PC 50 One person’s party can be another person’s nightmare

Celina’s parents live in a gated community tucked into the hillside below Pedra da Gávea, an 845 metre pinnacle of granite and gneiss that rises high into the sky, on the western edge of Sáo Conrado. This majestic mountain is bare rock but at its base the jungle is luxurious, and full of birds, monkeys, snakes and insects. It’s easy to spot different families of small monkeys or the odd Toucan, not only in the jungle but also in the cultivated gardens. For here amongst the greenery, enterprising Cariocas, as Rio residents call themselves, started building family-size houses back in the 1960s. Exclusivity is guaranteed not only by the large plots but also by the Guarita, the security people manning the entry gate 24/7. The residents of this particular community keep themselves very much to themselves and there is a delightful serenity about the place. Driving in on the cobbled road with the jungle encroaching from all sides, you realise this is an oasis of calm away from the chaotic traffic and noise that defines modern Rio de Janeiro.

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Pedra da Gávea

The young man from next door called on Saturday afternoon. “We’re having a party tonight. Here’s my telephone number! Please call me if the music’s too loud.” The house is maybe thirty metres away, the gardens adjoining; any ‘party’ in the tropics will be centred around the pool and given that this is Brazil, will not start too early, finish quite late, and feature music and dancing. And why not? “What a considerate chap” we all thought. But already a sense of foreboding had descended on us. “Early to bed, early to rise …. ” is not something understood by adolescents ….. so it was probable that we would not have a quiet night.

At about 2000 the music started; we learned later they were simply testing the sound levels ….. presumably to ensure that the guests were not deafened. Personally I thought they should have tested the sound levels in this house …. for in addition to the microphone producing that piercing high-pitched feedback noise, and the DJ going through that ‘testing 1,2,3’ (but in Brazilian Portuguese of course!) routine that seems to be in their DNA, levels of the base frequencies created an oscillation that began to reverberate through the whole house. Windows vibrated as the sound waves crashed against the glass. Wow! Conversation was impossible here so how did they communicate next door?

There is a law in Brazil that says that any noise should be kept to a minimum after 2200. A little restrictive you might think and unreasonable; probably ignored by everyone? (You may recall from PC 9 that the last entrant to the Carnival Samba Schools’ Parade was not scheduled to start until 0330!!) But there clearly is a need to have some guidelines about noise within an urban area. In London, Hyde Park has become a popular venue for large music events, but the residents whose houses overlook it have persuaded the council to enforce a “no music after 2330” rule. Those who earn a living playing a guitar or singing songs have long been known for poor time keeping; often gigs will run late. Not any more in Hyde Park I hear, particularly after a party when the electricity supply was turned off at 1130, even though Sir Paul McCartney was only halfway through ‘Hey Jude’ or some such!

Years ago I called out the local council’s ‘noise abatement team’ in Wandsworth, London because an Evangelical church had set up rehearsals three times a week in a community hall at the bottom of my minute 12ft garden. Whilst ‘Gospel’ singing has a certain attraction, the voice of the pastor screaming and shouting for some devil or other to leave the apparently tormented soul was too much. I’m sure we have a list of pet hates? Neighbours who love screeching female opera singers, neighbours whose choice of music is not ours, neighbours whose way of communicating with each other is to scream and shout ….. the yapping of a small dog, the DIY enthusiast drilling and hammering past midnight …… the list goes on. But it needs a bit of give and take, doesn’t it, tolerance and acceptance of someone else’s rights in exchange for recognition of one’s own!

Two years ago when we were here at the turn of the year, one party somewhere within the community was quite loud, but hey it was New Year’s Eve! We’ll simply close the windows and put the air conditioning on. Air conditioning plants are generally quite noisy and this would drown out the party noise! It was an extremely hot night; some 30°C approaching midnight. Then the electricity went out, something which happens here in Rio quite often. So …… no air conditioning …… and because of the heat we need to have the windows open ……. so the party came into the bedroom ……. or so it seemed. Never sure what to do? Get up and attempt to join the party? Read? Tossing and turning in a hot bedroom leaves one exhausted come the morning.

