It’s true, Rio de Janeiro is a dangerous city, but it is not as dangerous as some make it out to be. I think that I need to admit that I have been mugged in Rio, and many of my expat and Brazilian friends have been mugged there too. In this post I will explain what it feels like to get mugged and how to avoid being mugged, so you can go on to live a happy and safe life in your new location.
I got mugged on a beautiful Friday night. Warm with a nice breeze, the weather was perfect. My husband got off work, and we decided to go to our favorite Bruschetta place, Prima, to share a bottle of Cava. One bottle turned to two, and before we knew it, we had to head off to our dinner party. It seemed like a crime not to walk to our destination since it was such a lovely night. Tempted to walk along the beach, we knew better because we heard stories about gringos getting mugged along the beachside at night. We took the main street down, crossed the bridge from Leblon to Ipanema and turned down the street that would lead us to our destination, or so we thought.
We turned onto the Av. Vieira Souto, which is the street where the beach is, but we were still two blocks away from our destination! Thanks a lot, Google Maps. My gut told me that we should go back and go down the right street just to be safe, but the two bottles of Cave told me that it was just two blocks and that we would be fine. We started casually walking down the street laughing when all of a sudden two children were feeling my pockets. I thought that they were begging for money, so I simply told them that I did not have any. My thought process was, “Okay, they just want money. They sure are aggressive for beggars… OH, they had knives. WHY ARE THEY JABBING AT ME? What do they want? Okay, phone. Phone it is. Here is my phone. Go on now. GO.” I gave them my phone, and they moved to my husband, who held a bag in front of him and said, “No Telefone.” A doorman from a building came out and scared the two kids away before they took my husbands phone. It was over. We, I mean, I had been mugged. The only thing left to do at that point was to go to our dinner party and drink until getting robbed by a 10-year-old was funny.
I hope that you will never be mugged, but give them whatever they ask for if you do find yourself being mugged. There is nothing you own worth getting hurt over. The only friends of mine who have been hurt were the ones who fought back. DO NOT FIGHT BACK. The reason they send children to mug you is that they cannot be held in prison. You never know who is watching and if there are more of their older friends ready to jump in.
Here a few things that you can do to avoid getting mugged.
1. Don’t wear jewelry or flashy items. If an item holds any real or emotional value to you, don’t take it out of your house. A distraught Australian woman asked me at the police station if I thought there was any hope of the police finding her irreplaceable earrings. I almost giggled, as I told her no, which did not seem to please her at all. Most people wear their wedding bands, but I would not wear a big diamond ring if you are lucky enough to have one. Don't wear anything dangly that is gold or silver colored. Thay will take it whether it is fake or not.
2. Keep an eye on your things at the beach: Make sure that all of your items are in front of you and that you can see them at all times. I had a friend who hung her phone, cash, and credit cards off the side of her chair and sure enough, her things were gone within the hour. It is not just strangers who will take your things at the beach; it is the vendors too, so be careful of where you put your things. However, you will be asked to watch other people’s items all the time. As a gringo, you are somehow trustworthy and usually, Brazilians first to look after their things while they go into the water. Leaving your things with other people is your judgment call.
3. DO NOT WALK ON THE BEACH AT NIGHT. It is okay when the sun first goes down because the streets are full of people, and there is a ton of traffic, but around 20:00 is when it starts to get a little bit iffy. A good rule of thumb is, if it’s dark and no one is around, you should probably go there. It is okay to go to a kiosk along the beach at night if you are with a group of friends, but still make sure there are no dangling bags of the sides of chairs.
4. Don’t put your phone or wallet on the table. Someone can run by ant any time and grab and run off with it. The waiters in Rio are really good at telling you to put your things away and scaring off unwelcome company.
5. Avoid tunnels. You will not run into many tunnels that you will walk through in Rio, except one. There is one that will take you from Copacabana to Rio Sul, which is a huge shopping mall and office building that holds many Norwegian companies and the Norwegian Consulate. I would advise you never to walk through this tunnel. It is not very long, but it is very dangerous. Many people have mugged in this tunnel, and I have a friend who was assaulted.
6. Women should never take cabs alone at night. Brazil does have a chauvinistic culture, so a woman arguing with a chauvinistic driver in any way can lead to major confrontation. Many of my female friends have had very bad and even creepy experiences with their cab drivers.
The main piece of advice that I can give you is never to
feel too comfortable in Rio. Most stories about a gringo getting mugged have
one thing in common, and that is that they have felt too at home in Rio de Janeiro. It is important to remember that you are not
in Norway any longer, and there are many people ready to take advantage of you
if allowed the opportunity. You are a
gringo. You look like a gringo. You
indirectly act like a gringo. Remember this and always be aware, always keep an
eye open, always keep your guard up.
Annnnnnnnd maybe not get super drunk.
Written by Nicholas Williams, blog columnist at Culturas. American citizen with a Master in International Marketing Management, Nicholas worked in Rio de Janeiro for four years and is currently living in Oslo.