Turkish Driving

Driving across Turkey this week brings to mind some basic points on civility.

When driving, there are rules of the road that are explicit and that carry legal consequences. Beyond those rules are patterns of how people actually behave. The rules of the road don`t provide a lot of direction for these patterns. You learn them through experience.

A pattern that I never see in North America occurs at traffic lights. On highway with two lanes going in each direction, I`m driving the first car in the left lane. A second car is in the right lane next to me. Then as we wait for the light (the timing of which is being counted down, second-by-second, digitally just beneath the red light) a third car comes around me on the left side and a fourth car appears at the far right. A few seconds before the light changes, the cars on the extreme accelerate into the two lanes in front of me and the car on my right.

This seems a bit pushy to me. But what really throws me is that they don`t go very fast. If I were to blatantly take away another driver`s right of way, I would do it with a certain panache. I would feel obliged to take off with alarming speed, leaving my usurped fellow driver in the dust. These guys aren`t on that page at all. I have to slow down behind them as they gradually gain a bit of momentum down the road. And I`m driving a gutless Hyundai rental with tires the vaguely remember having tread at some point. The logic of getting in front of someone in order to drive slowly escapes me.

An essential point in the story is that driving in other countries requires shifting your frame of reference. What is civil or uncivil, acceptable or ridiculous depends to some extent on context.

The essential life skill is to pay attention, notice what is happening without regard to your expectations, and find your place in how the world works.

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