Back to this Saturday evening. So we called the young man, Felipe I think his name was, to say the noise was too much. “Oh! We’re just trying the noise levels.” “Come around” we said ……. hoping of course that he would hear, feel (!), the noise in this house and do something about it. “Ah! We are trying to raise money for our ‘Prom’ by having a party.” “How many people are you expecting?” we asked, as the house is not a huge. “450” I think it was at this point Celina and I decided we were potentially on a hiding to nothing. Four hundred and fifty people make a huge amount of noise just talking, let alone having some music playing and as the noise levels rise, the volume is turned up to compensate. Whilst it was not our concern how 450 youngsters were going to fit into the house and garden, we reckoned it was time for Plan B.

Saturday night in Rio is always a busy night for hotels, and currently Rio is hosting a Rocking Rio festival with the likes of Rod Stewart, Elton John, Queen etc, so spare  accommodation is at a premium. But a hotel somewhere was going to be essential, if we were going to get a smidgen of sleep. Eventually we found a room in the Sheraton on a promontory below Vidigal, one of Rio’s favelas. We drove over about 2200 and checked in. Hotels in Brazil tend to add a service charge and ‘taxes’ as extras to the quoted room rate ….. and breakfast was not included …. eventually we got an upgrade, free breakfast  and made our way to the 19th floor. Noisy? Well, the nightclub at the top of Vidigal was pumping out its music, the room was near a noisy lift shaft and, despite the double glazing, there was a fair amount of traffic noise. Hey! Hoh! How lucky to be able to escape the local party.

Big hotel chains have a certain sameness about them; maybe that’s why some people like them, the certainty of facilities and decor, of the breakfast …….. but the view of the sea and beach, of a seaside condominium, of Vidigal higgledy piggledy up the hillside and, if I craned my neck far enough around, a view of one of the two mountain peaks that are called Os Dois Irmāos (The Two Brothers) was stunning.

Peace and calm had returned to Rua Iposeira when we arrived back on Sunday morning. The ‘rave’ was over, the only reminder a few empty bottles in the street and odd pieces of the ‘entry wristband’. I’ve called this PC ‘One person’s party can be another person’s nightmare’. And so it was last Saturday, here in tropical Rio de Janerio.

Richard Yates – richardyates24@gmail.com



PC 49 What are you worth?

No! No! No! I don’t mean to be nosey, and couldn’t care less whether you have a ‘Savings Account’ at the Co-Operative or millions sitting offshore somewhere. I just want to explore how you value yourself. Most of us need to earn money to buy the essentials for survival, if nothing else: – food, shelter, clothing etc. But as we in the developed world have got used to the basics, the majority of us start wanting to have enough money to, oh! I don’t know, go on holiday, buy a nicer/better/bigger car/house, the latest wide screen/flat screen/surround sound TV/tablet/stereo system, ‘designer’ clothes. Then we get on the treadmill, wanting more of this and more of that, not ‘needing but ‘wanting’.

So we develop a sense of worth, false or not!! Maybe you heard of Linda Evangelista, the model, who wouldn’t get out of bed for an assignment worth less than US$10,000? I suspect the majority of my readers would settle for far less. But what? It was a question that I often asked clients who were searching for some employment; “But what are you worth?” Would you, for instance, get out of bed for £10 an hour, £30 an hour, £150 an hour? (or in salary terms £30k, £50k, £70k or more.) Immediately you would see the intellectual tussle going on behind the eyes – mustn’t appear greedy, but the more the merrier …… but not obscene!! A recent programme about people living alternative lifestyles highlighted the use of barter, payment in kind and not with money. But you still need to value your expertise/work, even if you are simply exchanging your efforts for their hens’ efforts!

