Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Foreigner in Disguise

Vendors are overcharging me and I'm really starting to get offended. You see, I live here. I speak your freaking confusing language.  I know the game. Do not try to play me!

It is not helping that I'm with my Super Gringa Mother. She is adorable with her white skin, blonde hair, and super duper blue eyes. You just want to pinch her cheeks and then grab her butt, she's so darn cute.

But there's a price to this cuteness.

It first started at the Hippie Fair in Ipanema. I know the Hippie Fair is quickly becoming a tourist trap these days. It's sad to see it get to this point, not that it ever was the place to get a particularly fair price on anything.  But this incidence was insulting.

Mom and I were looking at a dress she thought was cute when a guy came up and mumbled "R$95."  I looked at him and asked "for what?" I was honestly confused. He stated "for that" and nodded towards the dress.

I just looked at him. I'm sorry, I've yet to see a Hippie Fair dress actually worth anything near that, thank you very much.  I smiled and told him "No thank you." FYI, this entire transaction, or lack there of, happened in Portuguese.

Then he did the most insulting thing, he called me cheap! He called me cheap and knew I would understand!

That's when I busted out a kick to his head!  No, not really. I'm a pacifist and too uncoordinated so I walked away.

You see, my husband taught me early on not to get into arguments on the street, especially with men. The argumentative American did not like this advice but I am in a different country. Sadly, it stuck with me, even in situations where I could totally call the guy an ass and have it be within my right.  But there was no point. This ass had made up his mind about me. I was some stupid, rich Gringa. Bummer he's wrong about the rich part...

The next incident happen right in my neighborhood.  My 2 yr old asked for popcorn so I got some from a vendor next to the metro station.  No biggie. As I went to pay I had a momentary laps in memory and asked "R$1 right?" In Laranjeiras, that's how much a small bag of popcorn costs. At least it did 7 weeks ago before my trip. She hesitated and then said R$2.

You know, I expect this kind of treatment at the Hippie Fair but not in my neighborhood.  I looked at her, in front of her two little friends, and asked "Is this that price for Gringas or has the price for everyone gone up?" Her friends laughed in her face. She held back a smile and said "Everyone of course."

What could I do? I'm a pain in the ass but I wasn't about to rip the popcorn out of my 2 yr olds mouth over R$1.

But this does make a girl ask, what is happening to my city?!  I really used to feel that Brazilians were equal opportunity opportunists. The overcharged everyone, not just the foreigners. That was, of course, unless you were at a Gringa ripoff point like the shops near the trolley in Santa Teresa.

But Largo do Machado! Do we no longer have our messed up little standards?! I fear for the times before the Olympics. I'm going to have to work on my accents and declare that I'm from Florianopolis or something.

That's it, this Gringa is going undercover! Oh the insanity.


  1. Luiz gets frustrated with me when I ask him to ask the price of something. He knows I can do it myself and he's tired of the total dependency thing. (me too) But I often get the gringo price.

    One time in Arraial d'Juda the merchant started arguing with Luiz that he should be helping him cheat me out of an extra few reais, Brazileiro brotherhood and all. Luiz blew a gasket.

  2. sad. but i felt like that when i was in Rio (for the whole three days) it was insane! there are zero foreigners in the city i live (i suppose a few uruguayans and the like) but as far as "gringos" go--they dont exist. so usually i am just taken for an out-of-place brazilian until i open my mouth. but when i was in Rio, dear god before i even opened my mouth people were speaking to me in English! and to my husband, who (most offended i have ever seen him) almost had a heart attack when someone said "hi my amigo americano!" i thought he would kill him...he went on to grumble "just because i am standing next to you miss gringa stamp on her forhead!!" geeeese thanks :P the next day he wore a SP jersey which was yet worse....anyways. the only time i get angry about the gringa thing is when people overhear me talking to henrique in like the grocery or something and they try to get and say excuse me! in english like i dont understand or something. when we go into shops (or talk to realators!!) i say please only speak to me in portuguese! if i dont understand i will nod anyway, just dont let them know! i feel like i get bad waiter service if they hear me speak english :P

    so glad you asked the lady about the popcorn...way to stick it!! but well, if some guy called me cheap on the street there is no way i could just walk away, i would be squeeling. bravo you!

