Posted by: mariabro | February 6, 2013

Rules of the Road

In my (just over) 50 years I have traveled to over 40 countries.  Each trip has been an education in geography, politics, religion, sociology, you name it – you learn it when you travel.

While I enjoy learning about the politics and economics of a country I also enjoy observing the everyday behavior.  In fact, I think the two are closely interwoven.  I have a theory that the driving patterns of a country reflect its political stability.

In many emerging economies the traffic is chaotic.  There are no lines and no rules, or if there are, no one follows them.  I remember a recent visit to Vietnam where we wanted to go out for dinner to a restaurant a short walk from our hotel.  We stood on the side of the road unable to cross.  A never-ending mass of motorcycles, bicycles and cars careened across the multi-lane boulevard.

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We finally gave up, went back to our hotel and ordered room service. We later learned from our guide that you have to simply walk into the chaos and the drivers will swerve around you.  A bit unnerving at first but it did seem to work.

I enjoyed driving in Japan where almost everyone obeys the rules.

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You know what to expect.  There are a lot of cars on the road but it is rarely chaotic. The drivers are as evolved as the economy.  My biggest fear was not other drivers, it was getting caught in a narrow, dead-end road and having to back my SUV up, while trying not to scrape the sides of my car. You know when you hear “further branches ahead” on the GPS it is not good.

I also learned about six hour traffic jams to go 30 km.  It seems many people in Japan choose to go the same place at the same time.  It only took me once to learn that lesson.

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I recently moved to small town America.  The drivers are very orderly but there is a new dynamic that is confusing.  They are so polite they don’t actually obey the rules.  They slow down and let you turn in front of them.  This is very puzzling when you are new and don’t know the rules or when you are not sure if the other person is using “small-town polite” rules or regular driving rules.

My second theory is about politics and nightclubs.  This is a theory I studied many (many) years ago but I think it is still relevant today.

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I remember going to clubs in Paris, London, New York and Toronto. The lineup procedure went like this: in Paris, you had to be invited in by the locals, in London, you had to know someone from high society, in New York you had to stand out from the crowd, in Toronto you just had to lineup.  It all makes sense.

I encourage you to come up with your own theories on your next trip.  Education and travel are life-long adventures. As St. Augustine says, “The world is a book and those who do not travel, read only a page.”

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Responses

  1. My fav is the nightclub line. Very telling!

  2. Maria – The think tanks would pay trillions for your insight!

  3. I love this post. Well done!


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