Brazilian cabdrivers learning “please” and “thank you” before 2016 Olympics

Brazilians don't want rude cabbies to scare off American tourists

By Nicholas Nehamas

Taxis in Rio are notorious for treating foreigners badly. The Brazilian soccer star Ronaldo (center) probably gets better service. (Reuters)

As London prepares to open the Olympics on Friday, Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro is already gearing up for when it hosts the games in 2016.

Key to those efforts is training the city’s notoriously rude taxi drivers to be nicer to Americans and other English-speaking visitors, says a report in The Rio Times.

Many cabbies in the picturesque city drive dangerously, don’t keep their cars clean and are rude to passengers. Worst of all for a city that welcomed 1.49 million tourists in 2010 — many of them from the U.S., Australia and the UK — few taxi drivers speak English.

That’s a big problem as the city gears up to host World Cup matches in 2014 and the Olympics two years later. Brazil’s lack of English speakers is already vexing the South American country. The Rio Times reports that 74 percent of Brazilian companies have suffered financial losses because of linguistic barriers. (Talk about lost in translation!)

Now a company called Meritus Partners is offering an English class to Rio’s cabbies. “Hey Taxi” is already a success, says one of its founders, Ana Biavatti, speaking to the newspaper. “The [drivers] hope that if they offer a good service to a tourist during their stay, they will always call the same cab driver,” she says. “And if they offer a good service to expats who live here, they hope to be called again and promoted in the expat network.”

“Hey Taxi” is one improvement among many as Rio gets ready for its time in the international spotlight. Some are more controversial than others: in order to make room for stadiums and other infrastructure, the city is forcing many of its poorest residents from the desperate shanty-towns, or favelas, they call home.