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Wonderlanded in Berlin with British expat Paul Scraton, founding editor of the new “Elsewhere” journal

Welcome to the Displaced Nation’s Wonderlanded series, being held in gratitude for Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, which turns 150 this year and, despite this advanced age, continues to stimulate and inspire many of us who lead international, displaced, “through the looking glass” lives.

This month we travel
d
o
w
n
the hole with Paul Scraton to Berlin.

Paul Scraton Wonderlanded for TDN 3

Paul says he isn’t intimately familiar with Lewis Carroll’s classic work—this despite having had a mainly English childhood. He was born and spent his early years in a market town just north of Liverpool; and, though his family moved around a fair bit in Paul’s early years—Wales, Canada, the south of England—they settled in Lancashire once he reached school age. At 18, he crossed the north–south divide to attend the University of Leeds.

But I feel justified in including Paul in this series first because he is most certainly displaced. Upon graduation from Leeds, he moved to Berlin, Germany, which is where we find him today, living with his German partner, Katrin, and their daughter. Apart from a summer spent in Dublin, the German capital has been Paul’s “home” for the past 14 years.

In addition, having studied Paul’s creative output, I think it is fair to say that for him, “elsewhere”—by that he seems to mean the great outdoors—is a kind of Wonderland. He never tires of exploring the area where he lives. He has served as a tour guide for Slow Travel Berlin and written two short books based on walks he has led in and around his adopted city.

Another place to which he has formed a deep attachment is Germany’s Baltic coast. Katrin spent much of her childhood on the the island of Rügen and in the Hanseatic city of Stralsund, and for about a decade, Paul has accompanied her on trips to the region.

Paul writes a regular series of “dispatches” about his various outdoor adventures—whether in Germany or the UK (which he still visits frequently)—for his blog, under a grey sky…

And now he has just released the very first issue of Elsewhere: A Journal of Place, of which he is the founding editor.

Without further ado, let’s find out what it’s like to be “wonderlanded” with Paul.

* * *

Paul Scraton: Although it was quite a few years ago now, I can remember what it was like when I first arrived in Berlin and needed help with everything, from registering an apartment to opening a bank account. It was certainly challenging, even though Berlin is a city where many people speak English. And it is often only in the moving that you realise what aspects of life are different or not easily accessible compared to “back home”…and that can certainly make you feel lonely in a new city, a new country.

I did not have an internet connection in my first couple of Berlin apartments, and the English newspapers were expensive, so I relied a lot on BBC World Service. It is funny that this is not that long ago, but I imagine it is a different experience now with widespread internet access, social media and Skype.

I think the reason I first resisted the idea of Berlin or my life in another country as “wonderland”, besides a lack of familiarity with the books, is that by the definition of the Displaced Nation I am so often in this wonderland that it would never occur to me to frame it in that way. What I mean by this: when I am in Berlin I feel like I don’t quite belong, but when I go “back” to England having lived abroad for 14 years then I feel just as out of place. So it is something of a permanent state.

Despite this I can recognise that there are elements of life and my experience in Berlin (and beyond) after all these years that I still find curious…

“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you CAN make words mean so many different things.”

Having just finished university with no real idea of what I wanted to do except to write, I did wonder whether Berlin was the right place for me in the sense that I felt a long way away from any community or other people doing something similar in English. But several of us built our own little network, and, with the influx of still more international creatives over the years, there is now a small but thriving community of English-language writers and other like-minded folk.

“But what did the Dormouse say?” one of the jury asked.

One of the reasons I was drawn to Berlin was its history and the stories contained within these streets. One of the questions I would often ask people when I met them was whether or not they had grown up in the east or the west, and their experiences of living in a divided city and country and also what they thought about the process of reunification. In more recent years I was involved with running eyewitness history talks with people who told their personal stories of living in the city during the Nazi era or the Second World War, or living under communism in East Germany or in the “island city” that was West Berlin. Sometimes people in the audience, who were mainly visitors from outside Germany, would ask questions that would make me worry that the speaker would be offended, but actually it never happened. The Germans were happy to answer even difficult questions about their past or that of their families. In general, this is one of the strengths of the German society—the extent to which they have acknowledged, come to terms with, and discussed, debated and learned from their history; and you see it with individuals as well.

“Curiouser and curiouser…”

I think what really struck me about moving to Germany was not any sense of culture shock, but that the differences to back home were subtle and needed time to be discovered. In Berlin especially people can be very direct… there is very little tip-toeing around the subject, which can be a bit disconcerting. The main thing I still haven’t really fathomed is Schlager music, and the assorted television shows that showcase it. Finding yourself in the middle of something like that is one of those moments where you really realise you are living in a place where there are certain cultural traditions you have no grasp of, and to which you may never have access.

Acquired tastes Paul Scraton

German tastes you may never fully acquire. Photo credits: “Wenn die Musi spielt,” by Bad Kleinkirchheim via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); Giant gherkins, by Caitriana Nicholson via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).

“Well, I’ll eat it,” said Alice…

My partner introduced me to good German pickled gherkins, and without her prompting I doubt I would ever have touched them. Now I quite like them.

“Will you walk a little faster?” said a whiting to a snail…

I am fascinated by Germany’s Baltic coast. One of the reasons is that I am fascinated by the coast in general, I think because it is a place that combines (a) the sense of escape that comes with family holidays, the seaside resorts, and the break with everyday life; and (b) the danger, myths and legends of the sea itself. Most seaside towns have both beaches where people have spent many, many happy hours, as well as memorials to shipwrecks and lifeboat crews… This contrast or contradiction applies, by the way, to the coast of the UK as much as here in Germany. (See for instance my blog post about our visit to Lindisfarne, Northumbria.)

The allure of the coast: Heimat, Germany (top) and Lindisfarne, Northumbria, UK. Photo credits: Paul Scraton and K.

The allure of the coast: Heimat, Germany (top) and Lindisfarne, Northumbria, UK. Photo credits: Paul Scraton and Katrin Schönig.

Another reason the Baltic is special is that it’s the place where my partner grew up. In the past ten years or so she has been taking me and my daughter up there. We are writing new stories for ourselves in a place that was very much a part of her childhood.

“Take some more tea,” the March Hare said to Alice, very earnestly.

Now that you’re Wonderlanded with me, I must throw you a Mad Hatter’s tea party. This being Berlin, I will serve beer and bouletten (meat balls), a Berlin specialty, at the big table in our living room. We will listen to music and chat…and the guests will be friends, those who I don’t see enough of because of the way life seems to be. Not only those who are in England, and who I don’t see because of distance, but also those who live in the same city but somehow life gets in the way. But before we sat down for beer and meatballs we would have done a long walk together through the city or perhaps out at the lakes and the forests on the edge.

Bouletten and a walk. Photo credits: Bouletten mit Senf, by  Michael Fielitz (CC-BY SA 2.0); Grunewalk Forest by Paul Scraton.

Bouletten and a walk. Photo credits: Bouletten mit Senf, by
Michael Fielitz (CC-BY SA 2.0); Grunewalk Forest by Paul Scraton.

“Who in the world am I? Ah, that’s the great puzzle!”

Inevitably, you are a different person at 36 years old than at 22, and these changes would have no doubt happened whether I was in Berlin or had stayed in England. And if anything, being with my partner and our child probably had a more profound impact that simply the act of moving away. But I would say that work wise, in my writing and in creating our journal, Elsewhere, living in Berlin has been an endless source of inspiration. The number of interesting places and the stories they contain feels inexhaustible. I don’t think I would have become the writer I am, pursued the projects I am doing, or developed my work in the direction I have, without living in this city for the past decade and a half.

Advice for those who have only just stepped through the looking glass

If you are like me, you will find yourself feeling out of place in your new home and out of place when you return to the old one. But there is nothing wrong with being slightly on the edge of the scene…that’s where the interesting stuff happens.

“I wonder if I shall fall right through the earth!”

Paul Scraton books and journal

Paul Scraton’s two short books and the first issue of the new journal he edits, Elsewhere.

Aside from the journal, the first issue of which we are launching this week, I am writing a book about memory, exploration and imagination on the German Baltic coast. As I mentioned, this is the area where Katrin grew up, and so the book combines my own travels and discoveries in the area with the myths and stories of the places along the coast as well as Katrin’s family history. I think coming at these places and stories as an “outsider” gives me a different perspective that informs and shapes the writing. Ultimately everything I am working on right now is concerned with the idea of “place”, and again, I think this interest has developed as a result of never quite feeling I belong wherever I may be…

* * *

Readers, I wonder if you feel like me, that you’ve enjoyed being “elsewhere” with Paul so much you feel a bit bereft now that our “tour” has ended… Do you agree the time went quickly? And what did you make of his Wonderlanded story? Please let us know in the comments. ~ML

STAY TUNED for the next fab post: an example of how Paul writes about place.

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, and much, much more. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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Photo credits for opening image (clockwise from top left): Paul Scraton (supplied); image from “A line of wild suprise: Prespa, Greece,” one of the articles on the first issue of Elsewhere; “Alice,” by Jennie Park via Flickr (CC BY 2.0); Hutschenreuther Garten Eden Cup & Saucer via Chinacraft.

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An expat’s valentine to her adopted home is podcast series and now book

Kay Mellish Valentine CollageThe Displaced Nation aspires to be a home to international creatives. As such, we are fond of showcasing memoirs written by those who have spent large chunks of their lives abroad or novels that were in some way inspired by international travels.

