Today a car in Belo Horizonte drove through the concrete wall of a first-storey car-park, flipped over and slammed upside-down on the pavement.
How do you spot an armoured car in Sao Paulo? Check out the distorted reflection from the windows. The toughened glass they use to protect the car from bullets is slightly wavy, and the glass has a thick black border. Also, look at how they sit a bit lower to the ground, and how the tyres have a plastic sheen rather than the matte finish of rubber.
When you know how to spot an armoured citizen’s car (um carro blindado) you’ll begin to see them everywhere. Sao Paulo residents love their armoured cars.
But is Sao Paulo really that dangerous? And what happens when you get out of the car? You can’t wear an armoured vest for the rest of your life, so armoured cars are only really useful when you’re waiting at traffic lights.
It’s not exactly cheap to make a car blindado, either. Depending on the size of the vehicle it runs from 50,000 reais (£15,000 or $25,000) to 80,000 reais (£25,000 or $40,000) to reinforce the suspension, put armor-plating in the engine and door-panels, replace the glass with a toughened resin and change the tyres for run-flats.
The car has a shorter life-span carrying its extra shell, and depreciates quicker than a normal car. Engines are constantly strained and the chassis buckles under the extra weight. Armoured cars are good for scrap in a few years.
And probably a total waste of money, and for why I’ll give you an example. My Paulista friend told me a story about his friend that drove an armoured car around Sao Paulo. At the traffic lights a ladrão approached his friend and pointed a gun at the glass. He demanded his watch.
Now, the friend was in an armoured car, so the bullet wouldn’t go through the glass. But the friend remembered that replacing the bullet-proof glass would cost 5,000 reais, and his watch only cost 2,000 reais.
So the friend cracked open the window and handed over his watch, saving himself 3,000 reais in the process…
The perception of security is often used by car-manufacturers to sell expensive cars. SUVs like Humvees and Range-rovers (military vehicles) in the US and Europe offer a kind of sanctuary, where the outside world can’t get to you. As a result you feel safe, even though you can’t live in your car forever.
In Brazil, crime is a serious problem. But armouring a car still seems like overkill. I’m not sure it really offers either security or safety. If they want you, they will follow you and either force you from the vehicle or wait until you get out.
Bumper stickers and window-decals are a great way to show off your religious affiliation in Brazil, and no driver needs God’s protection more than in a country which had 42,000 road deaths in 2010, and which has a culture of drinking and driving that would boggle Don Draper.
It was God who made me.
Present from God.
God is faithful.
I love Jesus.
The righteous walk and live by faith.
There are things only Jesus can do.
You want ultimate happiness? Put Jesus first.
God cares for me.
The blood of Jesus has power.
Brazil was founded by Roman Catholic Jesuits, and about ninety percent of Brazilians still declare some sort of religious affiliation according to a 2010 census.
The dominant religion is Roman Catholicism, although the number of practitioners has decreased from 90 per cent in the 1970’s to less than 65 per cent in 2010.
22 per cent now align themselves as Evangelical Protestants, with Candomblers, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Buddhists, Jews and Muslims making up five per cent. The rest declared no official affiliation.
Five not-so-well-known facts about Brazil every tourist visiting the country for the 2014 World Cup needs to know.
1) Napkin rollies: You’re going to eat in a restaurant or bar, you’re going to reach for a napkin from a little dispenser and you’re going to grab a piece of wax-paper.
Napkins in Brazil feel as if they’ve been coated in some kind of non-stick formula to stop any liquid adhering to them. They absorb nothing, they’re crunchy, and you need twenty to clean up the tiniest blob of grease, so good luck with that cheesy dribble of pizza hanging off your chin. You may as well use your hands.
So what are these napkins good for? Well, making spliffs, actually:
2) TP Backlog: I need to talk toilets. Brazil has a terrible plumbing system, and toilet-paper is not allowed to go down the drain. Next to almost every toilet in Brazil is a little plastic bin for your used toilet paper.
The cumulative effect of hundreds of thousands of visiting World Cup tourists throwing their toilet-paper down the drains could result in raw sewage pouring out onto Rio’s beautiful tiled streets.
Don’t do it.
3) Income disparity: On a more serious note, tourists should be aware that Brazil’s minimum wage is around 700 reais a month.
That’s about £185, or $314 in the US. A month.
In a country where a McDonald’s Happy Meal costs 20 reais and Brazil’s cheapest car costs 35,000 reais (£9,400 or US$16,000), that’s not very much.
The price for a Fiat Palio Fire includes rear-seatbelts, AC and electric-windows. Wow. That’s the “buy-now” price, too. You’ll pay 50,000 reais if you want to pay installments.
So here’s the reality: street-sweepers, cleaners, McDonald’s workers, sales-assistants, porters, bus-drivers and even police-officers in Rio are making just 700 to 1000 reais a month.
That’s especially hard to imagine when you consider a couple of World Cup tourists could easily blow 300 reais on lunch and a few glasses of wine in a restaurant in Rio de Janeiro.
A visit to a night-club might cost 300 reais each for entry and a few cocktails (See “Fifteen things foreigners should know about Brazilian night-clubs“). A night out can cost thousands of reais if you order table-service and a couple of bottles of Absolut.
