Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Stop, look and listen

Something I didn’t think to look up in my guidebook – and it didn’t occur to me until I was facing six lanes of traffic – was how to cross the road. Oh yes, you can jest. In my ignorance (arrogance?) before I moved overseas I thought there was only one way to cross the road. You found a crossing and (either pressed the timer button) or stood with intent in front of the road and the cars stopped.

Ha ha ha aha. Oh no.

Whoever would have thought that one of those cultural differences we hear so much about would extend to the simple act of crossing the road? We have crossings in Thailand; Western pedestrians know what they mean but apparently not the cars. 

In Thailand you have to put yourself in the road and then the cars will stop. Mostly. Hopefully. And by and large they do actually stop.

In China you have to put yourself in the road. Then the cars and bikes and lorries will drive around you. (Much, much more terrifying.)

I know there are some countries in the world that consider (quite sensibly?) jaywalking a crime. In Singapore (my neighbour while I am in KL and therefore why I want to know the rules) you can be fined or even go to prison. (A taxi driver in Singapore told us that crime is low because punishments are severe and implemented.)

I’ve got quite ballsy about crossing roads in Thailand. You do have to watch the body language of the cars to check that they have seen you; you should not make assumptions. But sometimes when your ballsiness lets you down or you are new to the city and the idiosyncratic style of road crossing, you should follow our rule: go with the locals.

So that’s what I did here. I can report that crossing the road is well behaved in my experience of KL city centre. There are traffic lights with pedestrian buttons and the cars stop. Lovely.

However this training of new road habits can be its own danger. Last time I was in the UK I nearly got hit by a car. Let me tell you cars in the UK do not appreciate your sudden appearance in the road with an expectation that they will good humouredly stop. 


Blasé-Man said...

OK Mam, Never Fear, Blasé is here. I'll help you across the road.

Oh so many cars...I'm that the time...I have to dash, you'll be alright, there'll be a gap soon...

But seriously. This is a really good example of the cultural feature that 'it's not what is right, it's what's expected that counts'.

And if I have learned anything from our stay here in Thailand it is that the definition of what is 'right' or 'correct' is not as straightforward as I used to believe.

Queenie said...

In Vancouver, pedestrians have priority at most intersections; traffic has to stop for them. A woman from Vancouver was killed on a road in London because she didn't realise the rules were different there.

Jenny Beattie said...

Blasé man? You again? Have you changed your picture?

Queenie, OMG, that's so scary but I'm not at all surprised. I grew up in the UK but I still made a horrible gaff that could've killed me.

My friend Shola left this funny anecdote on my Facebook Networked Blogs thingie:

"I had the funniest experience in Japan at a zebra crossing, I crossed while the little man was red but there were no cars, all the Japanese behind me followed suit until they realised the man wasn't green, then they all froze mid crossing, panicked and ran back! :-D"

Flowerpot said...

Blimey JJ that sounds nerve racking!

Chris Stovell said...

Wah! Nightmare... and talking of which, I've just caught up with your previous post and that's brought me out in a cold sweat too. I'm very short-sighted too and have horrible memories of trying to negotiate strange pools (phew, remembered to type the 'l'!)!

Adina West said...

LOL. You are so right about China, cars (and bicycles) are a law unto themselves there. Pedestrians beware!

Clarissa Draper said...

I live in Mexico where people do not have the right of way. My best bet is to walk with groups of people crossing the road. I forget that pedestrians do have the right of way in Canada and often get in trouble.


Jayne said...

These differences sound so little but are of such importance. I am always totally foxed when it comes to crossing the road somewhere different. When I went just to Manchester I was bemused by the trams, let alone what it is like further afield!

Debs said...

Six lanes of traffic. The most we have here is two and that causes chaos to most people (including me).

Kat W said...

There is definitely a story or stories to be written on this subject. And with your experience and witty writing I think any resulting story would be very enjoyable!

My house is on a main road at the front and countryside at the back. Although we live in a village with speed limits it seems that many drivers feel the rules do not apply to them. Because I have mobility problems (I'm as slow as a snail) & if I ever want to get across the busy road - I often have to just make the move in any gap & hope approaching traffic stops. I've had a few hair raising moments & have been intoduced to some rather ignorant drivers who apparently don't care that I'm obviously struggling. I daren't wonder what would happen if one day someone just can't be bothered to stop/slow. From some close calls I'm trying to be less daring because it seems my 'death stare glare' doesn't work on some drivers who approach too fast!

My goodness my comment is post length. Sorry about that. I feel so much better now I've shared. Thanks. LOL. Kay :-)

Kat W said...

Just signed myself off as Kay. Bizarre. Anyway twas me, Kat, with the extra long comment. But I'm sure you knew that by the photo & the length. LOL. :-)

Ragged Thread Cartographer said...

I have a postcard (holographic and probably won't scan for you - assuming I could find it) of East Berlin-style little crossing men - they have bowler hats and a newspaper under the arm! Really cute.
Btw Kat W you cheered me up - my comments are always embarrassingly long!
PS veri-word is ingest which I'm about to do! Serendipity rising ..... Dinner really late tonight.
Jenny, hope KL is amusing you and allowing you to check your stuff's in the Right Order!