During my global travels as a MANN+HUMMEL expat over the past few years, I have had many opportunities to gain insights into Brazil, China and India. In the first part of my series, I wrote about how I came to be an expat and the preparation that goes into overseas stays of this kind. In this article, I have put together a few anecdotes based on my personal experiences in the different countries.
Brazilian barbecues – a hot recommendation
My story begins in Brazil, where I worked as a Manager for Operations Controlling for two years starting back in June 2008.
One of the best occasions to experience Brazilian hospitality is at a churrasco, the Brazilian barbecue, which is a perfect example for the Brazilian way of life. The Brazilians love to spend their free time together with family and friends, eating delicious food and listening to music. Rather than each person having their own portion on a plate, the meat is cut up into small portions and put onto a plate that is circulated around the group. Churrascos are often held in the countryside away from city centres at ‘chaccaras’, which are small (or even large) country estates where you can escape from the stress of everyday life. People often stay late into the night, discussing about Brazil’s favorite topic – football. If you ask me, churrascos are the best way to get to know the Brazilian culture and people at first hand.
Security in Brazil
In Brazil, there is an enormous gap between rich and poor. If people can afford it, they live in gated residential areas protected by security staff. Something I had to get used to was the fact that assaults are not that rare in Brazil, so it is important to exercise the necessary precaution. For example, there are a number of areas in which people do not stop at a red traffic light at night. Luckily, my family and I have not had any bad experiences ourselves. We lived in Indaiatuba (the location of MANN+HUMMEL’s Brazilian headquarters) which is known to be a safe and pleasant place to live compared to the larger cities. It has even been awarded the title of Brazil’s best town to live and work in on numerous occasions.
Shanghai – a city of contrasts
We travelled directly from Brazil to our next stop: China. I lived with my family in Shanghai and worked there as Manager Controlling for two and a half years.
I would recommend everyone to go on a tour of this vibrant city, with its modern skyscrapers and traditional Chinese buildings combining to create a unique skyline of stark contrasts. In the narrow streets of Puxi, locals line the kerb, absorbed in their handicraft or playing cards, against a backdrop of breathtaking 400-metre tall skyscrapers made of glass, steel and concrete. The tour may only last a day but it will leave you with lasting memories.
China – a country of symbols
In China, symbols are extremely important in both a positive and negative sense. Often a symbol will have a completely different meaning in China and Europe:
for example, dragons are traditionally seen as monsters in Europe, whilst in China they are considered to be the most important of all of the creatures and believed to bring luck. According to the Chinese calendar, our son was born as a golden fire dragon. Well he got lucky, because it doesn’t get better than that!
Conversely, many Europeans would be over the moon to receive a watch as a gift. However, in China it is best to avoid giving someone a watch, even an expensive one, because they are seen as a symbol of the transience of life and would cause offence to the recipient.
After an exciting couple of years in China, we made our way to India. There I held the post of Director for Finance, Controlling, IT, Logistics and Legal Affairs until last August. It is hard to put our experiences in India into words; it really is a place you need to see for yourself!
‘Incredible India’ is the motto used in the advertising campaign for the Indian tourism industry and I have to agree it really is an apt way of describing this wonderfully diverse country of contrasts. My family and I explored the country, taking in the breathtaking scenery in the Himalayas and Kerala (God’s Own Country) and got caught up in traffic jams, which were sometimes caused by cows, monkeys, or even elephants or camels on the road. India was the most intense of all the places we had been for many reasons: the noise for one thing; then there was the dust in Bangalore; the sheer number of people, often on the move on foot, on mopeds or in rickshaws; the chaotic traffic, which results in relatively few accidents in towns and cities despite the fact that the rules of the road are seen more as recommendations; the bright colours of the saris traditionally worn by the women; and the delicious food that can be unbearably spicy. In other words, life in India is simply too incredible to sum up in a few words!
India – a country of religions
Although it would be hard to find another country in the world that is home to as many religions as India, the majority of Indians are Hindus. Religion is deeply entrenched in everyday life in India. For example, it is completely normal to consult a priest to ensure that a house move or house warming is scheduled on an auspicious day. The ceremonies, so called poojas, are rituals and held in the ancient language of Sanskrit. We were fortunate enough to attend a number of these ceremonies and each time we were amazed by the passion floating through the room. It is important that rituals are performed with the right hand because it is believed to be pure.
You can see this in everyday actions: when someone is pointing to somebody else, eating, wants to shake hands with somebody or take or give somebody something, they will never do so with their left hand because it is believed to be impure.
Different countries have different customs, and finding your feet in foreign cultures and learning the differences and similarities between cultures has always fascinated me. Spending time abroad is always about gaining experiences that help you grow as a person but it also involves making compromises.
In the final part of my series – ‘Around the world…and back again?’ – I will tell you what life is like as an expat with a family, whether I ever get homesick after being away for so many years and which destination I have planned next.