Tunisia’s Youssef Bouguerra first came to Brazil for work reasons back in 1999. Despite some initial difficulties settling in, Youssef quickly fell in love with Brazil and can’t wait to move back. He has some great advice on integrating into Brazilian culture along with some suggestions on places to eat and drink in Rio de Janeiro. He loves Brazilian music and shares with us some of his favorite lyrics.
Tell us a little about yourself, where are you from?
I was born and raised in Tunisia where I spent the first eighteen years of my life. I also have some French blood, that’s probably why I moved to Paris in 1992 to go to university. I stayed there for five years and then decided that it was time to move countries again and headed to Cambridge in the UK. I spent some time in Argentina in 1999, and was based in Rio de Janeiro between October 1999 and September 2001. I now live in London, and I’m working on my next move: to Brazil again, but this time, it will be for good! I’m thinking about the best way to make this happen, and am considering all possible options – but I’m most definitely moving back to Brazil!
I have a lovely four-year-old carioca daughter called Sofia.
What do you do?
I’m currently working for a large management consultancy, advising corporate clients and public sector bodies on technology projects. Prior to that, I spent six years working for a software vendor implementing billing systems for telecommunications operators – pretty specialised stuff, but I was travelling a lot and loved it. People were also brilliant. Telecommunications was a very good industry to be in the late nineties – it was good as long as it lasted!
In my spare time, I do voluntary work for the British Computer Society. I’ve been elected Secretary of the North London branch of the Society, and we run educational events every month.
When did you arrive in Brazil and what brought you here?
October 1st 1999 – my twenty-fifth birthday. I was on international assignment in Buenos Aires with my previous job when the project I was working on got cancelled. I had to decide whether I wanted to go back to London or move to Rio. The choice was obvious, but I have to say that I wasn’t that keen to move to Brazil either: I was loving it in Argentina.
What were you first impressions of Brazil?
I remember arriving late at night at the Sofitel hotel in Copacabana. The heat was suffocating. I went for a walk on the beach and I wasn’t sure what to think really. I don’t know, I guess I was feeling saudades da Argentina (with all the irony there is in putting the words saudades” and “Argentina” side by side). I remember seeing the lights of favelas on the hills and thinking they were early Christmas decorations.
The truth is, it took me a while to get to fully appreciate Brazil. You need time to get to understand the culture. You need even more time to integrate yourself – if you ever get there. You’ll remain the average gringo, I’m afraid, until you go through this steep learning curve. There’s also the process of learning the language, which is very important. In my case, it started with Spanish, and then “Portunhol” for a while. I think I only got to fully appreciate Brazil and the Brazilian culture, to truly learn to love them, after I left Rio in 2001. I’m a convert now, a big fan. I travel to Rio about twice a year and, as I said earlier, can’t wait for the time I move there for good.
What do you miss most about home?
The last few times I was in Brazil, I was so happy to be there, to spend time with Sofia, that I wasn’t missing anything at all! Or maybe there was something I was missing, a little bit. Cheese. It’s extremely hard, and expensive, to get hold of a good Camembert or Roquefort in Brazil. There’s excellent cheese produced in Brazil, in particular in Minas – but some good old smelly French cheese is a luxury I could certainly do with!
What has been your most frustrating experience in Brazil?
The fact that some taxi drivers try to take advantage of you when they detect your gringo accent. I use taxis quite a lot when I am in Rio and I always try to have a friendly chat with drivers – chatting to taxi drivers certainly helped a lot when I was learning Portuguese. Most of them are very friendly, but it’s extremely irritating when they are not, when they assume you’re a foreigner who has no clue where he is and they try to charge you extra, or choose a route that will get you stuck in traffic jams for hours.
What has been your most memorable experience in Brazil?
Sofia’s birth. I can’t find words powerful enough to describe the feelings of pride and accomplishment for being her father.
What do you most like about Brazil?
