Meet Hugo Delgado, from Mexico, who came to Brazil working with his previous company and has since opened a restaurant in Jardins. Read the following interview where he tells us about his most memorable experiences from Brazil and gives some useful advice to newcomers.

1. Tell us a little about yourself, where are you from, what do you do etc.?

I am originally from Hermosillo, Sonora in northern Mexico. I lived there until I was sixteen. I then moved to the USA to go to High School (Culver Academies in Indiana) and Dartmouth College in Hanover New Hampshire. I double majored in Asian Studies (focus on China), Government (focus on International Relations and Comparative Government) and minored in International Economics. I love to travel and my studies gave me the opportunity to live for a few months in London, Paris, Buenos Aires and Beijing. After graduation I moved back to Mexico where I started working for Procter & Gamble in Mexico City. After 4 years in Mexico City P&G transferred me to Guanzhou, China. That was an amazing experience both personally and professionally. It also gave me the opportunity to visit many countries in Asia.

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

Procter & Gamble transferred me from China to Brazil in August 1999 as Finance Director for their Laundry Business in Brazil, Argentina and Chile. It was quite an exiting time since P&G was introducing their powdered detergents in the Southern Cone. Powdered Detergents are one of the main businesses for Procter & Gamble around the world, but the South Cone has been traditionally dominated by Unilever. Before coming here I was already a fan of Brazil, but soon after I arrived I was completely seduced by this amazing country and São Paulo. Within my first year in São Paulo I decided that this was were I wanted to settle. I was tired of moving around so much and I was a bit tired of my corporate career. I needed and wanted a big change. After three years I left P&G and started working on my life project. I envisioned and built a company to develop projects that bring people and food together. I am passionate about cooking, eating and hosting. Six months ago my company opened its first restaurant: Ob. It is located in Jardins. It is a very cozy home that serves simple, authentic food from 4 of my favorite cultures in the world: Thai, Mexican, Brazilian and Italian.

3. What were you first impressions of Brazil?

I believe that Brazil is a very exuberant and up culture. I find society to be the most tolerant in the Americas and one of the most tolerant in the world. I love the fact that Brazil is truly a melting pot. It was extremely easy for me to make strong and lasting friendships with locals. There are a lot of problems in this country, but when I place them in the balance with the spirit of Brazilians and the atmosphere of the country, I get a results that puts Brazil on the top of my list of places to live in the world (and I have lived and or visited every single continent except Antarctica!).

4. What do you miss most about home?

The food. It is quite a surprise that while Mexican food is very well know all over the world and very accessible in most places through restaurants and supermarkets, it is almost totally unavailable here in Brazil. There is almost no Mexican food and only some Tex-Mex. I am working on solving this with my own restaurant.

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

I have experienced very little frustration. Moving to China in the mid 90s was quite a character building” experience. When I move to Brazil from China everything was so easy in comparison that I felt like moving to Switzerland. Setting up my own business was quite a challenge. There is a lot of bureaucracy and a zillion steps and requirements. It is too bad that they make things so hard you almost want to give up on your entrepreneurship. But with lots of patience and determination you can get things done eventually.

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

There have been a lot of memorable experiences, but there is one that I really like that shows what kind of city São Paulo is. I was testing Thai recipes for my restaurant, and I was in urgent need of a banana leaf for dish of grilled fish in banana leaf. Even thought there is a lot of banana in this country, they do not sell banana leaves in the supermarket or market. So I started driving around the city to try to find some. In the flower market in Aveninda Dr. Arnaldo they told me they did not have any. But a guy went through the trouble of explaining to me that near there was a house that had a lot of banana palm trees in the garden. He said maybe I could as there. So I drove there. Parked my car. Rung the bell and a lady in her 60s opened the door. She was alone. I explained to her my situation. She agreed to help. She let me into her house with a huge knife. Showed me which were the palm trees with the tenderest leaves. Left me alone in her garden to climb the wall and cut the leaves, and then came back out to say good bye to me. She did not ask for anything. I had bought some orchids in the flower market and gave her one plant in gratitude. There are very few 15 million plus cities in the world where people would help you like that… specially if you are carrying a big knife!

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

My favorite thing about Brazil is the cordiality and informality of Brazilians. When I wake up in the morning and make my way to work I am sure to get a very cordial and smiling good morning from my door man… The guy at the newspaper stand gives me a big HELLO from across the street even when I don’t stop to buy a journal. The guys at the coffee place let me enjoy a coffee and pay later when I have no cash. The taxi drivers are friendly and well mannered. It is a very happy environment to be in. People seem to be in a good mood all the time. People ask me is I am not afraid of living in such a “violent” city. I do not feel São Paulo is violent on a day to day basis. I am obviously hoping I will never get mugged, and I do fear that violence, but when I go to Paris, New York, London, Berlin… I feel people are a lot colder, in a rush, hoping you will get out of their way… and that to me is violent.