Very occasionally, though, we come across an expat who has written a guide to life in their new country that strikes us as being highly creative. Not long before the Brazilian Olympics, for instance, we featured works by two expats living in Brazil because of having a Brazilian spouse: Mark Hillary’s Reality Check: Life in Brazil Through the Eyes of a Foreigner; and Meagan Farrell’s American Exbrat in São Paulo: Advice, Stories, Tips and Tricks for Surviving South America’s Largest City.

Both authors felt justified in producing their own guides to Brazilian life because they’d noticed so many newbie expats falling into the trap of becoming an “exbrat” (to borrow Meagan’s term)—constantly complaining about Brazilian food, prices, bureaucracy, and crime and thus missing out on one of the world’s most fascinating cultures and friendliest peoples.

And both books, while offering practical information and advice, also communicated the authors’ affection, even love, for the land of carnival and samba, beaches and jungles—warts and all.

My guest today, Kay Xander Mellish, has composed a similar kind of ode to her adopted home of Denmark, which, too, has its attractions even if if Danes are far less sociable than Brazilians and their culture a great deal less lively.

Yet apparently not all visitors seem to appreciate the many appealing features of the country that was recently crowned the the world’s happiest, which is what led Kay to produce her podcast series, How to Live in Denmark, and now a book of the same name.

Born in Wisconsin and educated in New York City, Kay has lived in Denmark since 2000, speaks Danish, and after working in the corporate world has founded her own company to help Danish companies communicate in English. She hasn’t married into the culture but is a single mother bringing up a daughter.

Ironically, Kay’s valentine to Denmark has come out at a time when another foreigner in Denmark, the British journalist Michael Booth, is in the news for a book expressing disillusionment with the Scandinavian way of life. We’ll talk to Kay about that development as well.

But first let’s get to know her a little more.

 * * *

“Santa Claus has the right idea: visit people once a year”—Victor Borges, Danish-born American comedian

Hi, Kay! I once lived in England and then in Japan, and there were times in reading your book that the Danes reminded me of the English and the Japanese: easy enough to like but not so easy to love. Is that a fair description?
It can be difficult for outsiders to make friends in Denmark, because for Danes friendship is a serious business. A real friendship is a lifelong relationship, sometimes starting in kindergarten or even before – my daughter, for example, has a friend she “met” when they were four weeks old! The idea of casual chat with strangers is alien to Danes: they have to force themselves to do it, and it is nearly always uncomfortable for them unless a great deal of alcohol is involved. Once you are within their friendship circle, Danes are excellent friends, reliable, supportive and direct. But it is difficult to come into that circle. Danish society is based on trust, and it takes Danes a while to be sure that they can trust you.

HTLID_cover_and_hearts

Kay Xander Mellish’s book cover; random Valentine’s hearts and one kiss.

Humor is of course an important element in any long-term relationship, and your have subtitled your book “a humorous guide.” Tell me, are you laughing with or at?
With! Danes are very good at making fun of themselves; in fact, one of the highest compliments they can give a famous or accomplished person is that he or she has “self-irony,” or the ability to make fun of himself. By contrast, anyone who is selvfede (literally, “self-fat”) and thinks he or she is God’s gift to the world is held in contempt. So, in general, humor is not hard to come by in Denmark. You just have to be willing to make fun of yourself. Danes have an old tradition that if you’ve fallen down in public or otherwise made a big mistake or fool of yourself, you’re supposed to buy kvajebager (failure beer) for everyone who saw you. My book, which is based on a podcast series, is very popular among Danes, which it would not be if they could not make light of themselves. Occasionally I get a few crabby emails from people with Danish names, but not many. I’ve found a lot of Danes buy the book for their foreign friends.

“To be of use to the world is the only way to be happy.”—Hans Christian Andersen

Oxford Research recently published a study finding that 9 out of 10 expats enjoy living and working in Denmark and close to half choose to prolong their stay—mainly because of career opportunities. What makes Copenhagen’s work opportunities so loveable?
If you can get a job in Copenhagen, the working conditions and benefits are excellent. Most people work 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. and then go home to their families, so it’s common to see an office entirely empty by 5:00 p.m. And there is less of the cutthroat competition, both internally and externally within companies, that you see elsewhere in business life. You also have the ability to do work you will be proud of: Danes demand quality, so you rarely meet anyone who is incompetent. But getting a job is difficult, even for the Danes, and it is extremely difficult for foreigners who do not speak Danish. Many foreigners with only rudimentary Danish either work in the “caring professions,” such as state-sponsored jobs caring for the elderly or the very young, or in IT roles that there are not enough Danes to fill. If you are looking for anything else, besides the usual cleaning and waiting tables, plan for at least a 6-month job search, possibly a year.

“I’m afraid I have to set you straight…”—Michael Booth, Copenhagen-based British journalist

Meanwhile, the journalist Michael Booth has just published a book The Almost Nearly Perfect People: Behind the Myth of the Scandinavian Utopia.
Denmark is a small country where everyone knows everyone, so I should start by saying that Michael Booth is the friend of a friend, although I have not met him myself. Michael has developed a great shtick for himself, which is running down the Scandinavian countries while continuing to enjoy their benefits. (The fact that Michael is a white male from a friendly country allows him to get away with this performance: I don’t want to even think of what the reaction might have been if such a book had been written by someone from the Middle East.) At any rate, his timing is excellent: it’s become fashionable, particularly in left-wing Western circles, to paint Scandinavia as a utopia, which it most certainly is not. Michael’s book is a strong antidote to that.

An excerpt from Booth’s book appeared recently in The Atlantic, where he says Denmark is “stultifyingly dull” and “boring” because of its “suffocating monoculture.” You don’t agree with any of that?
Personally, I don’t find Copenhagen dull, and this is from someone who used to live in downtown Manhattan and be very involved in the New York art and nightlife scene. I find Copenhagen sophisticated without being too intense. There is certainly less of a gallery or theater scene here, but by contrast people have more time to enjoy the arts events that take place.

“I come from a culture where you don’t divide it up [between] what you can do on TV and what you can do on film.”—Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen

You are a professional voice actor, and, unusually, your book is based on a podcast series. Since we’re talking about love today: which do you love more, podcasting or writing?
The podcast series was actually based on an old group of essays that had been mouldering on a rarely-updated website I started when I still I lived in New York. (In those days, the days before podcasts and before the web, I used to put up parts of my stories as flyposters in a graffiti format—but that was the 1990s!) When I came to Denmark, I wrote a few essays about the experience, but then I pretty much abandoned the site while working full-time at a corporate job while raising my daughter. The site was still online, and newcomers to Denmark kept finding these old postings and emailing me, saying how much I had helped them adjust to living here. I began to feel an obligation to help people just arriving in Denmark. It can be a difficult place to get used to. So when I left corporate life and was in the process of building my own voiceover business, doing the podcast How to Live in Denmark was a natural move. I soon found out that many people weren’t listening to the recordings at all: they were just reading the transcripts available on the podcast site. By this time, I was spending so much time on the podcasts that I needed to earn a little money off the project, so I turned the transcripts into an eBook. Customers then kept asking for a paper book, so I published one of those as well. Now we also have the Chinese version, and there are so many Syrian refugees in Denmark that there have been requests for an Arabic-language version, so we are working on that as well. I really feel it’s important for me to serve to others who may be facing the same challenges I once did.

“Give to a pig when it grunts and a child when it cries, and you will have a fine pig and bad child.”—Danish proverb

Turning to your daughter: what do you love most about raising and educating a child in Denmark?
Children in Denmark given much more freedom and responsibility than children in many countries. My daughter has been riding the Copenhagen trains and buses alone since she was eight, for example. Even when they are very young, children are expected to sort out their own playground disagreements with little interference from adults. There’s no such thing as a “helicopter parent” here. Also, children don’t spend most of their childhoods trying to get into a good university, going to cram schools and trying to build up their CV with impressive-sounding activities. They relax; they have time to play, time to think, time to develop themselves and their creativity. There is very little standardized testing in Denmark and not many grades of any kind until the kids are 13 or 14. I think that’s a healthy way to go about things. My daughter enjoys living here; she enjoys her school, where there is very little pressure but the kids learn to put knowledge together in a holistic way, which I think will be much more useful for the future just learning how to spit out facts or repeat the teacher’s viewpoint back to her. Most importantly, parents in Denmark have a lot more free time to spend with their kids, since working hours aren’t particularly long here. So we do a lot of stuff together—sports, travel, crafts. I don’t know if I would have had the time and energy to do those things had I been a single mother in the US.

Do you think she misses out on anything by not being in the United States?
Of course, she’s missing out on the ethnic diversity of the US, as well as the ambition and drive and energy of living there. But she speaks frequently of going to college in the US, so she’ll have a chance to experience those aspects when she’s a little older.

“There was the constant, tinny squeak of a thousand rusty bike chains.”—Greg Hanscom, senior editor at Grist: “An American in Denmark”

You’ve now lived in Denmark for nearly 15 years, longer than many marriages last. If you had one irritating habit about the place you could change, what would it be?
I suppose it would the Danes’ general rudeness in public places. When someone brushes closely by you, or even runs right into you, there’s never an ‘Excuse me’ or the Danish equivalent. Instead, you get a sour look or a grunt that signifies “Why were you in my way?” Customer service in Danish shops or restaurants is not much better: in Denmark, the customer is always wrong. Some of the nonwhite foreigners I’ve met here assumed that they were being treated so badly because of racism or racial discrimination, but that is not the case. Sad to say, everybody gets bad customer service, even other Danes.

