Why we didn’t like Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

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I expected Brazilians to be like those friendly, beautiful people you see in the travel ads.

My first upfront experience with a Brazilian was at the airport when I was taking my backpack off the luggage carrousel. I suddenly felt a whack on the back of my heel. Too pre-occupied to turn around, I felt a second, harder whack. I turn around to see this Brazilian woman – she had hit me in the heel with her luggage cart. By the look on her face she was going to hit me again. There was a little girl on the cart, sitting on a pile of suitcases looking at me. The woman was glaring at me and I felt my blood starting to boil. It was only because of the kid, and the fact that Lissette kind of stepped in and helped me with our bags that I didn’t say anything. Oh, and the woman wasn’t hot and didn’t have a thong riding up over tight jeans. She just had that miserable mean look that reminds me of my ex-wife.

We took the taxi into the city, the taxi driver the silent type. Checked into the Sol Ipanema, one of Rio’s most expensive hotels (Lissette was worried about safety so I had decided to splurge while in Rio). Service at front desk was cold and distant and I wondered if they were judging us because of the backpacks.

We got in our swimsuits and went up to the rooftop swimming pool. Just a gorgeous view of Rio. They had a bartender up there who came up to us. Within 5 seconds he had given me a dismissive glance while at the same time fixating his eyes on Lissette’s cleavage. My blood started to boil again. This was a clear violation of the guy code. You don’t blatently stare at a girlfriend’s/wife’s boobs right in front of a guy, that’s disrespect of the highest order. Especially when you’re paying $260/night to stay in their hotel. I got my revenge back when he delivered the drinks, smiling up at him while giving him the smallest tip in history. Motherfucker.

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Above left: Ipanema beach                             Above right: views from Sugar Loaf

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Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (5)Above photos: Ipanema beach
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The next couple of days seemed to be a repetition of a similar pattern. Anywhere we went people wouldn’t return my smile and would direct conversation at Lissette. I would be like “Hi” and they would respond with “hello” while looking right at Lissette. It was as if I was the guy who had just walked into the room and farted up the joint. What the hell? Even Lissette would laugh about it. Maybe I was too white? I don’t know.

Rio is a visually stunning city with its hills, beach and ocean. The views from Sugar Loaf and Corcovado are amazing. We never however got to “like” the city. We didn’t find the people warm and there was always a tension in the air. A week before our trip there had been a gun battle a few blocks from our hotel and the city was going through a sudden spike in violence. It just didn’t feel safe and we were always very much on our guard. Some people may think that sounds strange considering that we had travelled through Colombia the preceeding year. I can’t explain it, it was just a feeling in the air. We were always looking over our shoulder in Rio.

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Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (8)

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (9)

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Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (12)
Rio is one of a handful of cities that make it on most traveller’s “must see” list. As I said – it IS visually stunning and I’m glad to have seen it with my own eyes. I wasn’t crazy about the place though. We were quite happy to move on after 3 days.

Have you been to Rio? What was your experience?

 

Related: Why I won’t be Going back to Brazil

 

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Comments

  1. How I understand you!
    Being from Portugal, I too had the “cheerful, happy” stereotype of Brazilian people in my mind.. but that was before traveling to Brazil itself. I was a bit disappointed with people’s attitude: being Portuguese I felt like they were still pissed off at me because centuries ago my country men decided to colonize them or something. Not proud of that myself.. but I can’t carry the burden of my country’s history on my 2 shoulders.
    Anyway… not everyone is friendly and definitely not hot either in Brazil. And I guess in places like Rio, being over popular and always full of tourists no matter what, people would care even less. I guess the feeling that the city isn’t safe either doesn’t help, doesn’t help at all!.. Stunning landscapes though. Specially from Corcovado and Sugar Loaf, as you mention.
    Zara @ Backpack ME recently posted…My ParisMy Profile

    • Thank you Zara. I’m sorry that you had a similar experience but it’s good to know that we weren’t the only ones to feel that way. You’re right about the stunning landscapes!

  2. What a shame :( but this is all very good for us to know! We are heading to Brazil next year so thanks for the heads up!
    2wisemonkeys recently posted…our top 10 for turkey captured in photosMy Profile

    • Hope you guys have a great time! Like I’ve said before, maybe we were just unlucky with the circumstances. It is a beautiful spot though.

  3. I am sorry for your bad experience in Brazil. But, as a brazilian, I must say I am not rude, I am not miseducated, I do not atack people no the street.

    I have visit so many countries around the world and I can say that there are good and bad in everywhere corner of this planet. I met smiling people in USA, but even in Hawaii, where I expect to see shining faces no the beach, I had the experience with rude ones.

