The automotive executive's wife had let down her guard: while stopped in Sao Paulo traffic, her car's window was slightly open. That was the opening a nearby man needed.
'She had the window 2 inches open and he put a .38 (caliber pistol) right through the window,' said her husband, who agreed to be interviewed if his name was not printed.
The man's hand was shaking as he demanded her valuables and threatened to kill her. She told the man to relax and agreed to give him what he wanted. She was not injured.
'This, by the way, occurred in traffic by a shopping center in midday with people passing by,' the executive said.
The executive and his family moved to the United States three years ago after spending 18 years in brazil for a major automaker. Despite his wife's experience, however, the executive has a nuanced view of expatriate life - and crime - in Sao Paulo.
Perhaps because his family spoke fluent Portuguese, he felt more at home than many foreign executives who only stay a few years, he said. The man, his wife and son have visited Brazil several times since leaving and stay in touch with friends there. 'We learned to love Brazil quite a bit,' he said.
But that love is tempered by realism. Life for expatriates requires much higher security awareness than in the United States or Europe, he said. Precautions become ingrained in behavior.
For instance, the executive said he learned to be guarded about revealing personal information such as his daily routine, family, address or telephone number. He was careful to keep his keys in his possession and vary driving routes to and from work. School officials were under strict instructions to release his son only to him or his wife.
When the executive left for overseas travel, he arranged to be picked up several doors away from his home.
'The taxi would never pick me up in front of my house,' he said. 'I wouldn't tell him where I lived; I would just be there. If the guy just finished taking me to the international airport, he knew I wouldn't be home for two or three days.'
Mirrors were mounted on the family's garage so he could be sure no one was hiding around the corner before he pulled out the car; it was normal to drive on a flat tire rather than stop at night.
Like many expatriates, the executive lived in a secure neighborhood close to his son's school, choosing to commute rather than expose his son to the risk of a long drive to school. Even so, the family didn't live in fear.
'You have to be cautious no matter where you go. Especially if you don't know the language, you don't know the culture; you're at a disadvantage.'
The executive says expatriate executives are most likely to encounter street crime such as his wife's robbery. Although Latin American countries are notorious for kidnappings, news reports exaggerate the threat for foreigners, he said.
'The thing that people misunderstand is that in Brazil, in Colombia, normally, foreigners are not kidnapped,' the executive said. 'Normally, 99.9 percent are local. The criminals know that the judicial system and the police system are very weak, but they know that if a foreigner is involved and they are caught, it will be more strict.'
Security measures such as driving armored vehicles or traveling in two-car caravans with security guards are mostly limited to top public figures, particularly local business leaders, he said. However, having a driver accompany a woman is more common.
Understanding Brazilian society helps expatriates avoid risks, he said. The legal system is weak: punishment for crimes is often minimal, and the police are largely ineffective against professional criminals who commit major crimes.
'The police are extremely underpaid and they're at a phenomenal disadvantage in vehicles, in weapons. In many cases, the police are involved in the kidnappings and the robberies.'
Street crime, on the other hand, is often committed by the poor rather than professional criminals. 'Many of them are not pros,' he said. 'The issue in brazil, most often, is the disparity between people who have and people who don't have.'
The key for victims of street crime is to do as his wife did, he said: keep quiet, don't resist and survive.
Security precautions may be extreme in Brazil, but there are few places where security isn't important, the executive said. He said his son - who remembered his training and reacted calmly - was robbed at knifepoint in an amusement park.
That crime, the executive added, took place in the United States, after the family had left Brazil for presumably safer territory.