I'm a New Yorker. In my city I have learned to carry myself a certain way. I don't gape at big buildings. I don't stare people down. I walk purposefully. I cross the street if I see something strange. I don't even think about it and I rarely feel endangered. It just comes naturally. I have had to learn the way to carry myself in Rio in yet a different way over a long time. Don't think that you can learn it in one trip.
When you step off the plane in Rio you are magically converted from a frog to a Prince - two inches taller, three times as wealthy, much sexier and infinitely more interesting. You don't have the lay of the land, and all of this new-found interest in you might be very seductive. The problem is that all good things have a flip-side and Princes can be converted back to frogs in an instant. Try to bear this in mind.
Here are some of the best tips that I can give you to stay safe in Rio.
1. Don't bring people you do not know back to your hotel or apartment. If you are staying in a decent hotel, they probably will not permit it anyway. Brazilians will generally not bring people home right away. They will often take their prospective romantic encounters to the little hotels that are all over Rio. These hotels rent by the two hour period and they are common for a reason. The dynamic is this: The hotels are there and used because people live with their families, or are possibly cheating on a spouse, or simply want to get to know someone before trusting them alone in their home AND people don't take other people (man or woman) home right away because the hotels are there, cheap and convenient and they don't have to take them home. Gringos have a hard time relating to this. They think it unromantic and restrictive or an insult to their potential partner to show a lack of trust. Get over it! When in Rio you have to do as the Cariocas (Rio natives) do. Go to our RIO HONEYMOON MOTELS page for a list.
If the love of your life whom you have just met on the beach or in a bar is actually an evil-doing wicked witch bent on turning you back into a frog, she or he can find a way of doing it. You may be 6'5" and they may be 5'5" and they can still find a way if there is enough around to make it worth their while. You will not be protected by a safe, or by the fact that your friends will be following you home shortly. The hard core schemer knows ways around this. (We'll talk about avoiding Rio's famous sleeping potions, yes - sleeping potions, in hint #2.) In your hotel or apartment they know that know that there will be passports and credit cards, cash and cameras, laptops and palm computing devices, video cameras and travelers checks. The value of your stuff can solve a lot of problems for a prostitute or a hustler. In a little hotel, they know that there will nothing more than the few dollars, pounds or euros in your pocket. That reduces the scheming factor enormously.
Now, I'm beating a dead horse here. If you don't get it by now, you probably have to run into some crime in order to learn it. If you buy into what's I've said, click on the link above. (Now, naturally, I wouldn't have first hand experience in this :).
2. Boa Noite Cinderella (literally, "Good Night Cinderella") is not a fairy tale. Two of my friends have gotten it. It is the name of a strong sleeping potion that can be put into your drink or your food and has been given in candy as well. It can put you out for as much as 48 hours and, on rare occasion, has done worse than that. If you are given it, it will provide limitless access to your possessions to strangers. Watch your drink in a bar (when you go to the bathroom, casually take your drink with you and don't be afraid that you will be showing distrust - if they can't take it, there is someone else around the corner) or at home, if you are foolish enough to bring strangers home after reading my relentless finger-wagging tip above. Don't accept candy from strangers (seriously) and don't flash your money.
3. Stay below the radar screen to fly safely. You may feel like a star in Rio what with all of the attention that your hard currency will bring you, but don't act like one. Be cagey - don't discuss where you are staying, particularly if it is a fairly expensive place. Don't try to impress anyone. You are not an investment banker, you are a bus driver. You don't own your apartment, you rent it. You are not staying at the Cesar Park or the Meridien, you are sharing a room in Botafogo with a friend. If you want to be honest and not come up with a poor slob story then simply don't discuss anything that might indicate you are financially well-fixed. And guys, don't sit at a sidewalk cafe with a big bottle of Johnney Walker Black on the table to impress the ladies. You don't have to. Get it?
4. In Rio, take taxis at night, even for relatively short distances. Sure, you can stroll on the main drag when there are many people out walking, but otherwise, hail a cab, or, if in a restaurant, ask the host or hostess to call one for you. It's not a big deal....taxis are among the cheapest of any world class city.
5. Don't wear jewelry. When going out, bring a cheap watch with you and perhaps 100 reals more than you think you will need and a credit card. It's rare that you will be approached by a bad guy, but if you are, just turn it all over. You don't have to make the world safe for democracy, show that you are not afraid, prove your masculinity. All you have to do is TURN IT ALL OVER!! The bad guy may have a couple of others waiting in the wings (probably does actually) so don't think that you are in a position to assess the situation and fight it off. They are going to get caught pretty soon and spend a few years in a Brazilian jail. Nothing you could possibly do to them could possibly be worse.