Living outside of your bubble
Have you ever wanted to reinvent yourself? In that case, Bruno Freitas Brandão and his story are a textbook piece of inspiration for you.
Photographs: Terumi Mascarenhas - www.fjordfoto.dk
Text: Michaela Medveďová
Switching your career, switching the country you live in - all that can be scary.
But Bruno Freitas Brandão shows that with the right mindset, nothing can stop you. Having followed his passions and then his husband, Bruno’s extensive travelling has led him to Denmark, where he’s been exploring all the opportunities the country has to offer.
From São Paulo to the world
Born in São Paulo, Brazil, Bruno could hardly be further away from home. And not just geographically. “It’s very different. Brazil is a big country, and parts of it differ very much. São Paulo is a huge city, so I was raised in this concrete jungle. Thankfully, my family has a farm, so we were always connected with nature.”
Bruno’s fascination with nature - specifically the ocean, as Brazil has a vast coastline - left a significant mark on his life. He pursued oceanography at university with an aptitude for science and a natural curiosity about nature.
His growing up influenced his life in different ways, too. “I was glad that my family had the money to travel abroad. My parents always tried to travel within Brazil one year and abroad the other year.” So Bruno visited the Amazon forest and the highest waterfall in the world. He has been to many countries in South America, Mexico, and Europe thanks to his Portuguese family from his grandfather’s side. “I could see the world, which helped me live outside my bubble. I have always sought out different cultures. My mother sent me to do an exchange in New Zealand for two months. I was alone, we didn’t have smartphones then, so I couldn’t talk to them.”
Despite an impressive travel resume, Bruno has not yet lost his wanderlust. On his bucket list is most of Africa and more of South Asia. In addition, he wants to learn more about different cultures. “Brazil is a colonised country. We have a lot of European and American influences, but not others. We don’t learn about it. My family always taught me to have this need to learn things.”
Luckily, his husband shares this love for travelling. “We don’t give gifts at birthdays or anniversaries - we prefer giving experiences. So, for example, I gave him a trip to Disney for our second anniversary because he’d never been.” They also visited Bruno’s favourite place - Japan - together with Bruno’s family. “We did a road trip on the main island, visiting different cities, staying in traditional hotels, and eating traditional food. It was a special trip - my husband and I were already engaged at that point, and we bought our rings there because we love the Japanese culture.”
A break in the kitchen
With all the travelling and exploration of other countries, one might feel like Bruno misses Brazil. “I miss having my family and friends close. I miss taking care of my nephew and niece. But I don’t miss Brazil and living in São Paulo anymore. It’s a huge city, and there’s the issue of security. It’s nice because you can get anything you want – if you’re looking for a Korean barbecue at three in the morning, you’ll get it! On the other side, it’s stressful to walk around. The commute is two hours with a car, and metros are always fully packed. I don’t think I could adapt anymore.”
The first time Bruno left São Paulo for a longer period was to go to university to study oceanography. And that’s where he met his now-husband - they started dating in his third year of school.
Bruno used to work with marine mammals. Twice, he went to Antarctica, studying and working with elephant seals. But he didn’t have a good relationship with his boss, so he switched his focus to aquaculture and worked with fish farms. That’s when he left for Japan to do his Master’s… at the precise time the tsunami hit Tokyo. The samples he was supposed to be working with were lost, and he ultimately returned to Brazil.
“My dream after that was to open a fish farm in the mountains, but I didn’t have a good business plan that would work in Brazil. That’s when my mom suggested I take a break, a sabbatical year, to realise what I wanted to work with. She said I’m still young, and if I want to change my career, I should just change my career. So I decided to go to France.”
Bruno’s always wanted to learn French. His hobby was cooking - he’d always loved seeing his grandmother cooking. So he found a good exchange school to help him learn the language and professionalise his cooking with a gastronomy course.
At the time of his departure to France, Bruno’s now-husband was finishing his Master’s in the south of Brazil. They thought having a long-distance relationship would not work out, so they decided to break up. “I went to France, started studying French, and I was working in the kitchen - I was happy. Then I discovered he was going to Germany for a PhD position. So we met up and restarted our relationship.” When Bruno’s year in France was up, he returned to Brazil while his partner stayed in Germany for four years. But this time, older and more mature, they decided to pursue a long-distance relationship - and this time, they made it.
A Danish change
When Bruno returned to Brazil, I tried working in the kitchen, but it was too stressful, so he pivoted again and tried his hand at his late grandfather’s public transportation company. “They started with trainee positions for me, my brother, and my cousins in case we wanted to take over the company someday. I was unhappy and stressed, living in São Paulo – it wasn’t for me.”
