Last night, my Dutch research colleague and I stumbled across a tiny bar in a residential part of town. The sort of place that only locals would ever know about and that probably rarely had clientele from outside this particular ‘bairro’ of Recife, let alone abroad.
Informal but full of character, a perfect street-corner ‘boteco’ with plastic chairs spilling out onto the road. On the shelves behind the bar, next to the cachaças, were stocked various household items: toothpaste, bleach, cooking oil and bars of soap. I found the fact that the place doubled-up as a local convenience store particularly charming.
After the band had finished their set of forró (a local style of country music), we were approached by a regular drinker, who was curious to know what two foreigners were doing in this part of town. (This sort of thing seems to happen all the time here. People here are incredibly friendly and eager to chat with strangers).
We found out that, inspired by his father, who was a politician, he felt a calling to serve his country: “I want my children to see a better Brazil”. Now he works a public servant, helping start-ups get off the ground and promoting local businesses. We told him of our business here in Recife and the conversation floated on to comparisons between the Brazilian and European way of life.
“The Brazilian’s is carefree, loose and flexible” he told us, “which is all very well and good, but we have an obligation to do what we can to make the structure of society work better for everyone.”
He suggested that in many senses it would help for the average Brazilian to become a bit more European: rule-abiding and perhaps slightly more concerned with the collective good, not just one’s own situation.
Speaking a foreign language always adds an extra challenge when the conversation turns philosophical, but I’m sure the beer was helping me along!
“For the Brazilian it’s ‘cada macaco no seu galho, hein?’” I joked, referencing a Brazilian expression: “each monkey takes his own branch”.
“But the people have to realise that they perch, not on an isolated branch, but in a tree,” he retorted poetically “a tree where all the branches are connected and which needs strong roots to support us all!”
With his beaming smile, expressive Brazilian intonation and emphatic gesticulation, it felt like he was reciting poetry for us. What a lovely performance to end the night!