driving

To Drive Is to Learn a Culture: Enter the British Zombies

I will not lie. I thought I knew all there was to know about driving. That is until I started trying to get a British driver’s license.

The dreaded British learners' L-plates.

The dreaded British learners’ L-plates.

I have been driving since the age of 15. That’s 30 years of driving experience. I first learned to drive in the United States. I left the US before I could finally qualify for a driver’s license. But I quickly picked up my driving once I eventually settled in Egypt. At 18, the legal driving age in Egypt, I answered the simple test questions that I was given about signs and I took the 5-minute practical exam, driving around some cones. I passed. Many Egyptians never take that exam. They find someone who knows someone at the police department and get it done automatically; with some money passed under the table, of course.

Since then I have driven in many countries of the world. I have rented cars in the US, Turkey, and many European countries to make transportation easier and more comfortable while on extended holidays. I vividly recall one of the lessons I learned during my driving classes in high school in the US: Follow the speed of other cars on the road. While driving in a foreign country, I have applied this general rule when I am not fully aware of the driving culture in that country. I observe what other drivers do and I imitate them, driving at the general speed of the road and figuring out signs and symbols based on how drivers react to them.

The main part of my 30 years of driving has been in Egypt; Cairo to be more precise. I once explained driving in Cairo to someone by saying, “The main rule of driving in Egypt is knowing that we’re all in this together and we’ll just help each other along the way so that we all eventually arrive at our destination.”

To be honest, that’s not the real main rule. The real main rule is: EVERY MAN FOR HIMSELF! Get to your destination using any means possible. There is NO ONE more important than you on that road. Anything you see is simply an obstacle to overcome, go around, or ram into.

The reality is that we have no real rules of driving in Egypt. We have no Egyptian Highway Code that I am aware of. Our driving culture is one of getting onto the road, doing your best to stay on it, and doing your best to get to where you need to get without having too many accidents on the way.

My husband Colin spent a month in Egypt and during that month I tried to teach him the rules of Egyptian driving. (more…)

The Unspoken Rules of Cairo Traffic

I’ve always wondered how one would explain the unspoken rules of Cairo traffic to a non-Egyptian trying to learn how to drive on the roads of our everyday craziness. Egyptians drive for years in Cairo and eventually get a feel for what must be done in order to arrive safely at our destination in the shortest possible time with minimal scrapes and dents to our cars and minimal loss of life. It’s not an easy feat. But we eventually get there.

My British khawaga husband Colin is spending a full month in Cairo for the first time. We both decided it would be good for him to learn how to drive here. In the process, I’ve discovered that itis possible to put our unspoken rules into words that are inevitably shouted out. I thought it would be useful to share my all-encompassing wisdom on Cairo traffic with a larger audience so I jotted the rules down.

Colin has an odd tendency to drive in one lane and to stay in it. He’s a khawaga. What can I say? His natural inclination is to keep driving at the same speed as long as he believes he has the right of way. With my eyes rolling, I have had to teach him rules number 1 through 3.

RULE #1:

The concept of “right of way” is practically unknown in Egypt. If you drive on our roads using this concept you are likely to kill at least a dozen people before you reach your destination. We do have our own local version of right of way though. Larger vehicles have right of way over smaller vehicles. Pedestrians already walking across the street, despite the fact that they look like they are on a suicide mission, have the right of way. Cars that beat you by filling the gap in traffic you’re aiming for with the front of their car have the right of way.

RULE #2:

ALL LANES ARE NOT CREATED EQUAL. There is a reason why one lane is moving particularly slowly. Do not feel loyal to your lane. If you do, you are an idiot. Get yourself into the moving lane no matter what it takes.

This post was originally written for CairoScene’s The Scenario. Find out the rest of my unspoken rules of Cairo driving here http://cairoscene.com/scenario/?p=3429