And if you and Denmark were to “divorce” and go your separate ways one day, what would you miss the most about it?
Probably the biking culture and the great mass transit. While I have a drivers’ license and enjoy driving a car, I love that I can hop on a bike and get anywhere quickly. No parking problems, no stopping to buy gas, and it’s a very easy and convenient way to keep fit. That said, bringing home groceries on your bicycle can be a headache. And trying to bring home fresh dry cleaning on your bicycle is the worst!

Thanks, Kay! It’s been a pleasure. Taking a closer look at your work, we see you’ve created an intricate valentine to your adopted home, full of love and irreverent humor, the perfect tribute.

* * *

Readers, if this interview has piqued your curiosity about Kay Xander Mellish and her creative output, we encourage you to visit her author site, like the How to Live in Denmark page on Facebook and/or follow her on Twitter: she has a personal account and a podcast/book account. Also please note that Kay was the recipient of one of our Alice Awards for an irreverent post explaining why public nudity is okay in Denmark, whereas public ambition is not.

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with seasonal recipes, book giveaways and other extras. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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Mark Hillary delivers reality check to gringos who moan about Brazil, in self-published book (2/2)

Mark Hillary Part 2 CollageIn Part 1 of my interview with Mark Hillary, a fellow Brit and amigo in São Paulo, we learned about what spurred him to write a book called Reality Check: Life in BRAZIL through the eyes of a foreigner.

A lively discussion ensued about what makes Brazil such a contentious country for expats (short answer: it’s a country of extremes).

Today I’ll ask Mark about his decision to publish Reality Check as an e-book. As I mentioned last week, Mark is well published in his chosen field of technology and globalization. He is a HuffPo columnist and has also blogged for Reuters about British politics. But Reality Check represents his first venture into the Amazon e-book platform.

I was curious about why he chose this route and also had some questions about his reading and writing habits generally.

* * *

Mark, Reality Check isn’t the first book that you’ve written. Can you tell us something about your other books?
It’s actually my tenth book. I used to be quite a senior IT manager in a bank, managing people all over the world. I had already started contributing articles to technology magazines while I was at the bank, and eventually I was sent off to India to help the company build up a big new office in Bangalore. I was hiring hundreds of technical team members and then trying to sell their services bank to other sections of the bank. It was quite an experience, especially as it occurred right at the beginning of the big push to India by many technology companies.

I wrote a book about it all, which was published by the respected German publisher Springer and well received in journals and newspapers such as the FT.

After that I carried on writing about the connection between work, technology, and globalization.

It’s impressive that you can span the range from big IT questions to a foreigner’s take on life in Brazil.
I’m interested in many areas, which is probably why my three times at university have included courses on computer science, business and management, and psychology. My earlier work on outsourcing naturally led me to how companies are changing and globalization, and this has naturally led onto my writing about being an expat. If there’s a connecting thread, it’s work and the changing nature of work in our time. That said, I wouldn’t want to only ever comment on a single topic. Life is a lot more complex than that.

You decided to release Reality Check in the Amazon Kindle format. Why did you make that decision?
I’ve been asked that question a lot. Six of my books were published using traditional publishers, and three were self-published via Lulu. And now, with the Brazil book, I’ve used the Amazon Kindle format. I went into some detail on the pros and cons of each of these methods in a recent Huffington Post article, but in short the important thing to remember is how the publishing market is changing. Obviously there is still a lingering sense of kudos with the traditional publishers. A novel published by Penguin is still seen as “better” than something self-published, but it doesn’t have to be. The platform and process of publishing itself has just been democratized and made available to all.

If you know how to write and you can market your work to an audience, then it is much faster to publish with Amazon or Lulu. And, not only can you reach a global audience instantly—you earn a far greater percentage of the sale price.

In the case of Reality Check, I wanted it to be available around the world as quickly as possible, and Amazon has a great system for doing that. Plus you don’t actually need a Kindle: iPads and phones are all being used to read this book.

Do you think it helps that you already had a following through your writings and other books?
Reality Check has has been in the Amazon top 20 books about Brazil since publication on September 1st, and yesterday when I checked, it was the number one book about Brazil and number two book about South America. So people have been noticing it.

I think it does help if you already have a following. It used to be that publishers and agents acted as the gatekeeper, so readers could be confident a book that ended up in the shops was good. Now anyone can publish any old rubbish, so there is no longer that guarantee of a published book being any good.

The much-celebrated poet Seamus Heaney is a good example. He has been lauded as one of the greatest writers of the past century, and he had plenty of work published by traditional publishers. But he was self-publishing new work before his recent death.

Do you plan to make Reality Check anything other than an e-book?
I’m planning to also release a paper version of the book, but it will not be until the second edition—planned to come out just before the World Cup football competition in June next year.

Are you working on any other writing projects at the moment?
The present one is about my own experience of ghostwriting. I’ve written for ambassadors and company CEOs, and I once had to help astronaut Neil Armstrong add a few jokes to his standard Apollo 11 speech. The work I have written for others to be delivered in their name has often, but not always, gone down well, and I wanted to explore that. And in the tech area, I’m working on a book project that aims to be a graduates’ guide to how you get a job in a job market where nobody wants to pay you a salary.

10 Questions for Mark Hillary

Finally, I’d like to ask a series of questions that we’ve asked some of our other featured authors, about your reading and writing habits:

1. Last truly great book you read: I recently read all of Ira Levin’s novels back to back—all great; but I’ll go for Paul Trynka’s biography of David Bowie, which I just now finished.
2. Favorite literary genre: Dystopian novels: Burgess, Orwell, Ballard.
3. Reading habits on a plane: I read fiction and non-fiction and always carry my Kindle because it’s so much better for travel than lugging around a lot of books. This week I was on a plane and I read The Default Line, by Faisal Islam—about the financial crash of 2008 and what has happened since.
4. The one book you’d require David Cameron to read, and why: Why It’s Kicking Off Everywhere: The new global revolutions, by Paul Mason. It’s a study of the various riots, uprisings and protests around the world, particularly in 2011. I think the UK has more unrest to come because living standards and earnings are in decline—the people are going to kick off again one day.
5. Favorite books as a child: Those by Roald Dahl, though everyone seems to think he was actually a nasty piece of work in real life.
6. Favorite heroine: Harper Lee. To Kill a Mockingbird was her only book and she never courted any publicity. It challenged racism over 50 years ago and still retains its power today.
7. The writer, alive or dead, you’d most like to meet: Oscar Wilde. He wrote 20th-century books and plays in the 19th century and despite his sad downfall, is still remembered and loved today.
8. Your reading habits: I mostly read in the evening. I don’t watch TV, other than for movies so that gives me more time. I tend to read one or two books a week unless I’m traveling a lot then it’s more just because of the endless time spent in airports or on buses.
9. The book you’d most like to see made as a film: The Drowned World, by J.G. Ballard. Life after the oceans have risen and the world we know now is flooded.
10. The book you plan to read next: Jesse Norman’s biography of Edmund Burke—already on the Kindle waiting for me.

* * *

Readers, any more questions for Mark? He may sound a bit intimidating, but in fact he’s very approachable and happy to answer any questions about e-publishing. (Though he doesn’t write fiction, he also has views on publishing platforms for novels.) Meanwhile, if you’re interested in Reality Check, you can purchase it on Amazon. I would also recommend becoming a fan of its Facebook page and following Mark on Twitter: @MarkHillary

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, by another Englishman who is also an expat albeit in California: Anthony Windram.

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with seasonal recipes, book giveaways and other extras. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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images: Mark Hillary surrounded by his traditional books and his e-book cover.

Mark Hillary delivers reality check to gringos who moan about Brazil, in self-published book (1/2)

Mark_HillaryA little while ago I interviewed Megan Farrell, a fellow gringo in São Paulo, about the book she had written about “exbrat” life in the city. As far as I’m aware, Megan’s was the first book to be written about life in SP by a foreigner, although she seems to have started a new trend because within the last fortnight another has emerged: Reality Check: Life in BRAZIL through the eyes of a foreigner.

Reality Check is by Mark Hillary, a fellow Brit in São Paulo (he recently moved outside the city), who is an author, blogger, and advisor on technology and globalization. He has already published a number of books and is a contributor to Huffington Post, Reuters, The Guardian, and Computer Weekly.

Mark is also a friend of mine. We connected through Twitter just over a year ago. We eventually met at a local bar when—unsurprisingly, given his background in technology and social media—he organized a meet-up of gringos who had connected online but had yet to meet up in the flesh.

Since then he and I have continued to meet up, although less so since his move to the countryside. We had a particularly memorable trip in June to Rio to watch England play Brazil in football at the brand new Maracanã Stadium. (As anyone who follows my posts should recall, I’m a bit of a football geek.)

Over the past year Mark has written, in his column for the Huffington Post, a number of insightful articles about life as a foreigner in Brazil—most notably, “No HP Sauce, Endless Red Tape: Would You Want to Live in Brazil?, which responded to a gringo Facebook forum that had listed all the reasons why foreigners hated living in this country.

It was to my pleasant surprise, then, when Mark announced he had extended his account of life in Brazil and intended to publish it as an e-book.

Leaving aside my acquaintance with Mark (and the fact he gives a nod to my personal blog in the book!), I must say that I found Reality Check a very enjoyable read. It is a thoughtful and critical, yet balanced, account of his experiences in Brazil and of the country in general—and frankly, I’m rather annoyed that I haven’t written it myself.

