Born: Brittany, France
Education: International business degree at Rennes University
Profession: Waiter and boxer
Book: Anything by Stephen King
Film: Terminator 2
Gadget: My new wok
After literally working his way around the world for several years, Brittany native Mickael Rouxel headed to new pastures and Argentina in 2012. Although he holds a degree in international business, he works as a waiter at a closed-door restaurant whose schedule enables him to train as a professional Muay Thai boxer representing Argentina.
Mickael says: “I’m 29, soon to be 30, and when I was 18 I went to Australia and New Zealand. Then I went on a working visa to Vancouver in Canada for two years, but when I got back to France I didn’t know what to do so I went to Spain then Asia travelling. I didn’t have any money left when I got back to France, so I worked for a year but got bored again. That’s when I started looking for a place with an easy visa situation – and came to Argentina.
“I didn’t know anything – Maradona and meat and that’s pretty much it. But from the moment it occurred to me to come here, it took just two months to make that decision come to life and so I arrived in Buenos Aires in August 2012. My first impression was of shitty food – I was expecting something else, perhaps spice with lots of flavours, but it was all about meat, pizzas and empanadas. It sucked. I also thought it was dirty with potholes everywhere. But on the positive side, I started to travel around and to be honest the country amazed me — the mountains, the coast, the people — it’s an amazing country, and of course there are beautiful women! That was also a positive!”
There were also other cultural differences that Mickael noted: “The kiss [as a greeting]. The Fernet. Which is quite special. And people do everything later, especially in comparison with northern Europe: they get up later, eat later, go out later. There are also quite a lot of social inequalities compared with Europe: when you see a whole family sleeping outside, it’s shocking but then you get used to it. It’s sad but that how it is.”
Despite his initial disdain for certain aspects of the country, Mickael soon started to integrate when he joined a gym to train for Muay Thai, a combat sport he has practised for a long time. “When I started training for Muay Thai, it was a way to meet people. I started off with amateur fights then the boss at MTA gym where I train asked if I wanted to start fighting professionally. So now I get paid to fight but I don’t make any money as what I earn in one night, I spend twice as much the next.
“Before you fight someone else, you fight yourself, mentally, before going into the ring. Muay Thai is physical but also psychological. I recently represented Argentina in Brazil at the kickboxing world championships and in fact I had to fight once against France — and lost! It seemed quite natural representing Argentina as I felt I was representing my friends and my team, rather than the country. I’m not very patriotic though I love my homeland, but to be honest it wasn’t a problem. Not many people box here so it wasn’t hard to get involved although it’s getting more popular for people to kick the shit out of each other and get quite bloody here!
“No one has ever said ‘oh, he shouldn’t fight for us as he isn’t Argentine’ because everyone is sweating together — and I’m European. But I don’t think it would be the same if I was Bolivian or Peruvian.”
While Mickael dedicates a lot of his spare time to training, he also works in a closed-door restaurant as a waiter, something that allows him certain flexibility. He says: “I have a degree in international business but I’ve never worked in that field, I’ve always cooked wherever I’ve travelled – Spain, Asia, Canada.
“But when I got here I didn’t want to cook so I decided to get a job as a waiter to help practise my Spanish. I started off working in a parrilla, and then I moved to Cocina Sunae, a closed-door place where you meet interesting people who are into food. The schedule there, working a few nights a week, allows me to train every day and fight when the gym’s boss lets me. I’m lucky having that schedule because I can make money but also train every day. And I get to eat food other than pizza.”
While his waiting work takes him to Chacarita, Mickael lives in Almagro. He says: “It’s not the nicest place, there’s nothing good about where I live! Although we do live close to Peruvian restaurants, which is good as my girlfriend is from Peru and that’s the best food in South America. I want to see more of the continent and the easiest way to do that is by fighting and competing in other countries. I’ve just been given notice on my apartment fortunately, so I’m looking to move somewhere else.”
Although he has lived in various different countries, the one thing he misses about France besides friends and family is civilized conversation and the cuisine. Mickael says: “Cheese and wine and food. I also miss the fact there aren’t any potholes in the street and that people are more civilized, that they don’t say boludo at the start of the conversation. Men are more testosterone-driven here, the alpha male comes out a lot which I don’t really like, so I think the French behave in a more civilized way toward women. But it’s a different culture and I know that not all Argentines like it either.”
As for spare time, which doesn’t involve training, Mickael heads into the kitchen or to the grill. “I like hanging out with friends for an asado — I cook it too. I try to mix everything I’ve learned from my travels and work into my cooking, Asian food or French food. I’ve never looked to befriend other French people — I like being the outsider. Argentines love the French so it’s a good passport to have. My friends are mostly from the gym — hitting each other in the face every day means you get to know people pretty well!
“I also enjoy reading and going running in the Palermo woods or in the nature reserve. If I go out, I like to go to rock and roll bars, punk types such as Red Bell or I go to Jobs to play games or shoot some pool — I like going to places where you can meet people. I never go to discos though. When you finish at 3am or 4a, in the restaurant, people are already partying so you end up hanging out with people who work in the same industry. Regular people get up at 8am and can’t go out at 4am, plus working in a restaurant, you don’t see much of the weekend. I have Monday and Tuesday free — it’s the story of my life, but you get used to it. I basically like cooking, fighting and reading.”
Buenos Aires Herald, October 11, 2014
Ph: Mariano Fuchila