Crossing Cultures – Traffic

America is, for the most part, a place of law and order.  If there are lines painted to show which way to go, we stay within the lines.  If the street has a line down the middle, we don’t often go over that line.  For the American abroad, following such restrictive habits may lead to great frustrations.

In Israel I was told that I should think of traffic like the flow of blood cells through the veins and arteries.  It was a perfect analogy and helped me tremendously when I got into difficult traffic situations.  For example, in America, when you come up behind a car that is waiting for traffic to clear before making a left turn, you slow down, stop, and wait.  In Israel, you honk your horn, shout and gesture angrily, pull onto the sidewalk on the right until you are even with the stupid driver who should know better than to impede your progress, then you shout at him a bit more before going on your way. 

In Israel, the operative rule of thumb is: “If I’m here, the other car can’t be.”  So it’s OK to pull in front of oncoming traffic.  After all, you got there first, and they can slow down if they don’t want a collision.  If something has stopped traffic in your lane, change lanes, even if it means driving into oncoming traffic, until you can be in your lane and moving again.

In Egypt, conditions are somewhat the same, but with far fewer restrictions.  Lines on the road mean little.  You choose any lane or direction that gets you where you are going.  And speed limits?  Pay no attention.

In the UAE, on the long empty stretches between major towns, speed limits are ignored so badly that many one-vehicle crashes occur (and the rusting wrecks sit in the desert as proof) when the sllightest thing distracts the driver going 100+ miles per hour (160+ kph).

In the UAE and Mexico, left turn lanes are only the most convenient lanes for making a left turn.  It can actually be done from any lane at any time, without needing to warn other drivers (though, to be fair, Mexicans will usually stick out an arm, or lean out to make a pleading expression).

OK, so this has been a bit of a rant…and maybe things have improved since my last visit.  I hope you’ll write to tell me your experience.

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