The Expat: Lais Calil

Born: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Lives: Caballito
Education: Law at Universdade do Estado do Rio de Janeiro, post-graduate degree in international relations at UBA
Profession: Business manager at Omega Car Rental
Book: Re-reading Freud’s Civilization and Its Discontents
Film: Siete cajas
Gadget: My camera

Captivated from her first visit to Buenos Aires, carioca lawyer Lais Calil kept finding reasons to return. That move became more permanent when she met her Argentine partner who happened to be vacationing in Rio de Janeiro and after a year of long-distance dating, she took the plunge in 2011. Together they set up and manage Omega Car Rental.

Lais says: “The first time I came to Argentina was in 2006. I was living in Brasilia at that time, working in public services as a legal adviser and I came to visit Buenos Aires as I’d never been. When I came, it was all very strange and different but I felt something, that I wanted to know more, there was a fascination there.

“I was here for a few days, doing the usual tourist stuff, visiting Boca and Palermo, doing what everyone does, but I felt a strong energy. And so I returned a few months later, then started to come back more frequently and then madness took a hold of me – I gave up work, I took out my savings and decided to move here for a few months in 2007.

I’ve got a feeling
“I rented an apartment and improved my Spanish during that time, and had a chance to live life. I wasn’t working, however, and after four months I realized it would be prudent to return to Brazil. I went back to Rio de Janeiro, my home town, and returned to work as a lawyer but had the feeling of something pending in Buenos Aires.”

And that sense was right, although it took her a few years to make a permanent move to Argentina. The carioca lawyer took up with a busy schedule at a law firm, living in the Copacabana district a block and a half from the beach, until one day she met Argentine Leandro.

She says: “We met when he was on holiday in Rio and I lived in Copacabana, on a very bohemian street. And the day after we met, he moved to a hotel on my street, and without knowing any Portuguese he went to my building to ask the doorman if I was there, asking for la linda. Of course the doorman didn’t know what he was going on about but I figured he deserved a chance and we started to go out, going some back and forth for a year or so between the two countries.

“By then, I was a bit fed up with my day-to-day work as the rhythm was tough, and time is money in Brazil, and Leandro was also fed up. So we started thinking about starting a project together. We didn’t know whether to do something in Brazil or in Argentina, but it came down to money in the end, given that the peso was more devalued in comparison with the real. And that was actually perfect! I wanted to come back to Buenos Aires, and very happily moved here permanently in March 2011.

“But it was a dramatic and drastic decision, as things could have either gone really well or I could have lost everything and had to move to a hippy commune! I bet on everything, I sold all my things, gave up my apartment – it was a decision loaded with risk.”

Having studied journalism and also law in Brazil, Lais’ initial plans were to enrol at the Universidad de Buenos Aires to undertake a post-graduate course in international relations and to set up the business. It was a complete about-turn professionally for the lawyer, who, along with her partner, founded boutique car hire company Omega Car Rental.

Lais adds: “Leonardo had already run a transport firm so he was familiar with the concept and although we had other ideas, we ended up founding Omega, a boutique car hire company – the ‘boutique’ part was my touch. And together, we were able to combine my law knowledge with his business acumen.

“Starting a business and not being known was difficult in the beginning. But on the other hand, Argentines are receptive to interesting things so in quite a short time, after a year, the business started to work perfectly well. I come from a country populated with 200 million people which has a high level of consumption and customer service. Though the Argentine market is smaller it has to be approached differently, and if you find a niche you’ll probably be the only one. In Brazil, it would be you and 50 others in that niche!”

Cultural differences
Besides professional differences, she also has noticed personal ones, too. Lais says: “Comparing Rio de Janeiro with Buenos Aires, they are so different in so many ways, and that includes interpersonal relationships. Cariocas are very peaceful in the way they relate to each other but Argentines are more visceral. Brazilians are more likely to talk about things – you can sit next to someone on a bus and be best friends with them by the end of the journey. People are more reserved here.

“However, I do like the way Argentines defend themselves with respect to their working lives. I’d never have worked like this in Brazil Argentines know how to divide their time between social time and work time. Brazilians are very ‘Americanized’ with respect to earning money.”

Although she works close to Retiro at Omega’s offices, Lais resides in the centre of the capital. “I live in Caballito, close to Flores, and I love it. It’s very peaceful. I have an old dog and we go for gentle walks in the squares. As there aren’t any beaches here, the option is to go to these public spaces – but I love it. The plaza, Plaza Ángel Gris which just had its name changed, that’s near my house is very well maintained. I live close to the Korean neighbourhood and that square has a very zen and Asian feel to it – there are lots of birds and a statue donated by the Korean government. I love it.”

While the beach was very much part of her Rio lifestyle, Lais enjoys the culture that Buenos Aires has on tap. “I love living in Buenos Aires and it’s a great place to be as you have thousands of options to go out and have a good time. I go to the cinema, the theatre, museums, go out to bars. I go out after work in the centre and love drinking wine – it’s definitely one of Argentina’s attractions!

“I haven’t travelled much around the country as it’s been hard what with work and my studies. I have been to Córdoba and a few cities nearby but once things are a bit calmer here, I want to visit the south.”

Besides her friends and family in Brazil, Lais also misses the beach. “Putting your feet on the sand, at any time of day, at midnight. I used to live a block and a half away, so I could go at any time. I really miss the sea, that smell that can change your year. But in Buenos Aires, I love San Telmo, I always go there, even on Sundays. The buskers and antiques stores fascinate me – that’s a place where I’d like to live one day.”

Buenos Aires Herald, September 20, 2014

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