Mark’s book also seems to be a good accompaniment to Megan’s. Whilst hers is a straightforward, step-by-step guide to life in São Paulo, his is a narrative providing a broad overview of gringo life. Either way, both books will be of use to those who are either moving to Brazil or perhaps are simply interested in finding out a bit more about South America’s largest and most populous country (it’s also the world’s fifth largest economy).

Anyway, enough of my wittering on. Let’s hear more from Mark himself.

* * *

RealityCheck_bookcoverHi, Mark. Congratulations on your new book and thanks for agreeing to this interview. First off, can you say a little more about what inspired you to write it?
As you already mentioned, I wrote the book in large part as a reaction to the negative posts about Brazil in online gringo communities. Everyone has their own reasons for moving and living away from their home country, but the majority of the groups I’ve encountered online are full of complaints about Brazilian food, prices, bureaucracy… Anyone who reads the posts made in the Facebook group for Gringoes.com would think that the UK and US offer a utopian paradise that would be madness to ever leave.

As you said in your intro, I wrote an article for the Huffington Post where I tried to give a more balanced view on life in Brazil.

Then I thought that, as someone who has rented and bought a home, started a company, hired people, and married a Brazilian, I could probably give a more detailed opinion on the experience—hence the book.

So being married to a Brazilian was what brought you to Brazil?
Yes, we were living in London, but after the financial crash in 2008 my business was much slower than before. By 2010 it became clear that there were many more opportunities for me to build a research and publishing business in Brazil than in the UK and so we moved just before the end of that year, nearly four years ago.

We recently featured another book about expat life in Brazil: American Exbrat in São Paulo, by Megan Farrell. Megan’s focus was on the “exbrat” community in São Paulo—i.e., those who are transferred here for work by a large company. My impression is that your focus is less specific and more of a broad overview of life in Brazil as a foreigner.
I’m not really interested in the exbrats. If a big company transfers someone to Brazil and they have their home taken care of and a driver to ferry them around, and they only ever go for a drink in expat pubs, then I don’t think they are experiencing the real Brazil. I’m not suggesting that the only authentic Brazil experience is living in a favela, but there are other kinds of foreigners here—journalists, teachers, people from all walks of life—who are constantly looking for ways to explore their new home.

Did you have a specific audience in mind when you wrote the book?
I really set out to explore some of my own experiences, with the expectation that people investing in Brazil or looking for a job here might have an interest in the book.

The book has only just been published (2nd September) so I guess it is a little early to tell, but how has it been received so far?
It is very recent, but there is already a very positive review from a Brazilian reader on Amazon. I started my author Facebook page when I published the book, and that community is growing by around a hundred people every day—so people are noticing it. One of the biggest newspapers in Brazil (Folha de SP) has been in touch to interview me about the book—despite my not having done any press promotion for the book due to my traveling almost every day since the publication!

Did you connect with São Paulo and/or Brazil in any new ways whilst writing the book?
It made me more determined to plug areas outside of Rio, which has a lot of friends already. I’ve really enjoyed living in both São Paulo the city and interior—SP needs a few gringo fans to speak out and remind people that the city is not just about concrete and cops murdering civilians.

You recently moved to the countryside outside São Paulo—how and why did that come about?
We spent two years living in the centre of São Paulo and just wanted to find something a bit quieter. I love it where we are now. There is a great sense of community; the neighbours all know each other. There is none of the security paranoia you find in the city centre, and there is some fantastic scenery on our doorstep.

Do you miss SP at all?
I miss being able to go out to see my friends in the city, or go to concerts by international bands that will only ever play in major cities. But we are planning to get a very small apartment in SP soon, so we don’t completely lose touch with it.

You mentioned the “security paranoia” in SP. In my observation, most of us gringos carry a fear that is at odds with how our Brazilian partners and/or friends feel. I enjoyed reading the section of your book covering this perception gap. Do you think that more positive accounts of Brazil by writers/bloggers like you and myself can help to shift these perceptions?
If people like you and me can get visitors to realize that they can walk down Avenida Paulista or along Copacabana Beach without fearing for their life, that would help. On more than one occasion I have met business contacts who flew into town and then were shocked when I suggested meeting away from their hotel. Standard advice from American and European companies is often to stay inside when in Brazil because of all the street crime.

The Brazilians, too, should play a part in correcting this situation. I don’t think we have much influence because we are seen as outsiders, but as more Brazilians get exposed to alternative cultures through travel, I hope it can change a little.

Last year I brought my wife’s teenage cousin on a trip to the USA, just to show her what life is like outside of Brazil. She found it incredible that you could walk up to the front of so many celebrity homes in Los Angeles—that anyone could walk into Sylvester Stallone’s garden. That’s unimaginable in Brazil.

What are you thoughts on foreign media portrayals of Brazil? Do you feel, for example, that persistent foreign criticisms of Brazil’s preparations for the World Cup and Olympics have been fair?
Every World Cup and Olympic games gets this negative press, so I don’t know if it is any worse than the last time. Anyone from the UK should be able to recall how the London Games were going to be a disaster right up to the week of the Games—the attitude seemed to change only when everyone saw that spectacular opening ceremony.

All I know from personal experience is that when you and I went to the Brazil v England football game at the Maracanã in June, the organization was superb. The stadium looked good, the public transport all worked, and the volunteers helping the crowd were great. I couldn’t fault it—so I’m really looking forward to the World Cup.

From the way you write so passionately about Brazil it is clear that you love living here, but there must have been the odd difficult moment when you wondered whether you’d made the right decision in fleeing the economically stagnant UK for your wife’s native land. When have you felt most displaced?
Sometimes the bureaucracy in daily life does get perverse and goes beyond just the criticism of a foreigner claiming that it all works better in Europe. Examples include having to pay someone to get my car registered to a new address or being fined for not paying my stamp duty on the day I agreed a mortgage with the bank—even though I paid on the day I got the documents myself. Sometimes I wonder if there is ever going to be any government that sweeps away this nonsense. I also fear that the job cuts created by improved efficiency means we are stuck with much of this.

Conversely, when have been your least displaced moments, when it all seemed to make sense?
I live in a really beautiful place now surrounded by a lot of wonderful people. Every morning when I take my dog for a walk then start work for the day I know I’m lucky to be here.

* * *

Readers, I will be talking to Mark again on Tuesday of next week, when we focus on his decision to self-publish his book. Any further questions for him, meantime? And don’t forget, if you’re interested in Reality Check, you can purchase it on Amazon. I would also recommend becoming a fan of its Facebook page and following Mark on Twitter: @MarkHillary

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, a new episode in our “Location, Locution” series, by JJ Marsh.

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images: Mark Hillary’s author image and book cover

Why “exbrats” in São Paulo need their own book to appreciate life in Brazil’s largest city

MeganFarrell CollageThis week’s guest interviewee is Megan Farrell, who like myself is an estrangeiro (foreigner) in São Paulo and married to a Brazilianalthough unlike my good British self, Megan is American and also has a young daughter (sounds like far too much responsibility if you ask me!).

Megan and her family previously lived in New York, but she took a sabbatical from her job on Wall Street in 2009 to become a full-time mum. Then, when her husband was offered a job opportunity here in São Paulo in 2010, they decided it would be a perfect opportunity for Megan and their daughter to learn Portuguese, experience life in a different culture, and learn more about Dad’s home country.

I first came to know of Megan when I moved to São Paulo myself at the start of 2012 and found her blog Born Again Brazilian whilst doing some research for my own blog. Ever since, I’ve kept up-to-date with her tales and travails, and was pleasantly surprisedif not a little enviouswhen she announced earlier this year that she would be releasing a step-by-step guide for foreigners who are living (or planning to) in São Paulo: American Exbrat in São Paulo: Advice, Stories, Tips and Tricks for Surviving South America’s Largest City.

I say envious because a similar idea had occasionally cropped up in my mind, but having read Megan’s book, I’m actually rather glad I didn’t attempt it myselfthere’s no way I could have had done the topic justice to the same extent. Megan has done her research, even offering advice on visas, taxes and other mundanebut extremely importantdetails that a move to São Paulo can entail. She includes things I would definitely not have thought of or, to be honest, had the patience to cover.

My only quibble—which perhaps tells you more about me than it does about the book, which is excellent—is that it reflects the experiences of a small minority in Brazil: exbrats. As someone who loves history as well as current affairs, I tend to prefer books that provide a holistic overview of life in a particular country. What’s more, the life of the exbrat seems completely outside my realm of experience. Though a cynic might suggest that I’m on an extended holiday, I didn’t move to Brazil on an all-expenses paid work package.

And to be fair, Megan doesn’t fall into the “exbrat” category either: her husband is Brazilian so didn’t qualify for the relocation package that makes countries like Brazil so enticing to non-Brazilians.

So, who exactly are these exbrats? And why write a book for them? Megan and I had the pleasure of meeting up I person a few days ago and talking about the audience she had in mind for her book. The following are some highlights from our conversation.

* * *

AmericanExbratinSaoPaulo_cover_pmHi, Megan. Tudo bem? Why did you decide to write a guidebook for non-Brazilians who come to live in Sao Paulo?
If you are making a move to a country such as Brazil, you need to have your expectations managed appropriately. Much of the pain my fellow expats have experienced has been because they were unprepared to deal with some of the idiosyncrasies of life in São Paulo.