The answer that springs to mind immediately is music. I love forró, and I have a particular predilection for Mastruz Com Leite, definitely a melhor banda de forró do planeta (even if my Brazilian friends don’t necessarily approve of my musical tastes)! I also thoroughly enjoy Luiz Gonzaga, Trio Nordestino, Elba Ramalho, Alceu Valena and others… There’s something special about forró – take Luiz Gonzaga’s “Noites Brasileiras” for example:
Ai, que saudades que eu sinto
Das noites de São João
Das noites tão brasileiras nas fogueiras
Sob o luar do sertão
This is pure magic! This is the essence of saudades we were talking about earlier – saudades for that special Brazilian atmosphere, festas juninhas, batidas and caipirinhas, everything that makes Brazil such a great place. And when you listen to “Noites Brasileiras” in London, you do grasp the true meaning of saudades.
I also like samba, Martinho da Vila being my favourite, and ax music: Ivete Sangalo, of course; but I’ve also recently discovered Babado Novo: little musiquinhas like “Cabelo Louro” or “Lirirrixa” are just pure delight – they make you feel happy.
Brazilian music is great, and so are Brazilian cinema, Brazilian literature, people, food, the scenery. Everything really.
What is your favorite restaurant/place to hang out here?
There are loads of excellent restaurants in Rio. If I had to choose one, it would have to be Porcão, the one in Marina da Glória. Food is excellent, and the view is beautiful – just make sure you’re hungry when you get there! There’s also a “comida a kilo” restaurant I love in Centro, I can’t remember its name right now, but it’s the one on the basement in Edifcio Avenida Central, Avenida Rio Branco, 156. Very good choice of meat, salads, side dishes, deserts, and excellent quality and customer service. When I was based in Rio, I used to have lunch there at least twice a week.
Otherwise, any kiosk in Lagoa will have something to offer. Lagoa is definitely one of my favourite places to hang out, to go for a walk or just to chill out and have a chopp.
Do you have any funny stories/incidents to tell about your time in Brazil?
Well, I can think of a tragic incident, rather that a funny story. Cristiane (Sofia’s mother) and I had decided to spend the weekend in a pousada called “Le Siramat” in Nogueira, near Petrópolis. It’s a beautiful place, and I strongly recommend it to whoever is after a calm and relaxing retreat with magnificent views on the valleys below. The thing is, you need to have a car to get there as the pousada is situated at the top of Caminho do Cu, literally the path to the sky. Forget about walking up there. We didn’t have a car and so bravely decided to hitch-hike. An old “Brasilia” car stopped and we gratefully got in. As you would have expected, Caminho do Cu proved tough for the old vehicle, so it was out of the question to brake abruptly halfway through the slope – not even when a poor chicken decided to cross Caminho do Cu at the wrong time. I won’t describe what happened next, but we got to the pousada a few moments later without the driver saying a word about the incident.
What difference between your homeland and Brazil do you find most striking?
I’m fascinated by the size of Brazil. There is so much diversity, in landscapes, cityscapes, culture, accents, even local Portuguese grammars – going from one state to another, even from one city to another, is like being in a different country. See how Rio and São Paulo are different – and they are not that far away from one another.
What advice do you have for newcomers to Brazil?
Learn the language – that should be your number one priority if you want to make the most of your stay. Avoid the company of gringos and make friends locally.
Before arriving in Brazil, I was given useful advice in relation to violence: when you go to the beach, don’t wear expensive clothes, jewellery, watches, etc.; avoid dark streets late at night. Just apply common sense really, as you would anywhere else, and you’ll feel safe at all times.
What are some things that you would recommend for a visitor to do in Brazil?
I’ll only talk about Rio as it is the city I know best. The main tourist attractions are definitely worth a visit: Pão de Aucar, Corcovado, Jardim Botnico. Lagoa, of course. Walking or cycling along the beach in true carioca style. I also enjoy wandering about in Centro – there are many things to see and feel there, in particular in the area around Rio Branco and Rua do Ouvidor.
I also recommend crossing the bridge between Rio and Niterói. The best views of Rio you’ll get are from Niterói. The dramatic view from Parque da Cidade is unique – you’ve got to go there and check it for yourself!
Youssef can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
To read previous interviews in the Brazil Through Foreign Eyes series click below:
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 email@example.com