On the upside, he was finally living with his partner, who had returned from Germany, and they decided to get married. “We had a wedding at a beach, and our best friend performed the ceremony - it was beautiful.”
They didn’t just start their life together - another significant change was coming. Bruno’s husband was offered a job in Denmark. “He interned in Denmark and fell in love with the country. He told me: let’s move there, let’s move there. So I said: Okay, if you find a position there, we can move because I have double citizenship - I’m also Portuguese.” They chose Roskilde as their city to settle down in because of its proximity to the job and Copenhagen, and they simply love it. While the pair is considering buying a house in the future somewhere on the outskirts of Copenhagen, for now, Roskilde is home.
"Staying idle isn’t in Bruno’s nature. With a new country came yet another chance to reinvent himself and try his hand at a different project."
Finding your footing
Staying idle isn’t in Bruno’s nature. With a new country came yet another chance to reinvent himself and try his hand at a different project.
This time, it was a bookshop.
“I met a friend in Danish classes, and we really connected. His dream was to have a bookshop. My dream was to have a cafe. So we opened a bookshop cafe focusing on Spanish and Portuguese literature.” They followed the entire process, from creating a business plan and talking to business owners with similar ventures to getting funding - and opening Cervantes Boghandel.
The first few months brought in crowds, but it was challenging to keep that up. “People look for Spanish books, but not enough to have a physical shop. And a lot of people read on tablets. We would probably have to focus more on the coffee, but that wasn’t our thing. We were spending our hours in the shop, not taking any salaries because the business was breaking even. So we decided to close at the end of October 2022 and continue online.” Bruno is still very grateful for this experience and learned a lot.
And just as they started talking about closing the shop, a Brazilian cafe opened up, and they were looking for chefs - enter Bruno!
“I started a few months ago. It’s so nice. It’s very slow food, so it’s not as stressful as other restaurants. And the owners are taking my food suggestions and creating new menus. So I really enjoy it.”
Copenhagen is becoming a famous food scene full of exciting restaurants offering international food. “If you’re European, opening a new business in Denmark is very easy. I think this also helps bring these different cultures into the gastronomy of Copenhagen.” In Bruno’s experience, Danes are also very open-minded and want to try new things. “Even with our bookshop - they couldn’t speak Spanish or Portuguese, but they were curious and came in. Of course, they wouldn’t eat, for example, Chinese food every day, but they will try new things.”
And a chef’s opinion on Danish cuisine? “I learned to like some things. For example, I enjoy flæskesteg because it is similar to Brazilian food. Some foods are interesting here - they pickle everything. I understand this was to make the food last longer, but it’s not the best for me,” laughs Bruno.
Respect for the language
Pickled food was not the most significant cultural shock by far.
Moving to Denmark from a characteristically sunny Brazil during winter was challenging, and Bruno missed the sun. But this was offset by how organised Denmark is and how much trust there is in society. “It was difficult to understand how everything works in the beginning. I had to learn it all from the basics again. But we are adaptable, my husband and I, and now we enjoy the country.”
But Brazilians are much more open, touchy, and huggers. “My husband was already living in Germany for years, so it was a better adjustment for him. He always says that Danes are much more open than Germans. It’s effortless to become best friends with someone in Brazil. Here, you must take the time to get to know the person. But I soon learned that when you become friends with a Dane, you really have a friend for life.”
Having a physical bookshop helped him interact with more Danes - and learn Danish much better than in class. “I’m not a fan of the language school system – I felt they focused on you passing the module tests and exams. I didn’t feel the focus was on you actually learning the language. So, in the bookshop, when a customer arrived speaking Danish, I would answer in my broken Danish - in the end, I felt I learned more.”
Bruno’s no stranger to learning languages quickly. He learned Spanish and English, could speak French after two or three months and even started learning Japanese. However, Danish has proven to be a more significant challenge. “It’s not perfect - I’m still missing a lot of vocabulary. It’s a difficult language - not grammatically; I think it’s even easier than English, but the problem is the phonetics. In the Nordic countries, it’s much easier for them to switch to English.” That was completely different in France, where people did not speak English to Bruno - so learning French was accelerated.
“But I think it’s a thing of respect. We chose to live in Denmark, so it’s basic respect to know the language, and when you learn a country’s language, you learn about the culture behind it.”
The next adventure
Even if Bruno and his husband ever move, it would be to a country similar to Denmark, not back to Brazil. “We also see how Danes raise their kids. It’s amazing, and the kids can sleep outside in a pram, and nothing happens! In Brazil, we’d lose the baby and all parental rights.”
They were talking about maybe adopting a child, and here would be one of the best places to raise a family.
“I’ve had a really amazing life and have experienced a lot. I’m happy here, ready to settle down, have a family, and just focus on that.” Maybe that will be their next adventure.