Tag Archives: gun

Feeling safe in Brazil

One thing that people from the UK often ask me is whether it is safe to live in Brazil. The image most foreigners have of living here is of the favelas… in particular the international success of the film City of God didn’t help very much.

At face value, the crime statistics are much higher than Britain and the police in São Paulo alone shoot someone dead everyday, but on a day-today basis I don’t feel any unease living here.

When I first arrived, I was endlessly surprised by the amount of security people use to feel safe. Windows have steel bars, shops and banks have armed guards, every police officer is armed, car showrooms offer bullet-proofing as an option…

It all becomes normal through osmosis, but I still question the need for all this security. It would be nice to see a house with a garden, rather than a steel cage “protecting” the residents.

As this Reuters article states, there is an obsession with security in Brazil, but there are also some encouraging signs. The murder rate in New Orleans is five times that of São Paulo and bank robberies across the entire country dropped from over 3,000 a decade ago to 343 last year.

The Reuters article points out some anecdotal evidence, such as people freely using devices such as iPhones on a bus, something unthinkable just a few years ago. In many ways the freedom to use expensive devices such as a smartphone, laptop computer or iPod in public now feels just as it would in any other major city.

Would you walk around an unfamiliar street in New York or London late at night with your senses dulled by music from an iPod and gazing into the GPS-powered map on your iPhone? It’s pretty much the same here these days.

I was with my wife in a local bar the other day and she was telling the bar owner about our plans to move to the coast. Not just for the beach, but also because a smaller town would be safer than the city. He said he can only remember hearing of one robbery in the entire neighbourhood this year so how do we define ‘safer’ than that?

Maybe he just wanted to keep us as good customers. We are the only customers at his bar that run a slate with credit, paying him advance rather than him chasing us to settle the bill, but he sounded genuine.

As with city life anywhere, you can be a victim of crime through sheer bad luck, but most of the time you make your own luck through choices about how much wealth, gadgets, and jewellry  you display.

São Paulo may well have more crime then London, but I’m not scared to ride the bus or walk down the street. I still get unnerved by all the armed guards at banks though. If I am ever nearby when a bank robbery kicks off then I’ll be more scared of the guards than the criminals…

Hob nob robber strikes again

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Steel bars and shutters

I had visited Brazil a few times before I moved here to live, so I was aware that they take security pretty seriously. Supermarkets and banks have armed guards, apartment blocks are surrounded by impenetrable steel cages, and all the police are armed – even the humblest traffic cop.

But when I moved into my house, a few things struck me as unusual. Every window has steel bars – like a jail – and both the front and back doors are protected by big steel bars too.

When I moved in, it was unnerving and unusual. My front door in Muswell Hill opened onto the street, my front door in Ealing was not facing the street, but there was nothing to stop anyone walking up to the door. The open spaces at the front of houses, gardens for example, just don’t really exist here. If a house or apartment black has a garden then it is behind bars so only the residents can possibly access it.

Walking down a main street late at night is also strange. Every shop, bar or restaurant will have steel shutters. I know there are some shops in London that pull shutters down at night, but not every single shop. It’s quite normal to walk past shops late at night where only a pane of glass stands between you and their stock.

This sense of security makes me think of when I have visited Luxembourg. The head of state lives in a palace in the city centre that any member of the public can approach. You can walk up and have a look through the window. They don’t feel any need to erect barriers.

Quite a contrast to the average apartment-dweller in Brazil who only feels safe living inside a cage.

But, with the riots in London and across the UK over the past week, will this fear of the unknown and underclass pervade society so bars go up and steel shutters become essential?

I hope not, but I’m expecting the worst.

Palaisde Luxembourg