    Russia, Montenegro, Poland, Sweden, Portugal, Australia… all those places can proporcionate different kind of experiences, depending on who you meet on the right places, on the right time.

    Sorry for my bad English.
    carlosromero recently posted…Deixe a Música Clássica invadir a sua vidaMy Profile

    • Thank you for your comment Carlos, you are the first Brazilian to respond to this. I agree with everything you say, there are good and bad people everywhere. And even us Canadians, who are known to be nice and friendly, can be a cold and uninterested bunch at times. Nobody is perfect. But our trip to Brazil was different because the unfriendliness (towards me) was so obvious. I wrote more about it on the summary of our trip. I spent a lot of time wondering why the people were so unfriendly and I still don’t have a definite conclusion why. If you have any insights it would be helpful.

      As I’ve previously said though; maybe the stars just didn’t align for us in Brazil. I don’t want to be negative towards Brazilians, but at the same time it was the reality of that trip.

      Your English is fine Carlos, but if you feel more comfortable in Spanish (or French) feel free to comment.

      • Hi!
        Sorry to hear you had a bad experience in Rio. It is a stunning city as u said and maybe, while tripping to Rio, we gotta remember what our eyes see is what will remain in our memory. Regardin the people, as a Carioca I may say that Yes, people in Rio do take people at face value.. It seems like after all this economy booming people in Rio (natives and travellers) do feel like they’re travelling to Miami in South America with a Mix of Saint Tropez and Monaco. You stayed at the neighbourhood of rich and famous. Im sorry to say and experience that on my own that people are stuck up nose, fancy, trendy and show off. Maybe if you stayed at low profile places like Flamengo or Botafogo you wouldn’t have experienced that feeling. Hope you come to to Rio and have greater times!

    • frankly most of brazilian guys are bad educated as well. I can count about 90% of south american is.

      • What you are talking about? I have been in USA for 1 year and a half studying and something that i noticed it was the totally disrespectful people who I ever met. In the one year and a helf I made no friends and I tried hard. I was living with a roommate who doesnt even says Good Morning or even Hello. I wish that I never have go back to USA again.

        • Frank (bbqboy) says:

          Hi Lucas. I’m not from the USA so I can’t really comment. They definitely have their own race problems there, coupled with, in some places, complete ignorance of other countries. I can promise you people in Canada are friendly :) .
          But this post was about Brazil. We’ve been to many countries, including a few in the Caribbean and South America, and never felt the people as unfriendly towards us as in Brazil. Why? I often felt that Brazilians, like you, have negative feelings about Americans but don’t differentiate between all white races. You can’t paint everyone with the same brush…

  4. I love your writing style Frank – literally makes me LOL!
    Chelsea recently posted…How to Afford Traveling AbroadMy Profile

  5. I had such a completely different experience in Rio. I loved every moment and my week there didn’t seem long enough! Sorry that it wasn’t so fun for you.
    Cheryl Howard recently posted…Instagramming … Toronto Street Art.My Profile

    • Experiences seem to be all over the place in Rio. I just read another blogger’s story of getting robbed on Copacabana beach by a guy who threatened her with a machete. I guess it can happen anywhere…but I’ve heard enough stories to know that we weren’t the only ones who didn’t feel comfortable with the security issue.

  6. Oh, I so hate it when the reception staff is judgmental. Most of them wouldn’t even afford to stay one night at the hotel they are working at (I don’t intend to be rude here), and yet, instead of making pleasant and friendly hosts, they have this attitude of superiority. I wonder why? It’s even worse when you get the feeling this judgemental attitude came with the job description and everybody has it.
    Laura @Travelocafe recently posted…In the Footsteps of the Surrealists: Drinks with Magritte at Fleur en Papier DoréMy Profile

  7. Sorry for the bad experience, but your writing made the post enjoyable and somehow funny and like Chelsea says, literally want to LOL :)

  8. This is quite an eye opener – definitely not what I imagined Brazil would feel like. Did the atmosphere change after getting out of the big cities or did it feel like this everywhere you went?

  9. Funny how experiences can vary because Rio specifically and Brazil in general were my top destinations in an around the world jaunt. Loved the people, their attitude towards life, the food, the music the nightlife, the fun in general to be had by all, rich and poor.My biggest disappointment was Australia. Could not wait to leave. Maybe it is a reflection of the attitude or body language that we project?

    • I don’t really know, interesting theory though! Australia huh? My ex-boss had the same feeling when he came back from there 5 years ago; found them a bit rough around the edges. I think he called them hicks – didn’t think much of the Aussies. But he recently told me he’s thinking of going back! Maybe we have to give places a 2nd chance? Be interested in your ideas on Australia. Thanks for taking the time to comment Sylvia!