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  4. Hi Rachel,

    Sorry if you felt overcharged by the sellers in Rio, but I believe you're not right.
    Everyone knows that since long time ago the Hyppie Fair is not longer a cheap place, it became chic and cool.
    Last time I paid 90 real for a normal skirt and it was NOT a dress. So I do not know honestly what are you complaining about, doesn't make any sense at all, sorry but it's 100% true.

    About the popcorn case, I've moved to Rio 9 years ago and in ZONA SUL
    I NEVER FOUND OR BOUGHT a popcorn for less than R$ 1,50 almost in all Zona Sul we pay 3 real for a regular popcorn, so I think now 2 real became a great bargain. EVEN in my hometown CUIABA pay R$ 2 for a popcorn !
    I think instead of complain about things that you are not 100% sure, how about if you ask brazilians how much do they pay for a popcorn ?!
    Ok, maybe you didn't have some more interesting idea or subject to write about, what a pity....

    A week ago, an american friend, ask me to buy him a fan, I bought it and paid R$ 100, he asked me the ticket cuz thought I was lying the price, of course I shown him, he got so shocked, saying: "Oh my Gosh I pay for the same fan in US 20 dollars" and I said back: "Yeah but you should know that you're in Brazil, not in US"

    Have you been before to INDIA, EGIPT, TUNIS or MOROCCO ??? I think you should visit those countries then you'll have a good reason to an article about overcharging !

    Best regards,
    Suzana Nishiyama

  5. I like when everyone you know tries to get you something they are currently selling. Even if the product sucks I am expected to buy it. It's almost like I cannot make an educated decision or even be frugal. I often find out that people are appalled that I don't have a maid 5 days a week or cannot afford a car. Honestly, I hate always getting mistaken for someone rich. Somehow not being Brazilian makes people think we have money. We don't. We have to save like everyone else.


  6. Here, here, Sara. I second that! Luiz and I live on two very part time (feast or famine) jobs (at Brazilian wages), plus our savings (what's left of it after Wall Street f**ked us over). It's pretty lean, but our friends and others just assume it's all peaches and cream.

    I don't mind being misunderstood, but excuse me if I can't keep up with everyone...

  7. Festa de Crianca, I'm sorry but you are wrong. I went to the guy I normally go to and it's R$1. I pay R$1 for a churro an R$1 for the small bag of popcorn. It's small.

    And I'm not complaining about the price. I'm complaining that they are trying to charge a foreigner more. As a Brazilian, you would not be in that situation. When you are a foreigner in Brazil, come talk to me.

    As for Feira hippie, seems that Brazilians sometimes pay too much too. That is, unless, you got one hell of a skirt. Better to go to a shop or the mall for clothes.

  8. I think Brazil is expensive for everyone....
    In MY opinion you were not being rip off because you didnt look brazilian.
    Unfortunately is "normal" that a 20 USD fan costs 100 reais , a 19K USD car costs 120.000 reais , etc... The prices in Brazil for perfumes , toys, TVs etc are ridiculously expensive!!
    In the south of brazil a small popcorn would normally cost about 2 reais or 3 if its a bigger size or sweet popcorn. And at the beach milho verde costs around 2 reais , churros 2.5 reais and coconut 4 reais!

    Although I would say that in general brazilians tend to think that foreigners are rich and could pay more for an item.

  9. 100% right Rachel... The first years in Rio where the same for me. About everywhere prices changed or 'mistakes' happened with the bills when going for drinks or dinner. It still happens, but less then before as I go the language & accent under control = the proof that it's all about being gringo or a local... As soon however some foreign friends join, I get reminded fast enough on my first years in Rio :)

    @Suzana: the countries you mention are typical countries where both tourists & locals do the game of bargaining. Don't tell me Brazilians want me to start doing that also for a popcorn?


  10. I was overcharged on honey and I felt assaulted. It was after 14 months of being here. Yeah not your 8 or 9 nine years. But he definitely gringa priced me.

