Gringo Rio Interviews … Foreigners living in Rio de Janeiro
In our series of interviews, we ask foreigners living in Rio de Janeiro questions about how they ended up living in the wonderful city of Rio de Janeiro and collected tips of do’s and don’ts around Rio de Janeiro. They also give us inside tips about places to visit and restaurants to go, as well as things to try while in Brazil.
Gringo-Rio interviews Jascha Lewkowitz
Where are you from?
I was born in Utrecht and studied in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
When was your first time in Rio de Janeiro, and what was your first impression?
In 2007, during Carnaval. I came with a friend and stayed in a small kitchenette in Lapa. I remember to be overwhelmed. The combination of the natural beauty of the city and the very open, happy people instantly made me feel like being in a very special place.
Since when you’re living in Rio de Janeiro, and where?
Since September 2010. I first lived in a maid’s room in Copacabana. Currently, I am still living in Copacabana with my wife and 2 kids.
How did you learn Portuguese?
During 2007 and 2008 I did volunteer work in the Casa do Caminho Orphanage and was forced to speak some Portuguese with kids and staff. Unfortunately, I’ve always mixed Spanish and Portuguese (“portunhol”), because I speak Spanish at home with my Colombian wife.
What is your profession and how do you sustain yourself?
I have a degree to be a History teacher in the Netherlands. Here in Rio I run a small social enterprise called Caminhos, which consists of a Portuguese school in Rio de Janeiro and an NGO focused on helping underprivileged children.
What Carioca habits do you like the most?
I find it funny that they brush their teeth at work. It’s a very good habit, by the way. I also think that the friendly way of dealing with things in general is very pleasant.
What habits you do not like?
In general I found the service very poor. Not sure this is a correct expression but some cariocas “could use some pepper in their asses.”
What is your favorite place to drink a coffee in Rio?
That must be Kurt in Leblon. I recently discovered this wonderful place. I am more like a tea person, so I can’t say that they have the best coffee, but for me it’s the right place in Rio to have good desserts and cakes. Parque Lage is also a very nice place to have a coffee in Rio.
Which restaurant would you bring someone on a romantic date?
Oh, difficult one. I have two small children and I am already happy if I go to a restaurant and am able to eat my food when it’s still warm and do not disturb other people. So I do not consider myself an expert on this. Zaza Bistro has good food and the ambiance in the lounge on the second floor is very nice for a date.
What’s your favorite Brazilian food or drink? What should foreigners try?
Moqueca, a Brazilian Fish stew, is my favorite dish. In general I would suggest for foreigners just to go to a supermarket and try all exotic things they had never seen before.
What book/movie/documentary did you like to read/watch that is somehow connected with Rio de Janeiro/Brasil?
I found the book ‘The War of the End of the World’ from Mario Vargas Llosa interesting to read so you get a better understanding of the history as well current situation of this very big and complex country. The book ‘Nemesis’ from Misha Glenny is very well written and give good insight of Rio de Janeiro’s drugs/favela/violence spiral as well.
Which Brazilian music do you like?
Novos Baianos. Presumably I’m already an “old man”, but I still found it very relaxing to listen to their songs.
What’s your favorite place to go out/dance?
I still find Lapa a nice dynamic area to go and drink some caipirinha on the street and see how the evening can develop from there. I don’t have a special favorite spot/bar.
What would be your advice of things to do for someone who’s coming to Rio for the first time?
If you like walking, go and do different hikes. I think that there are so many beautiful hikes in and around Rio de Janeiro! Also explore Rio de Janeiro by bike, it’s very nice. Or just take the ferry to Niterói or Paquetá.
What would you advise people not to do if they’re coming to Rio for the first time?
I have never done it, so who am I to judge, but the favela tours with those Jeeps always give me a little weird ugly feeling.
Which one do you prefer: Búzios, Paraty or Ilha Grande?
1st, Paraty; 2nd, Ilha Grande and 3rd, Búzios.
I’ve always liked small colonial villages like Paraty and the nature around it is beautiful. I found the hikes on Ilha Grande very nice. Búzios did not touch my heart so much.
Other things to do around Brazil/Rio?
I really like the experience of walking the Petropólis-Teresópolis hike. You can do this in 2 or 3 days. Also Inhotim in the state of Minas Gerais, it’s a park with contemporary art, very worth it the visit, especially if you combine your trip with a visit to the beautiful city of Ouro Preto.
Did you already go to any other state in Brazil? How was it? Did you liked it?
I have been to São Paulo, Minas Gerais and Mato Grosso do Sul (Pantanal) and loved it. Sometimes it’s easy for me to forget, but Brazil is enormous big and rich in nature and culture. The cultural differences are huge between some states.
Would you stay in Rio for the rest of your life?
I’m not sure. Life has many phases and perspectives. Since I have children, Rio is still super beautiful, but financially speaking, it is very difficult to give them the same condition (education, healthcare, safety) than in the Netherlands. When my parents get older, maybe I’ll wish to be closer to them as well. I also have to respect the wishes of my wife who is Colombian, so where my future will be is still open.
Do you have any other tips in general for people who are coming to Rio for the first time? (For example: how to stay safe, things to learn, foods to eat, best transportation etc.)
Be relaxed, learn some Portuguese if you have the time, use a bike and go into the nature — do hikes. Stay a little bit sharp and you won’t get fooled.