Getting Around Curitiba: Pavements

I like walking.  Give me the chance to walk or drive or get the bus and I’ll walk almost every time.  I walk a lot in Curitiba, but very few other people do.  Here follows a bit of a rant, but it’s all true, I even have photos to back it up.

Curitba’s streets are not paved with gold.  At times it seems that they are more paved with holes than anything else which means that walking around the city can be a challenge.  You will need a good pair of walking shoes, or at the very least a comfortable pair of trainers.  Forget those heels, ladies.  And as for walking around with a pushchair; not a chance!

Traditional Streets

The authroities here in Curitiba seem to thing that the material you use for paving your streets gives the city some sort of identity.  Traditionally they used these square blocks of stone that were the bane of many a pedestrian’s life.  They are uneven at the best of times, and at the worst you could easily break your ankle on them.  After a short while one of the blocks would become loose and allow water under it.  If you stepped on the block at the wrong angle a shotof water would fly up all over your clean white trousers.

Sometimes, for some unfathomable reason, one of the blocks would be upside down, so that the not-so-flat part was on the bottom and the really-unflat part was on the top.  Why?  How?

And then after a few more weeks some of the blocks would just be missing completely and so you would need 4×4 to get around the pavements.


A not very flat pavement.

The grey brick road

So the prefeitura (council), in its infinite wisdom decided to introduce a new type of block that would be flatter (yay) and easier to maintain (double yay).  Here is a picture of a pavement that was laid about 3 months ago.


It might not be the brick’s fault.  It might well be shoddy workmanship.  But it’s probably both.

In some areas of Curitiba they have this pretty nifty idea of marking the walk for blind people with a different type of paving slab that has ridges to make it easy to follow.  Or easy to fall over.

The roots are showing

Apparently, the responsibilty for the upkeep of pavements lies with the owner of the land directly behind the pavement.  The prefeitura only has the responisbilty to make sure the landowner is looking after the pavement.  Obviously this system is not working.


Then there is the fact that many people who drive cars seem to think that the pavements are just an extension of the road; that they are place to leave the car when you have to drop the washing off at the laundrette.

In this first picture, the gate to the drive was open so the driver culd have gone into the building, but he decided it was much safer for all concerned to leave it across the pavement.  Grrrrrr!

And it isn’t just the the mindless drivers, it is also the mindless prefeitura (council again).  Imagine this, you have a narrow pavement with a bit of grass to the side.  You want ot put a huge lamp post somewhere in the vicinity.  Where do you put it?  On the pavement or on the grass?

The bin bag doesn’t help of course, but that’s just another one of the challenges to walking around Curitiba.

The thing is, they do have some pavements that are excellent and flat and brilliant for walking on.  You could push a pushchair with no problems and the blind would be able to walk down them without fear.  They are easy to maintain and cheap to install.  They are called cylce lanes.  Although nobody cycles in them because there are too many peolpe walking on them.  The problem must be that they don’t give the right impression.

Curitiba, where very few streets are paved with tarmac.

The impression I get is that this city is not designed for people to walk, only to drive.  Get off the pavements and into your car.  And unfotunately, that is exactly what most Curitibanos do.

And these stories only come from a few neighbourhoods around the centre of the city.  If you move out a bit the only pavements are mud.

Crossing the road

I mentioned in another post how it can be difficult to find a place to cross the road.  At a crossroads you can only safely cross the road at two points because the other points always have cars coming into them.  There is rarely a pause when all the cars are stopped to allow pedestrians to cross.  This is made even worse by the fact that drivers see the amber light as a signal to speed up rather than slow down.  This means that they come flying through the lights just as the next set of cars starts up, giving the pedestrain no time to even run across the road in those few seconds when the lights are red for both arms of the crossroads.

Rant over.

The Weather in Curitiba

parque Barigui, curitiba

Parque Barigui with a touch of early morning frost. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Wednesday 13th March was just as hot and sunny as practically every day since November.  A long summer made even better by the news of the wet and cold winter back home in the UK.  There is a certain amount of vicious glee to be had in watching family and friends struggle through the snow and rain in the dark of a never-ending January, February, March…

Thursday 14th March and the fun is over.  Cloud cover all day, strong and sharp showers.  Slipping and sliding all along the dodgy pavements of Curitiba.  The forecast the same for the next week at least.  Summer has abruptly gone.  Winter is coming.

One word to sum up the weather here in Curitiba is changeable.  The locals like to say that you can have all four seasons in one day and, while the last time it snowed was in 1975, they are not far wrong.  When people think of Brazil they often think of sunshine and heat.  In the summer this is possible, but there is usually a proper old-fashioned thunderstorm at about 5pm to break it all up.  This doesn’t stop the locals complaining about the heat though and hoping that winter is just around the corner.

The winter can be pretty cold with temperatures getting down to freezing, but this is usually compensated for by beautiful blue skies.  The problem is the infrastructure in houses and apartments is woefully inadequate.  Double glazing is either non-existent or so expensive as to be practically so.  Windows rattle when the wind blows because they aren’t fitted properly.  Gaps of 3 cm at the bottom and top of the doors are not unusual.  When the winter is bad it can be warmer out on the street than it is in your flat.  Watching TV means wearing all of your clothes, getting 2 or 3 blankets and turning on the expensive and inefficient heaters.  The locals complain about the cold and pine for the summer to return.