What do you mean by an “exbrat”? Was the book specifically aimed at them?
I used “exbrat” because it feels rather fitting of the collection of people I’ve come across here. Expats, including myself, often stomp their feet over inconveniences they’ve encountered here, yet still expect and enjoy all the benefits of being in Brazil. Not necessarily in a pejorative way, but it felt very bratty to me. You also meet people who were previously army brats and were never able to shake their nomadic waysso “exbrat” is also an adult term for these foreigners.

So exbrats are primarily the foreigners who move to Brazil because of job opportunities?
Yes, the target audience is largely people who are moving to São Paulo or have recently arrived in the city for work, as well as human resource managers at companies who send employees to Brazil.

You included yourself just now in the “exbrat” category. But you are married to a Brazilian who didn’t get an expat package.
Believe me, some aspects of the things I’ve experienced here in Brazil have been a shock, as they probably were to you as well. So, while the book is definitely aimed at exbrats, I don’t think it’s too “exclusive.” There is an element of the “exbrat” in all of us. Some people are never able to get out of the exbrat cycle and as a result, fail to take advantage of the opportunities living in this country offers. My hope is that my book will give them a clearer picture of what to expect, and how they can prepare for that reality, so that they can get over the culture shock and go exploring. One of the world’s most fascinating countries awaits.

I think I know what you mean. I particularly remember reading in the book about your shock of attending an officially organized children’s “play-date” and there being seven paid staff to run it, as well as each child returning home afterwards with a crystal tea set as a parting gift!
Yes, exactly! That is far removed from my experiences in New York but is not so uncommon if you and your family start to mix in the same social circles with people towards the very top end of society in Brazilwhether that be through expat communities, your child’s school, or spouse’s workplace.

Has the book reached other audiences besides those who are moving to São Paulo? Perhaps people moving to other South American countries or those where English is not the first language?
Thus far the audience has been very specific to people moving to São Paulo, as opposed to other countries in South America—or even other cities in Brazil. It’s also attracted a few readers who work with Brazilians but in other countries.

Injecting her own anecdotes, and photos, into the book

Which section of the book are readers enjoying the most?
People tell me that they really enjoy the humorous stories I’ve included, which are based on some of my most painful and awkward experiences. For example, I tell the story of how I visited the same bakery for over a year before someone explained that because I wasn’t emphasizing the appropriate accent in the word pão (bread), to a Brazilian ear it sounded like I was asking for pau (penis)! Living in a non-English-speaking country provides plenty of opportunities for embarrassment or frustration, but when something goes wrong, I’m the kind of person who chooses to laugh, not cry.

Did you connect with the city in any new ways in the process of writing the book?
Definitely. I wanted the book to be as complete as possible (without taking ten years to write) and so I did more exploring on some of the subjects I wanted to include. Also, the photos in the book, minus a few I purchased the rights to, are ones I took. Much of the photography I already had in my collection. But there were gaps, so I had to get out and take pictures, which always gives you a second perspective on what you are seeingmore removed and analytical.

The topic of domestic servants

What was your most displaced moment when doing the research for the book, when you wondered why you’d embarked on this mission?
Trying to explain the culture of the people who might work in your homethe culture of the working poor in Brazil.

What do you mean when you say “culture of the working poor”? In your book you seem to suggest that household workers, who are of a far less lower rung on the lady in Brazilian society, are just taking advantage of the situation that they are in. Do you think this is cultural, or the impact of their socio-economic circumstances?
Half and half. I think it is definitely a Brazilian thing to try to take advantage of different situationsand this exists at all levels of society. For example, there’s the term jeitinho Brasileiro, which Brazilians use for situations in which they “creatively” try to get round complications in life.

However, yes, there is also a socio-economic component. If you are from a poor neighborhood and are working in the home of a rich family or person, it’s probably not too surprising that you might want to take advantage of your situation by asking for a loan or a raise.

From blogging to book-writing (she hasn’t looked back!)

Why a book instead of a series of blog posts?
Believe it or not, people still like reading books! HA. Over the past three years, since I’ve written my blog, I’ve received a number of questions about moving to São Paulo and life here. Most of the answers were already within the posts of my blog. I wanted to create a document that was more comprehensive, arranged by topic and easier to navigate. I also did a survey of my expat friends, and almost all of them said they would have purchased at least three books about moving to São Paulo before they camehad any actually existed. So I decided there was at least a bit of demand. Blogs are great, but sometimes you want to read a story from beginning to end. Plus, I’ve always just wanted to write a book.

What was the most challenging part of the book-writing process?
Editing. The editing process was a collaboration with my awesome friends, as well as my mother. It’s difficult to edit yourself. Actually, it is impossible to edit yourself. And when you have a pile of people helping you sort through the stories and facts, you get lots of opinions. But it was all good. However, I don’t think I can advantage of my friends again, so I’ll probably hire an editor for the next one.

Why did you self-publish the book?
A few of my writer friends encouraged me to try and find a publisher. But I just couldn’t figure out what a publisher was going to do for me that I couldn’t do for myself. I have a strong network and a background that includes marketing. I also don’t have the patience to go through a bureaucratic publishing process with an extended timeline. I knew that even if I did manage to find a publisher, I would not be their priority. The market for this is not on the level that would make a publisher move fast.

What’s next? Are you working on any other writing projects?
I am. I’ll probably update this book sometime in the next year. I also plan to write one for Rio. My husband is from Rio, and most of my experiences in Brazil (prior to moving to São Paulo) were in that city, so I know it pretty well.

You mentioned at the outset that you like broader books. I’d love to write something about Brazil as a wholeto counter the focus I put in this one on the expat life. It won’t be another step-by-step guide but a more of a general analysis, including politics, culture and so forth.

Finally, I’m working on some fiction stories that take place in Brazil. When living in New York, I did a screenplay course so have some experience in writing fiction. Currently, my idea is to write two series of short stories. The first will be based around Brazilian folklore, and the second, around some real-life episodes I’ve witnessed that are difficult to record in a blog or non-fiction format.

Ten Questions for Megan Farrell

Finally, we’d like to ask a series of questions that I’ve asked some of our other featured authors, about your reading and writing habits:

1. Last truly great book you read: Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, by Mo Willems. I have a five-year-old. But we’ve read it more than a hundred times and it still makes me laugh. Okay, Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late is another contender. Mo Willems is a genius.
2. Favorite literary genre: I’d love to lie and offer up a more intellectual answer, but my favorite genre has always been horror. I enjoy a good creepy tale. After that, humorous memoirs from people who have overcome great obstacles, like Jeannette Walls‘s The Glass Castle.
3. Reading habits on a plane: I’m most happy if I have a copy of The Economist with me on a plane
4. The one book you’d require President Obama to read, and why: I wish Michael Bloomberg would write a book that Obama could read, because I think the USA would benefit by being run more like a business. But since Bloomberg has yet to put pen to paper, I’d have to say Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In.
5. Favorite books as a child: I loved any book that involved a child in a new world. James and the Giant Peach. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The Little Prince. The Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Pippi Longstocking.
6. Favorite heroine: Wonder Woman. I think if Brazil had a Wonder Woman, or the collection of super heroes that we have in the States as—albeit fictional—role models, people would emulate change for the good of the people. Brazil needs to believe in something other than futebol—but that seems to be in the process of changing, as Andy and I discussed last month on this blog.
7. The writer, alive or dead, you’d most like to meet: Hands down, Stephen King. I hope he doesn’t die before I get to meet him. I just need to figure out a way to do it that doesn’t involve stalking.
8. Your reading habits: I used to spend the weekends (sometimes all weekend) reading. But now that I have a child, I usually read right before I go to bed—in bed.
9. The book you’d most like to see made as a film: American Exbrat in São Paulo, of course!
10. The book you plan to read next: I suppose I should say Fifty Shades of Grey, because I haven’t read much of it and people keep bugging me about it. But if you’ve read Anne Rice’s Sleeping Beauty Trilogy (I only read the first), Fifty Shades is like reading Judy Blume. Yawn. I think I’ll wait for Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep. How could anyone resist a sequel to The Shining?

* * *

Readers, as I said, Megan was a delight to meet in person, a sense of which I hope I’ve conveyed above. Any further questions? Have I pressed her too hard on the “exbrat” point?

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, a new episode in our “Location, Locution” series, by JJ Marsh.

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images: Megan Farrell’s author image and book cover; photo of Sao Paulo from MorgueFile.

As an expat, is it my place to join another country’s political protest?

BrazilianProtest_ahpmJust after the street protests broke out in Brazil last month, Megan Farrell, an American who lives in São Paulo with her Brazilian spouse, contributed a guest post to the Displaced Nation.

Megan was very honest in admitting that she had previously taken little notice of politics or social issues in Brazil:

Being displaced … makes it easy to be in a bit of denial.

I, too, am an expat in São Paulo with a Brazilian spouse, albeit from the UK. Like Megan, I didn’t initially involve myself in Brazil’s latest political movement—but my reasoning was a little different from hers.

I’m someone who self-identifies as politically engaged and active. Back in the UK I was a union rep at my workplace and I’ve been involved in protest movements since my student days, the most prominent being those against the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Additionally, as a social worker and student of social sciences, it’s second nature to be socially and politically aware of what is going on around me, whether that be at home or elsewhere.

Why, then, would I be reticent to involve myself in the politics of the protests that were going on around me here in São Paulo?

Not my fight to fight

Despite broadly agreeing with the objectives of the early protests (about a rise in bus fares which as a daily user of public transport, by which I was directly affected), I felt that as a gringo and a guest of Brazil, it wasn’t my place to get involved.

To be honest, I even felt a little reluctant to use social media to post articles or comment upon what was happening, and when I was asked to cover the protests for a site in the UK, my first inclination was to turn it down.