  10. Welcome to Latin America! I am currently living in Colombia and I have guys yell out stuff to my girlfriend all the time as we are walking down the street holding hands.
    Luke recently posted…Candidasa, Indonesia – Travel GuideMy Profile

  11. I reckon the problem wasn’t the Brazilians but your expectation :)
    I’ve been to Brasil, and I have to confessed that I didn’t like people’s attitude neither, however, I met so many friendly folks through out my stay…
    Next time, avoid the hotels, try couchsurfing – U will manage to meet genuine friendly Brazilians.

    • Thanks for the comment Nelvino. At the time we were working full time and had 3 weeks vacation, we were there to relax and couchsurfing not what we wanted to do. We’re also in our 40′s so our old bones looking for a bit more comfort – when I was young I had no problems sleeping anywhere.
      I understand what your saying and there are some nice, welcoming people everywhere. Anyone opening their doors to strangers would I’m sure be very friendly and there’s nothing like being taken around by a local to appreciate a place. Still, that wasn’t our experience and, having travelled many places, we were a bit shocked by the generally unfriendly attitudes. As I had mentioned somewhere else, we had travelled through Colombia the previous year and it couldn’t have been more different.

  12. After three weeks in Rio I can only agree with you. Having lived in Vienna and traveled through Eastern Europe I feel Cariocas are even more unfriendly and rude. I also didn’t feel safe here. The city itself is beautiful but it’s a shame how dirty it is. The smell of urine is also not very inviting…

    • Thank you for the comment Ines! I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy Rio but it’s also a relief to know that we are not the only ones that didn’t enjoy the city. Hope your future travels are more pleasant :)

  13. I am Brazilian and I don’t feel safe when I visit Rio. However, I don’t feel safe in parts of New York and Miami either. New Yorkers are not known for their friendliness but people still visit the city. In Europe, I was robed in Lisbon, Portugal, and find the Portuguese very unfriendly. I don’t think Lisbon is safe, even though everyone says it is. In Brazil, “the gringos” are perceived as cold, arrogant, and unfriendly, especially Americans. Perhaps you have suffered the side effects of how your fellow countrymen have behaved in the past.

    • Actually I’m Canadian, the only thing we do to piss people off is say ‘eh?’ all the time. And you’re basically saying what I said in this post about using “anti-Americanism” as a broader brush against any white traveler.
      But I appreciate your comment, you are right that Brazil is not the only place where people can be unfriendly.

  14. I really appreciate when people are honest about the places they visit and don’t just go on and on about how wonderful everything is. I like to have a heads up about what I could possibly encounter when I visit somewhere. That’s really too bad about the rude people. I’ve been a few places where the people weren’t friendly either and it can put a black cloud over your vacation. Rio looks so beautiful though from your pictures!
    Rhonda Krause recently posted…Schönbrunn Palace and Gardens- History, Photos and Tips for VisitingMy Profile

    • Really appreciate Rhonda! I get flak when I’m negative, but can anyone love everything? They’ll always be places, things or restaurants that appeal to most but which might not appeal to you personally. I think it’s important to be honest about it – it’s not meant to stop anyone from going, but maybe they’ll be more prepared for what they might encounter. I wish I had read something slightly negative about Rio and Brazil in general, I’ve always loved Latin cultures and I think I went there with rose-colored glasses and wasn’t prepared for the negative attitudes I experienced. Anyway, thank you for the comment.

  15. Wow! This is surprising. I’ve always had Rio on my bucket list, but now, not so much. Thanks for your honest review.
    Valen-This Way Paradise recently posted…Two Sacred Sites In Chiang Mai: Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep and Huay Kaew WaterfallMy Profile

  16. Oh interesting to hear this as it’s very high on my list and was looking to go soon. I’ve heard a couple of negative things though but will still go with an open mind :-)

  17. Brazil in fact is a very problematic country for tourists, violence, bad manners, bad transportation, poluted water etc. So if you want make a trip try another country more developed. The real dream of most brazilians is emigrating, most of them can’t because they dont have enough funds for it.

    • Thanks for your input Jonas. Bad education pretty much a constant in much of the developing world, I don’t think it necessarily explains the culture of violence though most of Central/South America though.
      SE Asia for example is comparatively incredibly safe despite poverty and poor education.
      But you’re right that Brazil and most of South America is dangerous, the infrastructure poor, the environment neglected. Too much government corruption? The huge gap between rich and poor? Lack of a social safety net? Drugs? I’d be interested in understanding why South American culture so much more violent than SE Asia when so many issues similar.

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