I can handle all of this.  I try not to complain about the weather because it doesn’t really do a fat lot of good.  If I am cold I’ll put on another jumper.  If I am hot, I’ll drink a cold beer.

The problem is with my son.

When the weather changes, as it has just done here, you can guarantee that half of his class will get a cold or a cough.  The other half will catch a cold or a cough from the first half.

As well as all the usual parent paraphernalia I also have to go out with three or four changes of clothes just in case the weather is different in a couple of hours compared to now.

These are probably not unique problems, nor I daresay even unusual ones.  The thing that gets me though is the state of the houses and the flats.  Having a heater on during the night is just asking for your little one to want to play with it.  Force 9 gales coming under the bedroom door because of the gap are just a bad idea.  When you just get a room warmed up, somebody will walk out and not close the door.  In the summer, when I put him to bed at 8pm, it is hot, but by 4am it is pretty chilly.  How do I clothe him for both?  Especially when he refuses to let a blanket stay on him for  more than 2 minutes.

I know that this isn’t the worst problem ever, and the situation is the same for lots of people in many different parts of the world.  I just wish that somebody would close the bloody door after them!

Expat Parenting in Curitiba 2: Community Service


One of the main reasons for starting this blog was to force myself to start to reading other people’s blogs and to share ideas and experiences.  One of the first things I cam across was a number of people talking about how they had met other people in their community who had told them not to teach a minority language because it would harm their acquisition of the majority language, or people who were distrustful of the second or third language, to people who just thought it was way too much for a child to figure out.

Among some of the things I read was The European Mama wrote about the 10 Things Not To Say To Parents of Multilingual Children, and then later wrote about the what you should say.  Eowyn wrote In Defense Of The Bilingual Child, suggesting that people were attacking them.  Multilingual Mania published an open letter from a parent to concerned teacher regarding the teacher’s request that they stop using Spanish at home.  There were many others.

I girded my loins and was prepared for such reactions from family and friends here in Curitiba.  I needn’t have bothered as the reaction from practically everyone I have met has been encouraging, and sometimes even a little bit envious.

There have been genuine enquiries about how we go about teaching two languages at the same time, but these are born out of a heartfelt interest.

There has been awe and wonder at the fact that a child can learn more than one language.

There have been wistful sighs from people wishing they had been able to learn English at such a young age.

There have been the parents who can only dream about offering their kids such a start in life with two languages.

There have been the parents who know they are going to have pay for expensive English classes for the next 20 years and can only dream about a kind of 2 for the price of 1 language package.

But not once have we had anyone suggest it was a bad idea or that it would negatively affect our son’s Portuguese.  This is true for family, friends and day care.

I am not quite sure why this should be.  Most of my acquaintances here speak English, but it has been hard-won through years of expensive study, so maybe that is one factor.  English language teaching is still relatively poor and there is a huge, unmet demand for good English speakers so maybe people are aware of the advantages.  There are still people here in the south of Brazil who grew up in different language communities other than Portuguese, so maybe that is part of the reason as well.  Or maybe it is just that most Brazilians accept what you do so long as it doesn’t affect them directly and they can continue doing whatever it is they want to do.

Or maybe nobody has said anything to my face and as soon as my back is turned they can’t stop slagging us off.

Whatever the reason, I would like to thank all of my friends and family here for being so supportive and I hope that it continues in the future.

Image: / Kromkrathog

Expat parenting in Curitiba


Part of the thing about raising a kid to be bilingual is that it often involves at least one of the parents living in a different country.  So not only are there the normal problems (and opportunities?) associated with raising a family, but there are also language and cultural problems for the parent or parents.

In my case I am the parent who is dealing with all the excitement of living in a different place.  Over the next few weeks I am going to be writing a little bit about what it is like to be a foreign parent living in Curitiba, in the south of Brazil.  There will be a few rants as I give vent to some stuff that really gets on my nerves, but hopefully I will also be able to reflect on the positive side of living in this city.

Before I get in to all that, it might be worthwhile giving a bit of my background to try to put things into context.

I first came to Curitiba about 14 years ago to teach English at a small school called Liberty.  Prior to that, I had taught English in both Poland and Taiwan.  Towards the end of my contract here I met a girl who, many years later, I ended up marrying.  Between meeting her and marrying her we lived in the UK and Curitiba.  She also had a spell of nearly 2 years working for the OAS in Washington D.C.  During that time I also managed to pass my Trinity College Diploma in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages and get an MA in Linguistics from The University of Birmingham.

When we got married we decided to live in Curitiba, but soon after she got a job in Rio de Janeiro and we spent almost 5 years there, working and partying and generally having a good time.  At least I had a good time because my wife hated the heat and chaotic nature of Rio.

When my wife got pregnant we decided it would be much better to come to live in Curitiba for free babysitting and because the cost of living is so much cheaper than in Rio.  There is also a belief that Curitiba is safer than Rio, although I am not sure I agree with this idea.

So, about 18 months ago we came back to Curitiba and then the little bundle of joy that is Thomas arrived. And then my life changed irrevocably, and I won’t say if it changed for the better or worse.