As a foreigner I was sensitive to being seen by Brazilians as poking my nose into their affairs. Additionally, I was also quite aware that there is a lot of history and background behind these protests that I am only, at best, partly aware of.

On top of this, Portuguese is my second language, so whilst I can read it without too much problem, I was apprehensive of inadvertently misconstruing a tweet, newspaper article or blog post, and using ill-informed or partly understood information to inform my opinions.

Eventually, however, I went out on the streets.

What led me to change my mind?

What was my impetus for joining the protests? I think it was seeing the extent of the violence (rubber bullets, tear gas, etc) the police used against what was widely reported as peaceful protest in São Paulo on 13 June.

And it wasn’t just me. The harsh police response was a turning point for many Brazilians as well, because while it may have successfully extinguished the 13 June protest, it also had the converse effect of igniting far broader outrage across the city and the whole of the country. At the same time, it provided an opportunity for a far wider array of grievances to be voiced (most of which Megan notes in her article so I won’t go into them again here).

Once I’d been out on the streets I felt a little bit more confident about joining in the discussion myself. When a couple of photographs I’d posted got a bit of attention on Twitter, and Planet Ivy in the UK—an online news magazine started up by a team of young, adventurous journalists—asked me to cover the protests, I agreed.

A duty to inform the folks back home

My decision was largely influenced by my realization that people at home in the UK—as first my mum and then Planet Ivy made me aware—were largely unaware of what was going on.

In Megan’s post, she mentioned her disbelief at how her friends and family members in the U.S. were still sharing updates on Facebook about their morning meals, their cats, and sports teams:

How could this be? How could they just not care?

Like her, I had the sense of being in the middle of something big and important, and for a while just assumed that everyone else around the world must be aware of it as well.

If I stopped to think about it, of course, no one is ever as interested in an event who are on the scene. But once I realized that there were people out there who wanted or needed to know more, I thought I could do my bit to inform them.

Another motivating factor was the need to correct the widespread misperceptions of the Brazil’s situation—in particular, the negative press the country has been receiving in the UK with regards to its preparations for the 2014 World Cup.

Whilst a fair amount of that criticism has been justified, it occasionally feels as though the UK press has some sort of vendetta against Brazil, with every news story seemingly inferring that “this once again casts doubts about the safety of Brazil and its ability to host a major international event.”

Alas, I thought, even if I am a naïve foreigner living in and writing about Brazil, I could at least provide some insight about what is actually going on at street level.

A closer connection with my adopted land

As an aside to this, one interesting thing about the protests is that they’ve helped alter my perception of the connection I have with São Paulo and Brazil.

Obviously, through my Brazilian wife and my residency in São Paulo, that connection is now much deeper than before. However, and as mentioned in my last post, in the 18 months since moving here I’ve evolved from whining expat (or “exbrat,” as Megan likes to say) to being an avid proponent of my new home.

My decision to join in the nation’s protests—whether participating on the streets or discussing and sharing the issues with people online—was a kind of watershed moment, effectively making the transition complete.

Of course, I’ll always primarily consider myself a Londoner, a Brit and a European (a fact I’m constantly reminded of by my Brazilian friends and family, who refer to me as “the gringo”), but increasingly I feel just as proud to be quasi-Paulistano*.

*People from São Paulo refer to themselves as Paulistanos.

* * *

COMING SOON: Andy’s interview Megan Farrell about her new book on expat life in São Paulo.

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, from our travelogue writing coach Jack the Hack.

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images: Photo of protesters in São Paulo, June 2103, by Andy Martin. Go to his photo blog to see more.

CAPITAL IDEA: Vaduz: A quick guide

Welcome to another “Capital Ideas”—our somewhat idiosyncratic, ever so slightly tongue-in-cheek guide to various world cities, perfect for the ever discerning readership of this blog.

We know our readers are always visitors, never tourists (an important distinction). Do feel free to contribute your own ideas or suggestions in the comments section, we’d love to hear your thoughts, too.

Capital: Vaduz.

Umm . . . I think I’m going to be saying this quite a bit, but why?  Because great things come in small packages.

No really, why? Why not?

No seriously, why? The element of surprise is wonderful, isn’t it?

It is? Oh, most certainly. Did you expect me to suggest Vaduz?

I have no idea what Vaduz is or if it’s real. Precisely. What a surprise that is!

I was rather hoping that you might do Rio this month. I’ve been watching the Confederations Cup and, civil strife to one side for a moment, my appetite is very much whetted for next year’s World Cup. I’ll bear it in mind, but today I thought we could discuss Vaduz.

Venezuela? Ha! That’s Caracas. You’re not even close continent wise.

Okay, clearly I have no idea. Just tell me where it is. It’s in Liechtenstein. Isn’t that exciting?

Not particularly, no! Oh, come on, it is a little bit.

Little seems to be the operative word. Vaduz must be one of the smallest capitals in the world. It’s certainly not large. It has a population of under 6,000.

So a pulsating nightlife must be on offer, then? Apparently, you could try a Club Z, Liechtenstein’s premier nightclubI’m sure it’s wild! But be warned: it does not have a dance ring.

Hmm. Was there any ulterior motive in your choosing Vaduz? Ulterior motive? Me? Why the very idea! Of course not!

Apologies for impugning your good name. That’s okay, you’re forgiven. I can assure you that there are no ulterior motives here. I absolutely was not struggling with a deadline and thought that a small city would mean that I could quicker meet that deadline.

A-ha, the plot thickens. Are you trying to shortchange me by fobbing Vaduz off me. Smaller city means less work for you. Unfortunately, it’s not true. A smaller city does not mean less work. There’s enough reason to visit Vaduz to more than fill up a post here. There’s charm and history aplenty. Who doesn’t want to stroll around a small town filled with medieval and baroque architecture?

Please, never ever use the word “aplenty” again. So how do I even get there? I’m assuming that there isn’t a direct flight from Heathrow or JFK. And you’d be right, but you can get a flight to Zurich and from there get the train from Zurich to Sargans where you can then hop on to a bus to Vaduz. More information can be found here.

And once there, do I need to worry about getting round town? No, this isn’t one of those entries where I tell you about how to navigate the local subway system. This is a town of five and a half thousand, after all.

What is there to see in Vaduz? Well, wherever you are in town you can’t really help but see Vaduz Castle. (You can see it in the above photo.) Set in a hilltop overlooking the town it really is picture postcard pretty. It’s the home to the reigning Price of Liechtenstein, Hans-Adam II. Unlike other European monarchies, the Prince of Liechtenstein has an extremely large amount of political power – he has, for instance, veto power over the government.

So I can’t visit the castle? No, and as the Prince of Liechtenstein is Europe’s wealthiest monarch with an estimated fortune of $4 billion, there’s no pressing need for him to open the castle up to get those tourist coffers in. But given that its presence in the city is all pervading, you’ll be able to take some wonderful shots of it from every street corner; and if you were to take a tour of the city – you know how much we love our walking tours here on The Displaced Nation – you’ll learn lots about the castle’s history.  Some more information can be found here.

What else can I do. Under six thousand residents? Sounds like it’s really a village in name only. Well even if he’s not letting you into his castle, you could always go and visit the wine cellars of the Prince.

I’m always up for some wine tasting, but I don’t recall ever having wine from Liechtenstein before. Is it any good? Liechtenstein actually has an ideal climate for wine. They’ve been growing wine in that region for over 2,000 years so it’s not entirely surprising that a bunch of grapes can be found on Vaduz’s coat of arms.  If you’re traveling by car, take a trip into the countryside and visit one of the many wineries. Sit back and have a refreshing glass of gewürztraminer – it’s a favorite of mine. Plenty of information can be found here.

And for a more cultural suggestion? Hey, I would contend that you can’t get more cultural than a wine tasting, but if you’re after something more artistic then you should visit the Kunstmuseum Liechtenstein (Liechtenstein Museum of Fine Arts). An interesting piece of architecture in itself (an intriguing black cube, it has been voted one of the world’s ugliest buildings, but I absolutely don’t agree with that assessment), it houses an extensive collection of modern art from around the world as well as Liechtenstein’s national art collection. So to your earlier suggestion that Vaduz was a village in name only, this is precisely the sort of thing one would not expect to find in your local village. Vaduz offer more than a duck pond and a Spar shop. You could also visit the National Museum (Liechtensteinisches Landesmuseum). This is rather less imposing than the Kunstmuseum. Unlike that with all it’s modern architectural pizzazz, the National Museum is housed in a former tavern and customhouse. Covering the folklore and history of the principality, it’s well worth your time, particularly if you aren’t planning on doing an historical walking tour. Finally, if – like me – you are a sucker for visiting old churches, then you should pop into the neo-Gothic Cathedral of St. Florin.

What should I read? Normally I use this part of a Capital Ideas post to expand from merely writing about whichever featured city we’re looking at so that I can highlight a larger national literature. This month that isn’t quite so easy. For why that’s the case I refer you to an interview with the Liechtenstein writer Stefan Sprenger, who was featured in the 2011 edition of Dalkey Archive Press‘s acclaimed Best European Fiction anthology series. In an interview translated by Jeffrey Zuckerman, Sprenger declares: “There is no Liechtenstein literature, and never has been.” Also worth a read is this interesting blog post on the subject.

