Brazil: Don't blame it on Rio

Thin-skinned? Loungers enjoy Ipanema Beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

RIO DE JANEIRO – When is a joke not a joke?

When it’s aimed at Brazil.

Brazilians have a well-deserved reputation as easygoing and fun-loving. But not for the first time, locals failed to see the funny side when they were the butt of ironic humor.

The latest villain was Burger King, which launched an ad for cheap meals in Britain with the slogan: “One Way Ticket To Rio Not Necessary.”

The allusion was prices that low are akin to daylight robbery. Robbers, of course, must flee. And where else to run to but to Rio de Janeiro – the go-to city for those seeking to avoid justice in their own country?

The most famous case is English train robber Ronnie Biggs, who became a Rio celebrity after fleeing to the city in 1970. Other high-profile fugitives include Mexican singer Gloria Trevi, who hid out for months in Copacabana to evade police charges she corrupted minors, and Jesse James Hollywood, a US killer on the FBI’s Top 10 Most Wanted List, who was seized in Rio in 2005.

A number of high-profile Italians, including some accused of murder, have also moved there to avoid trials in their homeland. Even the crook in the hit movie “A Fish Called Wanda” escaped to Rio.

However, Brazil’s media failed to get the joke. A well-known PR executive named Washington Olivetti quickly drew up a response. His ad, which appeared in the Rio newspaper O Globo, said: “Blue skies, beaches and happy people. Cariocas [residents of Rio] aren’t thinking about buying a one-way ticket to London.”

Interestingly, though, Mr. Olivetti’s response did not gain much traction with Brazilians. Online commentators on the O Globo website pointed out that London was already home to tens of thousands of legal and illegal Brazilian immigrants who had bought one-way flights.

“No Brazilian is happy seeing an ad like that,” said a message-poster from Edelmar Correa. “But in the face of the facts, no one is going to find plausible arguments to deny the claims.”

This is not the first time Brazilians have taken offense at overseas humor. When the Simpsons visited Rio in a 2002 episode, Homer was kidnapped by a taxi driver, Bart was eaten by a snake, and both were assaulted by street children.

The Rio tourist board threatened to sue the program’s makers, Fox, and the Brazilian government protested.

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.