If there is one piece of advice we could give to every tourist visiting Rio de Janeiro, it is this simple maxim: Don’t be a gringo.
This might seem a tricky prospect to pull off, given that literally anyone from outside of Brazil is referred to by locals as a ‘gringo’ (with the exception of fellow South Americans, who Brazilians will playfully/insultingly call ‘cucarachas’, or cockroaches).
So how do you avoid being a gringo, if by definition that’s what you are?
The trick is to try to blend in as much as possible. Cariocas, residents of Rio de Janeiro, are all about being cool. To be seen as anything less than cool just doesn’t wash. And that’s why most gringos are met with muttered comments and rolling eyes. They’re just not cool.
Brazilians come in every color, so being fair or having a certain hair or eye color doesn’t always mark you out as a foreigner. Instead, it’ll be one of the many ‘gringo giveaways’, things that locals just don’t do.
If you can avoid doing the following, you might be able to pass for a Brazilian – until your lack of Portuguese gives you away!
The Gringo Giveaways
• Wearing any other flip flops or sandals than Havaianas. T-bar sandals, those jungle trekking adventure sandals or flip flops with the big thick bar across the foot might as well be a huge sign over your head saying “I AM NOT FROM HERE”.
• Wearing said flip flops everywhere, including to restaurants. Yes, Cariocas dress casually but nobody wants to see your nasty toenails when they’re eating. Remember, flip flops by day, shoes by night.
• Cargo pants. Although these are slowly creeping into fashion here, local men still mostly wear board shorts. Bermuda shorts with multiple pockets on the sides scream foreigner, or worse, “I am carrying lots of valuables, please mug me”.
• The use of fanny packs, man bags (the satchel defence does not work here) or any kind of small piece of luggage other than a traditional rucksack, or maybe a drawstring backpack.
• Sunburn. Oh man, Cariocas love to make fun of people with sunburn. And once you’ve been in Rio a while, you’ll feel the same – there’s nothing quite as funny as seeing someone walking down the street with white sunglasses mark on their face. USE SUN CREAM.
• Public drunkenness. Parties in Rio de Janeiro can get pretty wild, but unlike many other countries you don’t see people getting black-out drunk. Drinking until you pass out and end up in the gutter might seem like a great idea back home, but here it’s the reserve of the homeless. Plus, if you end up that drunk you’ll probably wake up without any clothes or belongings.
In Part 2, we’ll give you some pointers on how to behave in Rio so that people will be genuinely surprised when you reveal you’re not a local!
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