Brasilmagic\’s Weblog

Venting to the World

The U.S. is a silent country

Downtown Sao Paulo, the third largest city in the world.

Let me explain what I mean by the United States being a silent country. 

I live near a major highway but I do not hear any kind of noise during the night. There are millions of people living in the DC suburbs, I live in a townhome community with a lot of houses and families and I live near the capital of the world’s most powerful country (is it still? :)). Why’s that?

Most neighborhoods in America are very quiet, partially due to the urban sprawl. The fact that builders have to preserve green areas and there are restrictions on land use, space between houses and conditional use permits make most residential areas very quiet at night.  Additionally, there are sound barriers and walls between residential communties and major highways.

Luckily, Americans seem to respect the after 10 PM noise restriction and you don’t hear loud music or parties on many residential areas. I am not sure about inner city USA, since I do not have any experience living there, and I am sure the picture is not as rosy as I am describing in here.

Nonetheless, I am talking about the suburbs of Washington DC, the MD and VA neigborhoods. Things get very quiet and dark (the lighting poles are far and few between and the lights are dim).

Add to that that most Americans, like Northern Europeans, go to bed earlier than in Latin countries. Even though this silence can get boring, it makes for a very sound night’s sleep. 

Another factor that contributes to the silence: the fact that most houses in the USA have heating and air conditioning systems, which make all windows and doors shut, thus isolating street noises.

In a sharp contrast, Brazil is a noisy country (unless you are in the countryside). Cities are bustling with noise. Cars honk their horns, steet vendors shout out their merchandise, people yell each other’s name, people speak very loudy, trafic noises come from every open window or door, music is played loudly and restaurants and bars stay open umtil the wee hours.

Sounds like hell, doesn’t it? But you get used to it. There is a feeling of being alive there. It is hard to get depressed when you see people in the streets and human noise around you.  As for sleeping, it depends where you are (forget about silence at night if you rent a beach apartment in a popular beach town). If you live in a high rise you may hear the sounds of early morning traffic, if you live in a house you will also hear the sounds of traffic and sometimes street vendors. And yes, the birds. The birds chirp away every morning in Brazil, since it is always Spring there!

Try to talk on a restaurant in Brazil? Everybody is talking at the same time,  just like the Italians! Houses were built very close to each other for centuries (a Portuguese tradition, unnecessary in a big country like Brazil with lots of land- and maybe somereal estate greed?) and still are.

One of the reasons is that Brazilians hate living far from downtown. They hate commutes. They want to be near the action. They want to be near the shops and the grocery store and the pharmacy and the bars. Walking distance preferably. Brazilians, like many latin coutnries, are about people. People need people. They like to talk, they like to party, they like to meet people they know. So everyone lives near each other. 

Most Brazilians live in apartment buildings, some very tall. Apartments are safer and allow them to live near downtown. If they were to live in a house, they would have to travel further to work.  Cars and gasoline are expensive in Brasil, and the buses are sometimes dangerous (citites like Rio and Sao Paulo) or very packed and uncomfortable.

I think I prefer the silence than the noise. I guess it is easier to create noise when it is silent than make exterior noise disappear. My husband and I have different perspectives about the ideal place to live. He prefers the big house with lots of land in a quiet and “peaceful” neighborhod. He does not mind the opressive silence and the long commutes.  He likes the idea of a  place where you cannot see the neighbors and you can park all your cars and boats and RV’s or whatever else you have.  A place where you have to get in the car and drive at least 15 minutes to buy a carton of milk. A place where you can blast your music loud and walked naked on your backyard if you wish 🙂

Myself, on the other hand, would go nuts living in an isolated house in the middle of nowhere. I would probably be so depressed that it would take months for someone to find my dead body. I do not wish to drive one hour to and from work. I do not need so much, excuse me, garbage. I am happy with one car or two (if we are a couple). I don’t need a humungous house. I like to see people, I also like to be near shops and malls and places where people congregate, just like my Brazilian counterparts. When I see real estate ads that advertise a house as being in a “tranquil setting”,  “peaceful and private”, it gives me the creeps!

 But I certainly love sleeping with no noise. I am a light sleeper and the drop of a feather can wake me up 🙂  So, like everything in life, not too much, not too little.


September 24, 2008 - Posted by | Difference between cultures


  1. I just moved from the NYC area to upstate NY. It took quite a lot of getting used to.. everything is 10 miles this way, 8 miles that way, 30 miles to the local Chamber of Commerce and DMV, etc.

    But you soon DO get used to it, and now.. I can’t stand going back to the City, ever. I can’t believe I ever lived there before.

    The idea that things are far apart kinda fades away, because in a country setting you’re driving 45-6 everywhere. I can get 7 miles in 15 minutes.. 25 minutes in high traffic. In Long Island and the City, it would take me 30 minutes to move 2 miles in traffic.

    I live in a heavily wooded mountainous area down a half a mile of dirt road that isn’t looked-after. (Or hasn’t been, since 1927 when they built the road) I do have neighbors close by. Lucky for me one across the street is vacant, and the other next to my driveway is vacant, another across the street is a quiet guy, and my landlord lives up above and behind my house. Still, these are cottages mostly built in the 1920s to 1930s, some earlier than that, and it can get creepy at night, with no street lighting and stores that are open after 10pm are 10 miles away, but I still love it.

    Comment by Pete | September 25, 2008 | Reply

  2. *45-65mph everywhere. not 45-6.

    Comment by Pete | September 25, 2008 | Reply

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