Let me ask you a sincere question: Have you ever heard an elephant’s roar bellowing from a propeller plane as it repeatedly buzzed your house?
And what if an excited man in that plane screamed something in Spanish so loudly that the resulting distortion rendered him unintelligible?
Never heard that, either?
And if that wasn’t enough to disturb the neighborhood’s tranquility, what if an enraged gringa stood on her balcony and shouted “Ya basta!” every time the plane roared by?
That woman was my neighbor in the colonial town of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. In her crazed state she cared not a fine flip for the plane’s message:
The circus is coming! The circus is coming!
Now you may be wondering about the point of this little Fellini-esque story. Isn’t this supposed to be a column about real estate in foreign countries?
You’re right, it is, but this installment is about the “living” part of Real Living. It’s about the best place for you based not on the physical nature of your future dwelling – the lovely bathroom, the convenient location – but the environmental and quality of life issues.
Yes, I’m talking about potential noise pollution in your ex-pat destination. Does noise bother you? Can you sleep with wall-rattling construction nearby? How about with 24/7 traffic from a busy street? Drunks at a rowdy bar?
Most cities In the U.S. have noise ordinances that allow you to lodge a complaint about your neighbor’s keg party or barking dog (or an elephant in an airplane!). However, in many foreign countries, no such ordinance exists, or it is so lightly enforced as to be virtually useless.
In Cuenca, Ecuador, however, a new noise ordinance was passed in January and is now in its 60-day educational phase. The city will replace the loud beeping that announces the morning arrival of its gas trucks with some type of pleasant music.
An official team will measure decibels and set permissible levels for businesses. The amounts of assessed fines have not yet been decided.
Citizens will eventually be able to report loud noises by phone, in person, or online.
If the city has the manpower, and the resources to handle complaints in a timely manner, it would be at the forefront of Latin America – and most of the Third World – in reducing a city’s noise.
Time will determine how effective the new ordinance is.
But how can the City of Cuenca – or any city – enforce noises such as those from a construction site? Or from a small shop? When I last visited Cuenca, I stayed in a charming hotel where every morning at dawn workers next door began pounding on something large and solid. Every clang and boom reverberated inside my sleep-deprived head.
A noisy San Miguel neighborhood
I loved living in San Miguel, but it was my bad luck that my barrio was considered to be the noisiest in town. There were large barking dogs next door, a burro braying nearby, roosters crowing at all hours, and an open-air pulque bar just down the street.
No one laughs and howls like a man drunk on pulque.
But the noise that could blow the sheets right off your warm bed came from what is called mortar fireworks. These are the wall-rattling explosions detonated in the early morning hours by the Catholic Church. Their purpose is to chase evil from the city.
No wonder San Miguel has such a relatively low crime rate – the devil has to leave town every morning.
Maybe the noise doesn’t bother you. But if it’s a quality of life issue for you, I recommend you do research on your prospective ex-pat cities, such as:
- Visit the city before you move, if at all possible
- Talk to expats and native residents about the noise situation in their area of town
- Be a noise detective and walk your target neighborhoods, especially at night
With a little research on your foreign destination, you’ll have a better chance of having a peaceful living and sleeping environment.
You don’t want to follow in the devil’s footsteps and be blasted out of town.
If you have information about noise issues or advances in noise reduction in popular expat destinations, we invite your comments below.
by: Bruce Peterson