Rio For Gringos (in rusty english) – Part I

Although Rio de Janeiro is famous around the world as a touristic city, I feel a considerable lack of tourist oriented information at the airports and a lack of care for the main tourist attractions. So, sometimes I got a little bit ashamed for that. Our city should provide help for foreign tourists in at least four different languages! In other hand, I don’t believe if there are such a friendly people in the world compared to the Cariocas. Our good people in the streets will really try to help you with any information you need to get around in Rio. But err… only the good people.

Unfortunately Rio, as most major cities, has a lot of crime and corruption and a lot of crooks that hop on in the Carioca friendly fame just to rip off naive tourists. So… well…be careful. If you are an experienced traveler ‘gringo’ and you trust your judgment you could be just fine with a bit of research before travel and a common sense. In other words: If something smells funny, stay away from it.

I decided to write down some useful tips here in a point of view of someone who was born in USA, but spent almost his entire life in Rio (witch kind of explain my rusty English); who love the city, but is the first to cast a stone when it comes to point the city’s problems.


1- Security

1.1. – The Look.

“My complexion she said is much too white”
– Highway 61 Revisited – Bob Dylan

If you’re the real Caucasian type, you are the main target for crooks and criminals. Sorry buddy, but if you’re much too white and you look wealthier than most of Cariocas you’ll be spot from a mile away. I can said that because: a) I’m waaay too white for Rio; b) I got myself a pair of blue eyes; c) I walk with such a cocky body language that people tend to think that I’m the richest spoiled young child of the city. But how I survived for so long?

First I developed instinctive radar for troublemakers. I won’t recommend that to travelers because there’s no point in go to Rio and be stressed with possible attempts of robbery, but you guys got to be more aware that Rio is not a Disneyland and there’s a lot of poor people that think is a wise-ass goal to con tourists for a lot of money or a little money and a “funny” story to tell.

Now a short story: I spent three months in New Orleans (pre-Katrina), one of the most dangerous cities in the USA, and yes, people tried to scam me and rob me, but only when I was wearing expensive suits. I ran from the robbers and walk away from the con, but what I’ve learn is: Try not to wear a suit in New Orleans. I could go further and say that when you’re new in town, never try to look wealthier than the people who lives there.

If you are interested in this particular camouflage for a safer trip, but I would say to dress plain and simple most of the times. Look some locals with the same age range and that should give you a hint. Please! Never wear a Hawaiian themed shirt or something brighter and colorful as this. That’s it for the dress code. This is not applied only for tourists, we save our best clothes for special nights only. It became almost a cultural thing in Rio. Less is more.
T-shirt, Jeans and comfortable shoes are the best choices in my opinion.

1.2. – Gringo Behavior

That’s a hard one. For your safety: try to not look amazed or puzzled by any sight that’s new to you but common for the locals when you’re not feeling safe. A poker face and a strong (and false) sense of confidence will help you to blend among the locals and not be spotted for thugs and pickpockets.
I know. It will spoil the fun. Náá! Ok. Forget it!

1.3 – The con and the scams.

Practice your Portuguese, especially the pronunciation of all the places that you want to go. It will be easier when you need to ask for directions and it’ll be safer when you need to give the same information for a cab driver.
Cheap con men sometimes try to talk to me in the streets because I look like a gringo (actually I would say I look Jew, but anyway…). For me it’s easy to get rid of them just saying “Piss off, I live here!” (in Portuguese, off course). But what about you?

Never stop when you hear someone saying something to you in English or any other language but Portuguese. If you the person talking to you is smiling or trying to be nice appealing for friendly gestures and almost singing the words to season his bad accent: avoid it.

If you’re lost or confused in the streets and someone reaches you trying politely to help you without doing the scary pantomime mentioned above, ask for directions or anything you would like to know, but never follow this person anywhere if he asks. What kind of person are you anyway to follow strangers in an unknown third world street?


Go to the Arrival floor, wait outside for anyone who gets to the airport by cab and catch THAT cab. The driver will be pleased, but you could see a possible argumentation with a furious local cab driver (that probably was trying to get you in his cab). Ignore him without fear and if they stand in your way or delay you, simply say “Sorry, I want that taxi!” and nothing more (you could repeat just for fun with a crazy look in your eyes, if you’re twisted like me).
Why this trouble? Airport cabs will try to rip you off and even if you got a lot of money, do it for the fun.

Get the express shuttle bus to Santos Dumont Airport. This airport is right next to Downtown and about 5 minutes from Copacabana by cab. But if you feel brave enough you could just ask for directions and try to get a bus. I would not recommend it after dark.

1.4.: The Areas

Most of the crimes in Rio actually can be avoided with common sense and fast thinking. Stay away from scary places and scary people. Well… most of people in the world do that thing, because it makes sense.
Going to the favelas could be very exotic if you like poverty and danger. A favela it’s not a cool place to visit. Most of it got a nice view up there on the hill, but it’s not worthy.

Most of tourists tend to stay in Zona Sul (south area), where… things are nicer. You probably should do it the same. Not just because it’s cleaner or nicer, or because they got the best restaurants, most of the main touristic sights, famous beaches and thousands of hotels. Not because it’s safer. You should do it because I live there and I’m telling you so! Heh

Well… There are a few places that you probably want to go if you’re interested in Brazilian root music, museums and expositions and that’s ok.

6 Comments so far

  1. Marcelo (unregistered) on September 14th, 2006 @ 3:58 am

    Thanks, Nix.

  2. letícia (unregistered) on September 14th, 2006 @ 11:03 am

    vou mandar meus amigos gringos lerem.

    cara, sempre tive dificuldade de falar “unfortunately”.

    Most of the crimes in Rio actually can be avoided with common sense and fast thinking.


  3. Flavia (unregistered) on September 14th, 2006 @ 1:38 pm

    Leticia, pode trocar “unfortunately” por “unfortch”, tanto na linguagem falada como escrita :)

  4. letícia (unregistered) on September 14th, 2006 @ 2:14 pm

    gente…. hahahaha, piorou!

    unfortch! unfortch!

  5. Nuno Virgílio (unregistered) on September 14th, 2006 @ 2:29 pm

    Num falei que era artigo fino?

  6. Liliane Buainain (unregistered) on September 20th, 2006 @ 4:20 pm

    Estou fazendo uma pesquisa sobre estrangeiros no Rio de Janeiro, voce poderia responder um questionario?

Terms of use | Privacy Policy | Content: Creative Commons | Site and Design © 2009 | Metroblogging ® and Metblogs ® are registered trademarks of Bode Media, Inc.