Saturday, April 6, 2013

Hitting the Road

Driving, like eating, is a similar but unique experience in every part of the world.  Apart from the legal differences, i.e. making a right turn on a red light in Los Angeles, the pace and rhythm varies from country to country, often based on such factors as distances, density, kinds of roads, weather, and national character.  All together, it makes sitting behind the wheel a part of “feeling” the country no less than sitting on a chair in a café.

In the United States, a rather law abiding country despite all the TV shows to the contrary, most people actually follow the laws and are even polite.  Not only that, once you leave the crowded streets of the city, there is generally plenty of road for everybody.  Of course, there is a lot of space to cover, especially in the West where the states are much bigger.  For example, California from tip to tip is easily some 15 or more hours of continuous driving.   The meaning of this is driving in America, especially outside the cities, is actually quite pleasant.  Most roads are made for consistent high speeds (California highway 1 being an obvious exception).  The national tendency, outside New York City, of striving to be nice extends to the road.

Israel, well, is another story.  Israelis tend to tense and proud in all they do, including driving.  As for laws, they are merely suggestions for behavior, like at home.  Likewise, Israeli drivers tend to treat the road as if it is owned by their father, giving them extra privileges, such as not having to signal or let another car pass them.   As for red lights, time is money.  If you day dream for two seconds, you can be sure that the driver behind you already has his or her hand on the horn.  The speed limit and average pace on the road are often ignored, especially if you are less than 25 years of age. I live in the Galilee with a large Arab population.  Its driving style is quite interesting, generally too fast or too slow, with seat belts being a bit of a nuisance to the eight people in the car.  Sadly, the Arab population in Israeli suffers from a relatively high rate of accidents both to drivers and pedestrians.  If you are so unfortunate to find yourself in religious neighborhoods like Bnei Brak or many parts of Zefat, be very careful.  While it is clear that driving on the Sabbath may get you “rocked” in the wrong way, even on a normal day, the drivers and pedestrians alike travel in complete tranquility, oblivious to anybody else, apparently absolutely sure that God is protecting them.  On a good day, driving on Israel’s crowded roads in an interesting experience while on a bad day, you can imagine.

I would be interested in hearing other people’s description of driving in their country.

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