And remember, 700 reais is the official minimum wage. Consider the street-sellers, the Giras (trash-collectors) and the homeless, scraping by on a few reais a day, surrounded by wealthy tourists and locals thinking nothing of spending 10 reais on a Coca-cola.
It’s important visiting tourists keep in mind the huge disparity between the rich and poor in Brazil. It leaks into everything; crime, education, health, transport, housing, entertainment, safety and culture.
4) Gridlock: What time should you leave your hotel to attend your World Cup game? An hour before kick-off? A few hours?
How about the day before?
Traffic in Brazil’s big cities is monstrous, and it’s only going to get worse for the World Cup. Dilapidated and neglected roads can’t take the amount of cars and trucks packed into them, in what is a modernising, industrialised country. Despite the ridiculous price-tag of the Fiat Palio Fire, it is a best-seller. And remember, Brazil has its fair share of incredibly wealthy people driving SUVs and sports-cars, too.
Driving is a source of independence and pride for modern Brazilians, even if you do just end up rolling off the forecourt and into two hours of gridlocked traffic.
If you can, tourists should just walk to the game. You’ll get there so much faster.
5) Fala ingles? Outside of the metropolitan tourist cities of Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and Salvador you’ll struggle to find many Brazilians that can speak a whole lot of English.
If you’re visiting Belo Horizonte, Manaus, Cuiaba or any of the other host cities, you’ll need to brush up on your Portuguese, as even in some of the big hotels the management don’t really prioritise teaching their staff English. It’s a case of time, money and the jeitinho brasiliero (“Brazilian Way”).
In any case Brazilians are very friendly people, and they’ll try their best to help you, even if the conversation consists almost entirely of Beatles’ song lyrics.
I’ll be writing five more things you need to know about Brazil, talking about winter, power and protests , very soon. Please comment or like if you want to hear more!
An Apple iPhone 5 in Brazil costs R$2,800 new. That’s US$1,250 or £743. It’s also three times the average monthly salary of a low-skilled worker in Brazil.
A sales associate in a retail store in Brazil working from 8am to 7pm, Monday to Saturday, makes R$1000 a month (US$445, or £265). This is a common wage in Brazil for all low-skilled jobs and services. High-skilled jobs fare little better; the average wage for a primary school-teacher in Sao Paulo – one of the most expensive cities on earth – was recorded as R$1900 a month in 2013.
The salary for Brazilian sales-associate works out as approximately R$4 an hour, or less than two dollars an hour.
When a rich kid’s toy phone costs three times what a full-time salesperson (or bus-conductor, restaurant-worker, or garbage-man) makes in a month, the disparity between the rich and poor in Brazil is clear.
An unlocked iPhone in the UK costs £530. By the same logic the average wage of a shopworker in the UK would be £175 a month, working full-time. The income disparity in Brazil is obscene.
The iPhone is a slight outlier given its aspirational value and its scarcity in Brazil, but it’s the same situation for cars, washing-machines, TVs, clothes and pretty much any consumer goods. Prices are hugely inflated and wages are tragically low for the vast majority of Brazilians.
The reason so many Brazilians protest when bus prices go up a few cents is because – of the R$40 they might take home in a day, R$12 will immediately go on taking an old, unreliable bus to and from work.
An extra 50 cents every day for a Brazilian on a few dollars a day makes a big difference over the year.
Money, luxury and showing off. “Funk” music coming out of São Paulo is all about being ostentatious (“Ostentação”) with your wealth, and that means designer clothes, imported cars, nightclubs and women.
Watching Funk Ostentação on Youtube is like watching 90’s American rap videos; singers throw champagne around in fake nightclubs, walk in front of expensive (hired) cars and hover-hand strippers that dance as if they’re not sure if the director yelled “Cut!” or not.
With lyrics that highlight an ambition to leave the favela and live the good life of women, nightclubs, cars and jewels, Funk Ostentação singers are self-fulfilling dream-makers. Videos on Youtube showing them counting fake US dollar bills and standing in front of expensive imported cars now make them tens of thousands of dollars in ad revenue, and the biggest Funk Ostentação stars charge R$10,000 (US$4,000, £2,700) a show.
Although this kind of wasteful excess seems arrogant and cruel given the huge inequality between rich and poor in Brazil, its biggest stars talk freely about their lives before they became stars – MC Tchesko sold pastries from a street-cart and MC Felipinho washed cars.
The new style of Funk made headlines last year when MC Daleste was shot dead live on stage in Sao Paulo. MC Daleste was pulling in £60,000 a month as a rapper before he was shot dead (link to his Youtube video).
Four other Funk Ostentação MCs have also been shot dead, supposedly by ex-police “grupos de exterminio”(death-squads) targeting rappers with anti-police lyrics, although my sources tell me MC Daleste was killed for stealing a woman from a dangerous drug-trafficker. These rappers have gained a form of respect from even the middle classes, who normally scoff and talk about the hyper-sexualised lyrics of Funk Carioca music.
When an 18-year-old kid that used to wash cars is pulling in 10x more than a middle-aged doctor makes in a year, and goes on stage every night despite the threat of getting shot dead, how can you not stop and admire their bravado just a little?