Tag Archives: safety

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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Do you cycle in London?

I’m a London cyclist. I spent years cycling as a commuter from Muswell Hill to the City, then Mayfair when I changed job. Now I’m based in Ealing and I still use my bike to head into central London, though less often than I used to because I no longer have a job that needs me in the same place everyday. I still use my cycle to get around west London though.

I was having a conversation with a friend yesterday and she thought it was funny – “you on a bike?” I’ve turned up to the House of Lords for a meeting in riding gear once, much to the displeasure of the suited peers, until someone mentioned how incredible it is that someone is cycling to a meeting, at which point everyone started talking about the environment… and in 2008 I jumped on my bike in Ealing one day and cycled to Manchester, just because it was summer and I had a couple of days to spare.

But I started cycling regularly for a number of reasons. It’s faster than public transport in London, it’s fun, it’s free (sure, you need to maintain your bike, but it’s relatively free), and it’s fitness that you can get without needing to block out gym time… it’s exercise on the way home from work or on the way to a meeting so it’s a lot easier to find the time.

The biggest fear people have of cycling in London is safety. Even those of us with a lot of city cycling experience can end up under the wheels of a lorry, just because the driver is not paying attention – three cyclists have died this way in London so far this year.
Police on bicycles at Waterloo bridge

The London Cycling Campaign is endlessly working to improve safety, and has had some recent practical success like ensuring that the 3,000 truck drivers working on the Crossrail project will all be safety-trained to be aware of cyclists. But’s it not enough. One visit to a city like Amsterdam shows that the general public can and will use cycles to get around a city for short journeys – if they feel safe. The LCC is calling for:

– Compulsory cyclist-awareness training for lorry-drivers
– Banning lorries from cycle routes or during rush hour
– Better-designed lorries for the urban environment, including mirrors
– Stricter enforcement of current speeding and road laws

Take a look at the LCC website to find out more, and have fun if you are on the Critical Mass ride this evening. It’s always a great spectacle, but with a real message too.
Critical Mass Los Angeles

It ain’t easy being veggie on Mexicana

Why do airlines find it so difficult to get special meals right? I’ve flown 4 times with Mexicana in the past month and on just one of the four flights did I get the vegetarian food I had ordered.

It’s a real problem for me because the 12-hours between London and Mexico City is no fun without some food along the way and airlines now don’t really carry spare food – they have exactly the right number of trays for the number of passengers on board. Or at least, they don’t carry any spare special meals beyond the ones ordered.

On one recent Mexicana flight, I was told there was no vegetarian food for me – even though it had been ordered, and the check-in staff confirmed it was on board – and so the cabin crew gave me a salad instead. The salad contained chunks of ham. Nice try? I must ask for more vegetarian pig in future. I wonder if they serve that up to their Jewish customers?

Each time I complained, the cabin crew told me they could do nothing. It’s true. Once you are cruising above the ocean at 11,000m above sea-level, it’s hard to get some more supplies, but why do I need to keep on complaining? The option was booked when the flights were booked, yet the cabin crew even told me that the ground staff just “don’t really know what’s going on…” I hope their safety engineers know what is going on.

The wasn’t my only gripe about Mexicana. The online checkin doesn’t work… apparently it only works for domestic flights so international passengers have to go through the old long snaking check-in line some of us remember from years ago.

And, on flights of around 11 or 12 hours, perhaps some entertainment might be nice? Don’t expect an entertainment system on Mexicana – even in business class. You had better bring a good book as there is nothing, other than ye olde projector screen showing old episodes of ‘House’. Any book would be better than that.

Mexicana is cheap, but far from cheerful.