|[Man behind the wheel*]|
It is said that our first 18 years have a lifetime impact. Our childhood affects the foods we enjoy, our approaches to life, the way we raise our children and even our career choices, to name a few. Granted, each of us over time accepts or rejects this heritage at any given time but it is present and impacts our life one way or another.
I recently became aware that it also influences how we drive. Simply put, I am a much better driver in the United States than in Israel. By better, I mean more natural and relaxed. In the United States, I sense the kind of stupidity to expect from the drivers around me. I know the expected pattern of speeding up and slowing down (except on Sunday when the “Sunday drivers” come out). I am confident in my ability to identify early and react to any situation. As a result, I am relaxed when I drive in the United States, especially on the West Coast, and find the driving experience neutral, i.e., neither pleasant nor unpleasant. By contrast, in Israel, I actively monitor all cars around me, expecting them to try to risk their life to reach the same red light 30 seconds before me. I am rarely disappointed. Although I still often sense what a given driver will do, I am less confident and more stressed. For me, a 45 minutes’ drive in Israel is not fun, to put it mildly.
Logically, that should not be so as I have driven in Israel for many more years than I did in the United States. I drove in the States for some 12 years regularly, getting my driver’s license at the age of 17 until I immigrated at the age of 28. Adding annuals trips over many years, I have driven on US roads for some 15 years at most. By contrast, I have lived in Israel some 32+ years, driving on a regular basis for a good part of that period. I am quite familiar with the roads and the drivers. They should be second-nature.
Of course, driving in the Mediterranean is Mediterranean is highly entertaining, at least for those that enjoy action. Whether in Spain, Italy, Tunisia or Israel, Mediterranean drivers own the road, literally. Other drivers are mere trespassers and really should not be there. Not only that, as elsewhere, phone calls and personal arguments are of greater priority than keeping with the flow. Still, the traffic flow around this middle sea does have a specific tempo that can be learned.
Clearly, high temperatures affect driver attitudes but only so much. As the mercury goes up, driver patience tends to go down and tempers rise. It does not take much to begin an argument between two drivers here. A sudden stop will suffice to create some interesting street action. The fact that all cars in Israel have had air conditioning since 1995 has not significantly mitigated the slaughter on the roads based on the annual numbers. Not only that, drivers from many other countries also suffer from high temperatures but still exhibit patience. The weather itself does not explain the difference.
It is possible that my driving culture was formed not only by actually time behind the wheel but in the surrounding seats. For some 16 years, I watched my parents and other people drive and the interaction between them. In a passive but embedding way, I “learned” how to drive, which I applied when I became an adult. As I came here at the age of 28, I did not receive that education. Thus, my comprehension of Israeli drivers is not instinctive. On the other hand, it may be just me. Other immigrants may have gone native with no problem. I confess to have done no research on this subject.
So, in my opinion, driving patterns are a cultural phenomenon. They are affected, as in all such matters, by both childhood and later life experience. I strongly affect that the former has more of an influence than people suspect.
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