Not so long ago, he was an anonymous retired engineer from Hungary. Today, he travels the world and is recognized in the streets of São Paulo and Montreal. La Presse met András Arató, who became famous thanks to the magic of the web.

Andras Arato? Who ? If you don’t know his name, you’ll probably recognize his face.

He is the man behind one of the web’s most popular memes. A retired electrical engineer from Budapest who became an internet sensation a decade ago.

Earlier this week, he posed in front of the giant downtown ring, flashing a tight smile – his signature. The photo quickly went viral on social media. Even Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante commented on the Facebook post, welcoming her.

We caught him hours before his flight back to Hungary. The septuagenarian was shooting an advertisement in Montreal, the reason for his visit. Just last week he was in Amsterdam for another contract.

András Arató is a man in great demand. About ten years ago, it became popular around the world, and it did so completely by accident.

It all started during a trip to Turkey to celebrate his retirement. A photographer who had come across his travel photos online approached him. “He was looking for a role model like me and invited me to give it a try. In the end, he liked the result and called me back several times,” says Mr. Arató.

The photos were sold to image banks for commercial use. The septuagenarian posed in a costume of a doctor, a professor or even a handyman.

To his dismay, the pensioner had become a meme. A group of American teenagers who had unearthed the images were amused by the frozen expression of this old man who seemed to hide his pain behind a forced smile. They superimposed short humorous texts on the images, giving rise to the famous “Hide the pain, Harold” meme.

The septuagenarian was stunned. And offended. “Some of the memes were rude, even disgusting. Some were funny, but not all of them,” he says.

He wanted to erase everything, but it was already too late. The machine was launched. “I thought at first that people would forget, but it didn’t happen,” he says.

It took him five years to accept his new notoriety. If he couldn’t stop it, he could at least enjoy it. In 2017, he created a Facebook page, which has more than 750,000 subscribers. And today, he travels the world! “Partly for commercials and partly for festivals,” he explains.

Wherever he is, he is recognized in the street. “It happens every day. Wherever I am. At home, in Budapest, Montreal, Moscow or São Paulo. It’s always the same,” he said.

He is regularly asked to take a selfie with fans. “I never say no because I see the joy it brings to people. I make them happy for the day! he exclaims.

In front of our photographer’s camera, András Arató is like a fish in water. Between takes, he gives a thumbs up, like the popular meme.

So how does he find Montreal? ” I adore ! he exclaims. “It’s very European. I almost feel at home here,” he continues.

Getting noticed by the mayor was not on her list, however. ” I’m proud of it ! Even the mayor of Budapest has never commented on my posts…”, he laughs.

For those who are wondering, the tense expression that we know him is simply the result of several hours of smiling in front of the camera. In person, her smile is genuinely sincere. “I don’t consider myself a sad man!” “, he launches.