Back home in Her Majesty’s Great Britain we love nothing more than to talk about the weather. Whether its coffee break chitter chatter or pub talk you can’t get away from drizzle, gales and sunshine. The moment you touch down in the Emirates this hardwired subject matter is replaced almost immediately with talk about this countries driving standards.
Driving over here can be a blood sport, which ever way you cut it its survival of the fittest. You can be as polite as you like but karma has no business in this wonderful desert land. Back home, if someone were to cut you up on the M25 or – perish the thought – undertake you on the A3, you would ramble on about it for days. Here this sort of caper is woven into the very fabric of the art and to take every indecent traffic assault personally is purely a waste of time and energy.
Yesterday whilst driving home from work I left a roundabout in the left of 2 lanes. On my right was an old Mercedes C Class and on my left a guard rail and 20ft plunge. The driver of this vehicle seemed unable to decide which lane he would prefer, so thought it best to straddle the white lines. A quick flash of the high-beams and a toot of the horn on my part – I assumed – would let my fellow road user know I meant business. There was enough room for me to get by with ease. With a due sense of caution I negotiated my manoeuvre only to find that Mr. Merc was continuing to merge not only into my lane, but into my car itself. I continued to sound the horn but still he kept coming. It was only by the time our front bumpers were aligned that he knew I was there and went swerving off in the opposite direction. It was exciting stuff and it got me thinking. How can things be that bad? This was the latest in a long line of road etiquette faux pas’; surely there must be a reason?
It confirmed the point that the UAE is one of the most densely cosmopolitan places on Earth. When it comes to driving you have the territorial Emirati nationals, the know-it-all Westerners, the poor old south-western Asians and so on, all vying for the same piece of tarmac (or asphalt if you insist) and all with different ideas on how it should be achieved. Think about it, there are so many drivers from so many different backgrounds no one seems to know what’s right and what’s wrong. Have you ever seen Mumbai at rush hour?
Living over here – and this may surprise my girlfriend – I have learnt a great degree of patience. When I first sat behind the wheel over here I found myself hoarse after each journey as a result of my excessive shouting and opinion sharing. It was futile. Why did I find it so hard to accept that I was more likely to stumble across a badger that could sing La Traviata than finding someone who knew how to indicate? I know that when I’m following a pick-up truck with Georgian style fences around its flat-bed that I need to get by quickly whilst giving him a wide berth. I know that if I am following an old looking Toyota Hilux I should expect him to swerve at any second. I am also fully aware that if I see a Toyota Land Cruiser approaching from the aft in my rear view mirror at a speed that would make Sebastian Vettel sweat, I am best off changing lanes post haste. The last thing I want is to go through what Dennis Weaver went through in the 1971 film Duel.
Go to any social gathering and you will hear at least 2-3 people complaining about the driving standards and regaling their fellow man with their latest tale of woe and despair. But don’t pay attention. Don’t be put off by the stories. When driving over here you just need to remain on guard. Within 2 weeks you will have stereo-typed each different type of car and you will be able to work out their next move before they do. But we’re taught that back home, it’s not a given. Give your fellow road users a chance and don’t forget where they’ve come from and what they’re (or they’re not) taught.
Just remember, never mess with a Land Cruiser…