In the British Army you knew what everyone was paid as there were published pay scales, and that’s true across all public servants. And in some ways that’s very healthy; there’s no jealousy, no competition around pay per say. I remember when I first joined I was paid £65 a month! But that was in the days you could buy a nice house for £8000! When I left, I had to negotiate with my prospective employer what they thought I was worth, or maybe simply what the job was worth. After I joined I remember looking at other members of the team thinking “I wonder what they get paid?” I hope I am not alone in thinking like this!!

We were in Seattle in June, and there was much talk about Washington State’s minimum wage, and how the city of Seattle was going to raise the minimum wage for non-salaried people within the city to $15, from just under $10 – a 50% increase. (cf with the UK minimum wage for those over 25, of £7.20 an hour from next year) Wonderful idea, you might think. The reality is that those earning more than $15 an hour will get no pay rise ….. and then we get into the whole aspect of “What am I worth?” People are saying:  but I’ve got more experience/better qualifications, so deserve more; I come in early and go home late, so I deserve more; I’ve got a harder job so I deserve more …. more than those on the new minimum wage. You’ve read, I suspect, of the company where the boss decided everyone should be paid the same, including himself, and set that level at US$70,000. Great for those who got an increase, but not for those who got a decrease!

The hospitality industry is one of those where wages are comparatively low and I have grown up expecting to give a little bit extra to the waiter/waitress for good service. It helps, we understand, to supplement their paltry wage. Yesterday evening we went to a small Japanese restaurant in Brighton. It’s not at all pretentious and the food is well cooked. Whilst perusing the menu, I noticed at the bottom the words: “No Service Charge Added to Your Bill. Tipping at your discretion.”  God! It’s confusing! I’ve read recently that the term ‘service charge’ is not to be confused with a tip to your waiter. Sorry? I read it again; the, er, ‘charge for service’ is not a gratuity? So what is it? An overhead for the business? So why not include it in the costs of your meals?

Some years ago I remember having lunch in the English seafood restaurant Wheelers, in London. I opted to pay by credit card, only to find on the bill 12.5% had already added for ‘service’ and then the little blue paper slip had space for ….. a tip! I reflected that this was a somewhat sharp practice!

Why are we expected to award good service only in the hospitality industry? If you had taken your car to the garage for a service, were treated efficiently and well, but when you went to collect it they showed you the bill ….. and invited you to add 10-12% as a tip? I don’t think so! You wouldn’t tip the person taking your money for a tank full of petrol, unless it wasn’t self-service, when you might. So it’s all about the personal interaction with your waiter when you eat out, is it?

We were on the Alaskan ferry MV Colorado in June. The ferry is a State-run enterprise ….. so the staff, in the restaurant for instance, are Government employees. There was a large sign saying: ‘Please do not tip the staff’.  “No government employees are ever allowed to receive tips anywhere in the country. This applies to gifts as well; these are considered bribes, and therefore not acceptable. The government generally pays pretty well and has great benefits, so their employees shouldn’t need to rely on tips anyway.” – a Seattle resident writes.

It takes a while to get your head around this, we are so used to ‘tip’; normally we tip because it’s the ‘done thing to do’, but occasionally we tip because the person waiting on our table is really good at the job. Sometimes we decline to tip because it’s been so bad! The crew on the MV Colombia might have been on a good wage, but what’s so wrong in giving a little something for attentive service? How could I ‘bribe’ the waiter? Or are we ‘tipping’ in the private sector because we know the wages are so low? A recent survey, and you know how accurate ‘they’ are (!) found that the French tipped the least (7%) of all nationalities with the Americans the most generous (13%).

I’ve run out of space, so can’t get on my pet hobby horse, the one with ‘bonus’ written on its backside. Why should you receive a ‘bonus’ for doing your job properly?

This PC is rather muddled, like the thoughts mulling around inside my head. Still, it is what it is, mere scribbles.

Richard Yates – richardyates24@gmail.com