By Hakan Almerfors, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – All guide books on Rio de Janeiro strongly suggest that tourists blend in to avoid problems. Phrases like “when in Rome” or “imitate the locals” urge visitors to change their behavior accordingly. The reason is humanistic in nature, as travelers to a city as culturally-specific as Rio can avoid known hazards by adding a touch of local flavor to their daily routines. Here’s a crash course in Carioca norms to get you started.
Clothing: Although tourists are generally met with respect, there are elements in Rio society with less than honorable attitudes towards foreigners. The easiest way to tell that someone is not from Rio is observing what they wear and when they wear it. By checking out the locals some unspoken rules will become rather obvious.
– The Havaiana flip-flop is strictly beach wear and is never worn in public at night, unless you are a bum.
– Football jerseys are worn on game day only.
– Beach fashion is something proper, bermudas, speedos (called ‘sungas’) and bikinis are ok, hiking boots and cargo pants are not.
– To a nightclub the dress code is smart, while to the corner bar simple.
– Jewelry and expensive watches are best left at home.
– A plastic bag from the supermarket should not be used to transport things other than food.
Getting Around: Avoid all empty places, be that walking a deserted street or catching an empty bus. After dark most Cariocas avoid public transport and share the reasonably priced taxis. The neighborhood Centro is a good example on how it can be: During shop hours Monday to Saturday it is a perfectly safe place, while at all other times it is deserted and one of the easiest places to get robbed. Empty = dangerous!
Respect: The best tool in Rio is a big smile and patience. When bumping into someone in the street (which happens often) the right attitude is to smile and say “Perdão”. Showing the least bit of temper can start a heated argument. It might be hard to control one’s temper when ordering food in a restaurant seems impossible, but losing it does not help matters.
What Tourists Do: There are a few things that you would never catch a Carioca doing:
– Carrying and drinking from big water bottles. It is comparable to lugging around 2 liter soft drink bottles where you are from. It is just not done.
– Openly showing big denominations of money. Cariocas carry change and are careful not to display anything bigger than a R$20 bill.
– Swimming at night. Aside from the fact that there are no lifeguards, the beach is deserted and dangerous (see above).
Following this advice will not guarantee perfect safety, but surely it will make you less of a target. The choice is yours.
Hakan Almerfors is Swedish and has been living in Rio de Janeiro since 2003. He has been working with tourists ever since, and in 2007 he created the Rio travel information site Gringo-Rio.com