    Sometimes, I day dream about seeing him again. I plan out everything I would say to him in my head. In reality, I think your right Rachel. I shouldn´t fight in the street.

  11. This all conversation is so funny, because my ex boyfriend, which was from Germany, lived in Rio for 6 years, never complained abt this issue and he looks like a very typical gringo, blond and blue eyes...
    Anyway I think this type of things happens everywhere, I'm not just talking about INDIA, MOROCCO, TUNIS OR EGIPT, when I was in Paris in 2 restaurants they almost forced me to pay some unknown fee/tax that I never heard before! It's wise to not generalize, it's a stuff that is pretty common in every big city.
    Please when you find a perfect place to live, let me know, cuz as far I have travelled, I still didn't find this wonderland.


  12. I so understand what you're talking about Rachel. Sure, when you go to the touristy places and don't look Brasilian, that's to be expected, but the normal, day-to-day that you're used to, that's something else and I always take it personally and get pissed off!

    Recent example, I have been having to use the services of an internet/copy cafe place since our printer broke and we haven't yet replaced it. I have used them twice during the past few months, first time the price per page to print wasR$1.00 (robbery, but what can you do?). Last time, I go in, print out 30 pages and the guy says R$45.00. I was like "what?" and said he must be mistaken, but NO, the price went up to $1.50 per page. Was it me? Or did the place really up their rates? I won't know since they don't advertize this but what I can say is that I felt ripped off and won't be returning. Lesson, always verify the price first, even if you've been there before.

    Popcorn, who knows? They did up the price of Globo Biscoito on the beach this year so maybe the pipoca vendors are following suit. It's one of those things...what is the core reason for this ripoff? We always hope it's not our gringoness = )

  13. Jesus, Mary and Joseph,

    Who would think a simple popcorn comment would turn into the "Circumcision" type controversy???



  14. Suzy,

    Please relax, Rachel is NOT bashing Rio or Brazil for that matter. Just for the record, I have seen her making love declarations to Rio and Brazil more than once, she left her family and culture behind to be there, she is very happy in Brazil, that doesn't mean she will have to close her eyes to the crap that you, Rachel and I know very well it happens often...
    If you read her blog regularly you would totally understand her post...which you completely missed the point by the way...
    Take it easy, take some time and read Rachel's great blog a little more and you will understand what I am trying to tell you...

    Peace out



  15. Don't pretend your from the South of Brazil in Rio. The South= money as well. Plus most people know the accent.

    Pretend you are from Manaus. Most people don't know anyone from there so they don't watch for the accent (or lack of one from the south). When they say they thought everyone up there was Indians, remind them that the English rubber trappers dominated up there before going bust. Talk about the river and the opera house and how you always saw Rio on tv and are glad you are finally there. If they believe you, they'll feel bad from you since everyone from the north must be poor and you won't get ripped off at all, they might even shave off a few extra cents out of pitty.

  16. Lol, Manaus it is! And Suzy, I hear you. I never have an issue, which is why I'm bitching. :)

    As for stuff that is cheaper in the states, I think it's a whole different post. That's just taxes and mark ups. It's a bitch to have things shipped here to sell...

    Awww Ray, you are such a sweetheart! My virtual knight in shining armor!

  17. I feel your pain. I used to ask my best friend and husband to bargain for me before I bought anything when I lived in Manaus. I could never get over how little they paid for everything. My best friend told me it's because she knows the real value of everything. My husband's just good. He paid almost 1/2 of what I did on a taxi when we met in Rio a few years ago, and my Portuguese is pretty damn good (even though I do look very "American").

  18. On one hand, it is good to see the free market at work. On the other hand, it sucks to be the target of exploitation. Remember, you can always just say "no" to the offer - it is a two way street.

    My wife and cunhados always make fun of me because whenever we go to the beach or shopping in Centro, I will usually get charged the "tarifa de gringo" for things. I almost always let them do the buying for economy's sake. I can do it on my own but it might cost more.

    Sometimes, the situation here works in the other direction. My wife and I still frequent a barraca in Ipanema that we have been going to since before we were married. Renting two chairs, an umbrella, sodas for the kids and many beers for us for the whole day never seems to go over 20 Reais with the guy (thanks Pele!).

