Nation, based on your travels. What’s on the menu?
Starter: Salgadinhos (savoury snacks) are fantastic so a platter of these, including:
- coxinhas (deep fried diced chicken, cream cheese and herbs)
- pães de queijo (cheese-bread)
- kibes (same as Lebanese kibbeh)
- esfihas (small dough discs with different fillings, a kind of Arab pizza)
- pastéis /empadas (different pastries with fillings)
Main: It’d have to be a churrasco (Brazilian BBQ). That may sound pretty unimaginative, but once you’ve had a Brazilian BBQ, especially those from the south, you’ll forever wonder why it took you so long to do so.
Dessert: A selection of some of Brazil’s finest (and weirdest looking) fruits. Believe me, I’ve seen fruits in the markets here which look like they have been imported from Mars. They taste great, though.
Drinks: Brazil’s most famous cocktail, a caipirinha, which is a hangover-inducing concoction of cachaça (sugar cane rum), lime, sugar and ice. Refreshing, tasty and deceptively lethal.
Now that you are hard at work learning the language, can you donate a Brazilian Portuguese word or expression to the Displaced Nation’s argot?
Tudo bem? This is pretty much said every time you greet someone in Brazil and literally translates as “Is everything okay?” It reflects quite nicely, as I mentioned previously, how Brazilians prefer to keep things simple and informal.
This month, we’ve been focusing on the need for mentors: people who teach us what we need to know, or remind us of things we have buried deep. Have you found discovered any new mentors, whether physically present or not, in your life abroad?
As mentioned in my guest post this month for the Displaced Nation, when I’m going through a period where I’m missing home or things get tough, I often think about some of the kids I worked with back home in London (in my last job I worked with unaccompanied minors from countries such as Afghanistan).
Thinking about the challenges they as young kids faced after fleeing their home countries — but then still being able, on the whole, to go on and make the most of their new lives — always helps me to put into perspective the things I tend to moan or stress about here, in what is fortunately a much easier experience of displacement.
Apart from that, I read as widely as possible. For instance, I recently really enjoyed Alain de Botton’s The Art of Travel.
If you had all the money and time in the world, what topic(s) would you choose to study in your adopted country?
I guess, given my pre-existing interest and work experiences with migration, I’d like to study the history of migration to Brazil. Brazil is a country defined by (im)migration — for example, my wife has indigenous, Spanish, Italian and Portuguese heritage, a mix that is is pretty normal for Brazilians. It would be fascinating to piece it all together in order to get a more holistic understanding of who Brazilians really are.
I’ve always wanted to do a PhD, so who knows, maybe this might be my research proposal one day!
Readers — yay or nay for letting Andy Martin into The Displaced Nation? A social worker who is taking lessons from the Brazilians on how to be more social? Who is used to helping the displaced and is now displaced himself — so may be in need of our help? (Note: It’s fine to vote “nay” as long as you couch your reasoning in terms we all — including Andy — find amusing!)
STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, an expat take on the muses of Classical Antiquity.
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Img: Andy Martin travels within his native land (the Norfolk Broads, 2010), a couple of years before his expatriation.