What should I watch?  Again, I’m cheating a bit but as it’s about a small European nation still far too enthralled to a crusty almost farcical form of government that combines absolute and constitutional monarchy, but as it may be somewhat relevant, I’d suggest The Mouse That Roared, starring Peter Sellers, who plays both the Grand Duchess and Prime Minister of the fictional Duchy of Grand Fenwick. It’s a fun little British comedy from the late 1950s, which was based on a 1955 Cold War satirical novel by Irish-American writer Leonard Wibberley.

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, another installment in the life of our fictional expat heroine, Libby. (What, not keeping up with Libby? Read the first three episodes of her expat adventures.)

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An American writer in Brazil is transformed from “exbrat” to politically awakened expat

Sao Paulo June Protests CollageWell, the best-laid plans of mice and menand international creatives—often go astray. Today, instead of Andy Martin interviewing Megan Farrell about her excellent book, American Exbrat in São Paulo: Advice, Stories, Tips and Tricks for Surviving South America’s Largest City, Megan herself will post about the transformational effect that the protests in her adopted country are having on her world outlook. (Not to worry, barring further major events, Andy’s interview with Megan should appear next month.)

—ML Awanohara

For nearly a week solid, I was locked to social media sites, doling out information about the protests in Brazil, via blogs, Facebook and Twitter. Along with other expat friends here in Brazil, I was been trying to make up for the fact that global news outlets were doing little to spread the word about the public demonstrations going on in São Paulo and other large cities.

Like a large percentage of my foreign friends, I have a closer connection to the country than your average expat. I have a Brazilian husband, and though she was born in New York City, a daughter who is a Brazilian national.

Ignorance was bliss

I’ll admit, before June 13, the night when police “lost control,” using rubber bullets against protesters and even journalists covering the events, I had little real knowledge about the injustices occurring in my new home country. I chose not to let such things enter my world.

Being displaced often makes it easy to be removed from your own surroundings.

Being displaced also makes it easy to be in a bit of denial.

But that Thursday night in mid-June, as my husband and I sat in a bar near our apartment and watched as the streets filled with protesters, my perspective on my adopted country changed.

The bar’s manager wasn’t allowing patrons to leave out of fear we would be exposed to the enthusiastic, but angry, crowd—some of whom were attempting to start fires to distract the police from blocking their access to Avenida Paulista, the central thoroughfare of São Paulo.

The protest eventually moved on, and we were able to leave, but my interest in what had initiated this movement lingered.

Not just about 20 centavos

By now, many of you hopefully understand that millions hit the streets of Brazil over more than a bus fare increase. Yes, that act was the catalyst. A 20 centavos increase meant an additional monthly expense of eight reais (R$8 is about US $4). It may not sound like a lot to you and I, but as minimum monthly wage in Brazil is R$675 per month (about US $300), every centavo is accounted for in the household of the working poor (i.e. the emerging middle class).

But the fare increase also speaks to deeper issues concerning the government’s priorities. Many Brazilians are finding it hard to stand by and watch as the government attempts to squeeze them for more, all the while spending millions of dollars on preparing stadiums for the 2014 World Cup—millions more than other countries who have hosted the event. Meanwhile, public services within Brazil remain abominable.

A few examples:

  • Across the country, emergency rooms of public hospitals are filled to the brim with patients hoping to get care, yet doctors have no means to help the majority.
  • Public school teachers often don’t show up to conduct class.
  • Police are untrained and uneducated, often looking to supplement their meager incomes with bribes.
  • Public transportation is decrepit in many cities.

“Its hour come round at last…” W.B. Yeats

As I wrote in my recent book, American Exbrat in São Paulo, one of the more frustrating aspects of living in Brazil can be the Brazilians’ passive attitude on the inefficiencies and transgressions that occurred in their country. Be it that the post office ran out of stamps (again) or the police never showed up when called, a local’s response to this would be some version of, “That’s Brazil.”

So when hundreds of thousands took to the street in protest, with a list of complaints in hand, no one was more surprised than the Brazilians.

The media took it lightly at first, burying the story about a bus far increase in the back of the papers. Then, the focus was on the violence of the demonstrations. But the reality is that when you gather such a large group (everyone was invited by social media), there are bound to be a few who are there to express extreme anger or simply to commit acts of violence.

But as one who sits within the scene, I’ve found the protests mostly peaceful and the intentions positive. The people of Brazil want change and want the world to understand that their country isn’t satisfied with the samba and beach party persona. There are real issues within the nation’s borders that need addressing.

Whither the rest of the world?

As mentioned at the outset of this post, sharing information about the realities of Brazil’s protest movement has become an important objective for me. Friends, both foreign and Brazilian, and I have been passing along videos, news articles and photos that depict the main events as well as the sentiments of the people.

Many of us who have blogs about being in Brazilmine is Born Again Brazilianhave written posts on these topics. For instance, I have just posted on Dilma Vana Rousseff, president of Brazil, who has stood in support of the Brazilian protesters.

Yet many friends and family members in the U.S. were still sharing updates on Facebook about their morning meals, their cats, sports teams, and other notices. These felt like irrelevant nonsense. How could this be? How could they just not care?

But then I recalled that I have friends in Turkey, who are going through the current protests. I have friends with family members who are in Greece and must have lived through the two years of protest in that country. I know little about what is happening in Ethiopia, where the first large-scale protest since 2005 has just broken out. And before June 13th, I was blissfully sharing little more than food photos and trip pics.

It is easy to be self-absorbed, content to contemplate the details of one’s own little world. It is even easier as an expat, when so much of your surroundings are of an unfamiliar nature. You take comfort in that which is close to home.

But now I have a different attitude and think about my power to disseminate information. It’s satisfying to share the details of what goes on in the politics of this country and have people you know respond positively.

But it is as important, especially for those of us who have an audience through blogs and other outlets, to keep tabs on what is happening elsewhere in the world and use our skills to move toward justice and peace.

This episode in Brazilian history has changed me forever.

Or so I hope…

* * *

Readers, any questions or comments for Megan about what she is experiencing? Have you had any similar moments of political (re)awakening—or do you not “do” politics as an expat?

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, a new episode in our Capital Ideas series, by Anthony Windram.

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images: Surrounding Megan Farrell (aka Maggie Foxhole) and her book cover photo are several photos taken by TDN writer Andy Martin. Go to his photo blog to see more.

CAPITAL IDEA: Copenhagen: a quick guide

Welcome to another “Capital Ideas”—our somewhat idiosyncratic, ever so slightly tongue-in-cheek guide to various world cities, perfect for the ever discerning readership of this blog. We know our readers are always visitors, never tourists (an important distinction).

Do feel free to contribute your own ideas or suggestions in the comments section, we’d love to hear your thoughts, too.

Capital: Copenhagen.

Why? Because we got to get ourselves prepared for 2014that’s why!

What’s happening in Copenhagen 2014? Only the greatest thing ever! I’m talking Eurovision.

Oh dear, that was two weeks ago. Are you still withering on about that? Excuse me, if I’m still on a Eurovision high. And who wouldn’t be after the winsome, elfin like charms of Emmelie de Forest winning it for the Danes with her delightful song, “Only Teardrops.” I’ve been listening to it for two weeks straight. Having won this year’s Eurovision, Denmark will be hosting next year’s tournament giving us the perfect opportunity to go over and visit the Danish capital.

To be honest, I’m not that big a fan of Euro pop. What a sour puss! Still, there’s plenty of things for you to enjoy while I’m off getting my Euro groove on.

Such as? Grab a bike and cycle around the city.

Well, that sounds like a nice and easy way to tour around. It is! Copenhagen really is a bike friendly city. Some companies that you can rent from can be found here. In fact, you can cycle all the way to the statue of Hans Christen Andersen’s Little Mermaid, which sits on a rock in the harbor—it’s quite the tourist attraction, if a little underwhelming, but you don’t like to say as the locals are so pleasant and you don’t want to hurt their feelings as they really are proud of it.

You really are a true diplomat, aren’t you? If you find yourself really charmed by the Hans Christian Andersen theme then you can also visit the Hans Christian Andersen fairy-tale house. It’s operated by Ripley’s Believe it or Not!—so perhaps is best enjoyed if you’re bringing the kids. Although to be honest, just wandering around the New Harbor district is like stepping into one of the famed Danish writer’s stories.

And what about more adult-orientated options? Then you might want to consider visiting Freetown, Christiania—definitely best not to bring the kids if you’re going there.

What is it? A self-proclaimed autonomous neighborhood of about 850 residents—well, that’s how it’s described on Wikipedia, though you might know it best as a commune.

Hardly sounds like a tourist spot. It is a fascinating place to visit in order to see the community that has grown up in the area. Just don’tto be glib for a changebuy any of the brownies.

So I really should go there to soak up the atmosphere but not inhale it? Exactly.

Anything else other than fairy tales and hippies for me to see? I’ve two recommendations for you and they both involve Carlsberg.

The beer people? Yes.

Great. What are they? Well the first is to visit the Carlsberg brewery. They have a Visitor’s Centre located at their original brewery that will detail the history of this famous beer . . .

. . . But will I get a sample of their product? I wouldn’t countenance recommending the Visitor’s Centre if they didn’t hand out samples.

So it’s probably the best Visitor’s Centre in the world? Yes, very droll. The cost of your entry fee is good for one sample and, considering the high cost of food and drink in that part of the world, it really is the cheapest drink you’ll find in Copenhagen, unless someone offers you a bottle of something in Christiania.

And what’s the other Carlsberg suggestion? It’s the “Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek”.

Probably best that I don’t try and pronounce that after a couple of pints of Carlsberg. True.