    Hey, don't get mad...just enjoy your life here.

  19. You can bargain with most of the street vendors. If it doesn't work, move on as Greg mentioned. As for taxes, if we want free health care, free education; well there is a price to pay for it. Or we can have the US way where everybody goes broke.

  20. Oh yes, it may happen when visiting Brazil accompanied by hubby that street vendors do ask some more for coconut water, pop corn etc. But I have to say we were charged 15 euros for a regular bottle of mineral water after a very average dinner (menu du jour) in a popular restaurant street in Brussels. My husband said it is just like that, in touristical areas they charge one item absurdly much too much. It was the only occasion that it happened to us during over a decade of travels.

  21. I've been very lucky that, here in my small town, people are so shocked to see a foreigner that they don't even stop to think about charging more. Their curiosity gets the best of them and they just start bombarding me with questions about my personal life. So I guess you can say that the "gringo price" for me is the regular price + an interview.

    As I mentioned in the past, however, I had huge problems with being overcharged in Argentina. Maybe that's something that'll make everyone agree in this comment board? Eh? Eh? Boo Argentina?

  22. I think Suzy is right is happens everywhere to immigrants. Which is what we are and is why we are talking about it. I think we all know that Brazilians have been overcharged before in our home countries.

    I live in a small city of 80,000 and the guy tried charging me 50 reais for honey! I talked him down to 20 for another type. Why, did I bother? My father was with me and wanted to taste homemade honey from Brazil. How can I do that to my dad?

    People who are Brazilian or native to the area pay high prices. Brazil is not cheap, so just imagine being charged more.

  23. I only had one small experience with this. On the beach in Ipanema, I heard a vendor tell a Brazilian guy my age that a Skol was R$1 and he bought it. Then I signaled and the vendor came over and I said I wanted a Skol and he said R$2. While I didn't argue over what was 50 cents to me, I repeated the price back to him and gave him a look...still paid R$2.

    I also heard a story from a light-skinned Brazilian friend who knew some English and German so he went to the ZS and pretended to have a German accent and the vendor tried to charge him double for something basic...at which point he broke out his Portuguese and told the vendor he was an ass.

  24. I've gotten the gringo price big time whenever I've traveled/lived outside the US.

    Here in Rio, a fruit vendor at the weekly market tried to sell me a small handful of grapes for R$15. I laughed with ridicule in his face and walked away. He chased after me trying to offer a "better price" but it was too late. Now at the markets I only buy from the vendors that clearly list their prices.

    In Sicily (Italy), I was consistently ripped off whenever my Italian husband and I would go to a particular cafe. I would order a small pastry and get the gringo price (and no receipt) and the next day my husband would order the same exact pastry and pay the "correct" price and get a receipt.

    In India, well, the stories are endless!

  25. He he he yea, I've seen that too. I was recently walking along Ipanema beach along the sidewalk kiosks. I passed one, saw the price sign "refrigerantes - R$3.50". Passed another, saw the same price. Passed another, saw the same price. I got thirsty, and when I came to another kiosk, it has no prices displayed, and the woman tried to charge me R$ 4 for a coca zero. I said (in portuguese) "Four reis? really? No." and handed her the can back. Then I said "all the other kiosks charge 3.50 - are you charging me 4 because I am a gringo?" He he he anyway, she gave me the soda for the 3.50 but claimed that 4 was the real price. Of course she was lying...I know it's not much, but sometimes it really annoys me. I try to stick to places where I know the price, or have prices clearly posted.

  26. I know it'a an old post but I couldn't resist to make my contribution to these firy issue...one my friends here in London is from Parana' and dark skinned, so she looks nothing like a gringa. She's moved to Rio less than a year ago bcs she got married to a carioca, and on the phone one of the very first things she commented on was that whenever street vendors, cab drivers, internet cafe employess etc, spotted her accent, obviously quite different to the local one even though not foreign, overcharged her "sem vergonha na cara". Now, whenever we talk on the phone we always joke and ask her if the price of the coxinha has gone done yet...