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

I have to say my own restaurant… Ob. It is like my child. It is something I dreamed about for many years. It is very cozy.

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

Brazilians are a lot less conservative and aggressive than Mexicans. Considering the crime and murder rate in Brazil, I understand that people think it is odd when I say that Brazilians are not aggressive. But I think that the violence in Brazil is more economic than cultural. In Mexico it is very common to see fist fights in schools, in night clubs, parties and even weddings. No matter how sophisticated or humble a wedding might be, if enough alcohol goes around, do not be surprised if you see a 50 year old executive in black tie fist fighting with some guy who was supposedly looking at his wife in the wrong way. Here in Brazil I rarely see people getting physically aggressive. You can go to a club with 2000 people or you can be dancing in the middle of thousands if not millions of people in Salvador for carnival, and very very rarely you see a fight. Of course there is favela and soccer violence.. but that is a whole different thing. Mexico is as catholic as Brazil, but each country has a very different approach. Mexico is a lot more conservative and moralistic. There is very little tolerance and diversity. I feel more comfortable here in Brazil.

11. How is your Portuguese coming along? What words do you find most difficult to pronounce/remember or are there any words that you regularly confuse?

My Portuguese is great. Now that I have left the corporate world I work exclusively in Portuguese. I will always have my Mexican accent… but other than that I feel 100% functional.

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

Don’t stay in the expatriate ghetto. Give yourself an opportunity to meet the locals. They are truly wonderful people.

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

For great Mexican, Italian, Brazilian and Thai food, make a stop at Ob restaurant. Rua Melo Alves 205, Jardins. Tel. 3086 4774.

I love the Municipal Market downtown. There is an amazing variety of produce and the place is beautiful. The flower market at Ceasa on Tuesdays and Fridays is worth waking up at 6:00 am in the morning. It is important to get there very early. Even before 6:30am. The variety, quality and low prices are really awesome. This city is all about restaurants and bars. Some of my favorites are: for a beer, Astor in Vila Madalena. To see and be seen, Spot restaurant for dinner. For an amazing steak experience, Rubayat restaurant in Avenida Santos. For great Brazilian cuisine, Tordesilhas restaurant. For a gorgeous view of the skyline, the bar on top of Hotel Unique in the early evening.

One must at least once in your life go to the Rio Carnival and participate in the parade with one of the schools of samba. I have done it twice in Rio and once in São Paulo. Last time I did it in Rio I was in mangueira. I had promised my mom a few years back that for her 60th b-day I would get her to dance through the sambadrome with Mangueira. She had in her 30s been to the carnival 3 times but had never actually been in the parade. She flew in from her home in Tucson… Put on a bikini, a fantasia with huge feathers in her head and samba’d from start to finish. Not only was a great mother-son moment, but Mangueira, our school, won the championship that year.

To read previous interviews in the Brazil Through Foreign Eyes series click below:

Sean Terrillon – Canada
Jessie Simon – USA
Michael Meehan – USA
Thales Panagides – Cyprus
Tammy Montagna – USA
Samantha Tennant – England
Ron Finely – United States
Bob Duprez – United States
Peter Baines – England
Youssef Bouguerra – Tunisia
Van Wallach – USA
Lesley Cushing – England
Alexander von Brincken – Germany
Hank Avellar – USA
Ed Catchpole – England
Penny Freeland – England
Yasemin de Pinto – Turkey
Amy Williams Lima – USA
John Naumann – England
Marsye Schouella – Eygpt
Rita Shannon Koeser – USA
John Fitzpatrick – Scotland
Liam Gallagher – Northern Ireland
Lorelei Jones – England
Adam Glensy – England
Tommie C.B. DeAssis – Japan
Aaron Day – Canada
Graham Debney – New Zealand
Silke Tina Tischendorf – Germany
Tanya Keshavjee Macedo – Canada
Frank de Meijer – Holland
Carl Emberson – Australia
Kim Buarque – Wales
Damiano Pak – South Korea
Jonas Helding – Denmark
Pari Seeber – Iran
John Milton – England
Ken Marshall – Australia

Are you are foreigner living in Brazil? Are you interested in telling your story? If you would like to volunteer, or if you would like to recommend someone, please send an email with contact details and a brief description of yourself to gringoes@www.gringoes.com

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