What is it? It’s an art museum. Carl Jacobsen, the son of the founder of the Carlsberg brewery, amassed a vast collection of art that he gifted to the state. It has one of the largest Rodin collections in the world. It really is a wonderful place to lose yourself in.

Other recommendations? If you love a bit of royalty, then the Amalienborg Museum allows a glimpse into the regal side of Copenhagen. The Amalienborg itself (a square on which four identical palaces are located) is an amazingly relaxed place to visit and cycle around considering it is an official residence for the Danish royal family. I’d also recommend the Museum of Copenhagen for a fascinating overview of the history of the city.

What should I read? Well, Denmark’s golden age is marked by the writings of Hans Christian Andersen and Søren Kierkegaard. Do you want fairy tales or existential philosophy? The choice really is yours. More recently, Peter Hoeg is a Danish author who has had considerable international success with his novel Smilla’s Sense of Snow. Karen Blixen (who wrote under the name Isak Dinesen) is unarguably the most acclaimed Danish novelist of the C20th. Her best-known work, Out of Africa, is perhaps not the most evocative novel for someone planning a trip to Copenhagen on account of its Kenyan setting, but irrespective of that it is still very much worth your time.

What should I watch? Early Danish cinema is dominated by the figure of Carl Theodor Dreyer. Most of his great works—such as The Passion of Joan of Arc—were French productions after he moved there in order to find greater opportunities than offered by the early Danish film industry. Out of his Danish films, however, Leaves From Satan’s Book is a classic of the silent era. More recently, Danish cinema among an English-speaking audience has been synonymous with filmmakers such as Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg who came out of the Dogme 95 Collective. Out of all their work it’s Vinterberg’s film Festen that I would most recommend you watch. Of late, Danish TV dramas have also been receiving critical attention. Police procedural The Killing spawned a poor American remake, and the political drama Borgen has developed a loyal following on BBC Four in the UK and Link TV in the US.

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, another installment in the life of our fictional expat heroine, Libby. (What, not keeping up with Libby? Read the first three episodes of her expat adventures.)

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Talking to expat entrepreneur Alison McGowan about cracking the hard nut of Brazil’s tourism market

Hidden Pousatas Brazil CollageAlison McGowan is rather famous among us expats in Brazil: a foreigner who has settled here and “made it” as an entrepreneur. Her business is called Hidden Pousadas Brazil. Pousada literally means “place to land” or “place to stay”; but as McGowan explains on her About Us page, unlike in Portugal where a pousada is usually a luxury inn in a restored historical building, in Brazil the concept encompasses a much wider range of price and accommodation.

Alison has visited and vetted many of Brazil’s pousadas on behalf of Western tourists who might be overwhelmed by a country of Brazil’s size and complexity. She offers a set of well-honed marketing services to pousadas that come up to her standard, consisting of an English-language Web page on her site optimized for Google, from which they can receive direct bookings. (She will also add social media and PR for a further fee.) And she provides an English-speaking interface for those pousada owners who lack the requisite linguistic skills to attract foreign guests.

Perhaps you’ve heard of Alison’s pousada business, too? Word has traveled far and wide among the English-speaking world thanks to some choice publicity. Seth Kugal chose to include it in his write-up on Brazil for the New York Times‘s Frugal Traveler series, urging those looking to make Brazil more affordable to try

a rare English-language pousada site nicely curated by an expatriate Englishwoman, Alison McGowan.

And the intrepid Michael Palin, while he finally added Brazil to his itinerary with a four-part BBC series last year, gave a shout-out to McGowan for her “gorgeous pousada” recommendations.

Yet her accomplishment can’t have been easy. According to recent data, 40 percent of Brazilian start-up businesses do not survive for more than two years after opening due to the “excess of laws, regulations, taxes, paperwork…”

I caught up with McGowan recently on behalf of the Displaced Nation and peppered her with questions about her business success story. Any wannabe displaced entrepreneurs out there, listen up!

Olá, Alison! Tudo bem? Thanks for agreeing to be interviewed for the Displaced Nation. How long have you been working in Brazil?
I established Hidden Pousadas Brazil in 2008 but have a long history of working with and in Brazil dating back to 1979 when I was sent out to set up the first office for Oxford University Press. In 1984 I decided to return to UK but continued working with Brazil over the next 18 years before returning to the country definitively in 2002, bringing my old business in educational marketing—called Florence Associates—with me. This lasted me very well until 2008, when the increased use of broadband Internet and students booking direct with schools effectively put paid to the business model. Hidden Pousadas Brazil was a very lucky idea which came to me at just the right time. It never occurred to me to go “home” when the other business ended.

Let’s go back even further in time. What first attracted you to the country both of us now call home?
I lived in Paris for a year in the early 70s and that was where I first discovered Brazilian music, and Brazilian musicians. I fell in love with both!

What do you love most about living here?
I love the people, the attitude, the optimisim, the energy and the light.

As an Englishwoman, do you ever feel “displaced”?
I rarely feel “displaced” but had one such moment yesterday when I realized I had spent over a thousand reais paying company bills which were actually optional. My Britishness and desire to be up to date with payments had blinded me to the possibility that anyone would or could legally send an official demand for something which I actually didn’t have to pay.

Have you reached a point where you now feel more comfortable in Brazil than in Britain?
I feel totally comfortable in both countries and move easily between them, partly because I am pretty well bilingual and understand both cultures very well. People here often refer to me as a gringa carioca—basically a foreigner who is at the same time someone from Rio de Janeiro. Brazilian musician friends just introduce me to others as a fellow musician. Nationality isn’t usually mentioned.

You said that Hidden Pousadas Brazil was a “lucky idea.” Where did it come from?
I was super stressed from running a huge cello festival in Rio and asked a friend for a recommendation of somewhere to stay where I could just chill out in peace for a while. He immediately told me to go to the Pousada Santa Clara on Boipeba. I had no idea at the time where Boipeba was or indeed what a pousada was, but I went and discovered paradise—a traffic free island with endless deserted sandy beaches fringed by palm trees and a lovely, friendly pousada guesthouse to stay at. I thought if this paradise existed there must be other paradises in Brazil, and I reckoned I knew quite a lot of people who would like to be in paradise if they only knew it existed! Hidden Pousadas Brazil was born.

Was opening up your own business something you always wanted to do?
Had I not lost my rather well-paid job in the UK, I might not have started down the entrepreneurial path. That was the original stimulus. But now that I’m on my second business, I can’t imagine working for someone else again!

What’s been the biggest challenge of running your own business in Brazil?
The most challenging part is undoubtedly Brazilian bureaucracy and tax system. It is both expensive and time consuming to get it right.

The most fulfilling?
Meeting so many satisfied travelers who have been choosing pousadas and trips just using the recommendations on www.hiddenpousadasbrazil.com.

If you could do anything else, what would it be?
I can’t imagine doing anything else right now. Once Hidden Pousadas Brazil is in a mature phase and is no longer challenging, a logical step would be to move into consultancy, public speaking and training for pousada owners, but whatever I do would still have to allow me extensive travel in offbeat Brazil!

What’s on your bucket list?
Right at the moment a few pousadas on deserted beaches in Piauí, Ceará, Maranhão, and Rio Grande do Norte are beckoning; also some places near the capital city of Brasília such as Pirenópolis and São Jorge in the neighboring state of Goias, as well as in the historical cities of Minas Gerais.

It sounds as though you still have a lot to explore. Have you left Britain behind, or will you go back to live some day?
I will be here in Brazil for as long as good is good, but I still go back to the UK twice a year, and could easily run the business the other way round, living in the UK and coming over to Brazil a few times a year.

Do you have any advice for anyone else wanting to be an entrepreneur in Brazil?
I wouldn’t do it unless you speak Portuguese fluently, understand the culture, have tons of patience, considerable money and support behind you, AND see a gap in the market for that brilliant idea you are passionate about! If you’ve got all that then go for it! The rewards are enormous.

We understand you are creative in another way: as a travel writer. Do you have any books planned?
I have plans for two forthcoming books: one just entitled The Hidden Pousadas of Brazil and the other on foreign immigration and entrerpreneurship in the Amazon in early-20th century Brazil (title still to be decided).

É boa pra caramba! We look forward to featuring one day on the Displaced Nation.

* * *

Readers, I found talking to Alison McGowan quite a trip! Do you have any questions for her before she ventures off in hot pursuit of the next Brazilian paradise? You can also follow Hidden Pousadas Brazil on Twitter, like them on Facebook, and subscribe to their YouTube station, where the latest video shows Alison giving advice for anyone planning a trip to Brazil for the World Cup in 2014 (coming soon!) or the Rio Olympics in 2016. As an avid football fan myself, I have only one comment to make on Alison’s creative enterprise: Vai Brasil! O Brasil é o número um! For the purposes of today’s celebration of Alison, this football rallying cry may be translated as “Go to Brazil! It’s the number-one country!”

STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, about a theatrical enterprise…

If you enjoyed this post, we invite you to register for The Displaced Dispatch, a round up of weekly posts from The Displaced Nation, with seasonal recipes, book giveaways and other extras. Register for The Displaced Dispatch by clicking here!

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Images: (Clockwise from Alison McGowan’s headshot) Pousada Araras Eco Lodge, in the northern Pantanal (home of the Hyacinth Macaw); Pousada Uacari (in the Mamirauá reserve, home of the uacari monkey); Pousada de Selva Mato Limpo (in the hills of the Serra da Mantiqueira); and Hidden Posadas Brazil logo.

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