Compiegne. Restaurateur Miguel Arivalo’s heart was torn between France and Argentina

Miguel Arivalo, 55, originally from Buenos Aires, arrived in France in 2009 with his wife and daughter. He says he was fleeing financial hardship and uncertainty. Although he feels part French, he was for Argentina this time. Photo credit: Guillaume Grasset

I feel French too, but this time my heart leaned towards Argentina and towards Messi, a good boy who deserves to be world champion after everything he has done…Miguel Arivalo, 55, has been running the restaurant since November 2018. Latin concept, at the Place du Change in Compiègne. Since his country of origin’s victory in the World Cup final against France, his family have been sending him messages. His brother is the last to kindly put him to bed: “So the French, not so sad?»

No, Miguel Arivalo is not upset, on the contrary. Just as he was not crushed when France beat Argentina in the round of 16 four years ago. However, he could have made better use of this dream final, which he announced to his customers from the quarter-finals. But a severe allergy to a flu treatment caused him to spend three days in hospital:As soon as I took the medicine, I collapsed. I left the hospital the day after the Argentines qualified for the final, Tuesday. When my customers saw that I had closed, they thought I had gone to Qatar. But no…»

Culture shock in Longueil-Annel

In France since 2009, Miguel arrived with his wife Alexandra and his 17-year-old daughter Agustina. “We moved to Longueil-Annel with my wife’s aunt who had lived in France for 34 years.Miguel says. Why Compiègne? Because this aunt had family here.»

The two spouses were leaders in Buenos Aires, the capital. Miguel worked in human resources for a multinational food company, while Alexandra worked in the control department of a children’s clothing manufacturer. “Argentina’s economic problems have caught up with us, even as we tried to stay strongsays Miguel Arivalo. But we did not live well. There was also insecurity… Our aunt convinced us to come to France.»

Before they left, the Arivalos liquidated their business:We sold everything: house, furniture, car… We arrived at Roissy-Charles-de-Gaulle airport with six suitcases and a dog.It was being reborn:I left my tie, my computer… On the plane, my wife cried in front of the flight attendant. He asked her not to cry and said that the weather is also good in France. When we told him we were going to Compiègne, he replied “you’re going to Picardy… Okay, you can cry…”.

Old managers, started from scratch

Here they are forced to start from scratch, in all humility. “I worked for seven years in supermarkets at Intermarché de Trosly-Breuil, where I started sweepinghe remembers. Then I was employed at the Aldi store in Senlis, where I replaced the deputy director for three months.Meanwhile, his wife worked for eleven years at MacDonald, performing all fast food functions.

We knew when we came to France that we had to be humbleMiguel continues. Despite two months of lessons before leaving Argentina, we barely spoke a word of French…He remembers the first time he went to pick up a baguette from a baker in Longueil-Annel: “The peddler we got together with later had a strong Picard accent. He said to me ‘he said to me ‘how have you that? Bitch?”. I pretended to understand. I repeated this to my wife’s aunt, who translated for me. He was talking to my daughter.”

Arriving at 17 with the basics, her daughter Agustina has acclimatised well. After high school in Noyon, she attended the Amiens Faculty of Applied Foreign Languages: English, French, Italian. She is now a flight attendant.

After a few professional experiences that didn’t pan out, Miguel met a Pôle Emploi adviser who talked to him about retraining, given his experience on the other side of the Atlantic. “I said that I wanted to open an Argentinian restaurant, which did not exist in Compiègnehe said. Gustavo, my wife’s brother, ran a restaurant in Buenos Aires. I was supposed to help this weekend. It eased me up for the week in business…»

A piece of Argentina in Compiègne

With the support of institutional partners, he convinced the bank to follow him. “The idea is to give the customer the impression of being in Argentina as soon as he walks through the doorsays the restaurateur. Here we listen to tango, we talk about football, the pampas, the country… This is who I am.“In terms of cuisine, the Argentinian plate is influenced by Spain, Italy, without forgetting the French who came to produce wine on the Pacific coast…”It’s not just the asado, the Argentinian barbecue…says Miguel, who offers a selection of tapas, empanadas (turnovers filled with meat or vegetables), but also filled Italian pasta or pasta frolla, a dessert from La Botte.

The Argentinian students of the technological university are not mistaken for the company’s regular customers. Miguel agrees, Argentina is not the most Latino of South American countries and has similarities to France: “It’s little Europe. When I saw the Haussmann buildings in the eighth arrondissement of Paris, I thought I saw Buenos Aires. And the atmosphere is like in Paris with its café terraces.»

Since his exile, Miguel has lost his parents and a brother. He has one sister and one brother left. If his wife returned once to Argentina in 2016, he also did not set foot in his native country.

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