When I first arrived in Abu Dhabi I was shocked, almost to the point of feeling personally affronted, by how quickly fellow road-users resorted to the horn while getting around in the city. The lights turn green and barely a nanosecond will pass before the blaring starts up from behind you. If you dare to change lanes you can rest assured another motorist will let you know how your actions have ruined their life. Never mind the barrage you’ll receive if you sit in the fast lane doing the speed limit (I admit I am guilty). We’re talking long, aggressive blasts that demand attention, as though one has the power to magically disperse traffic simply by grinding the heel of their palm into the soft cushion of the steering wheel. This is of course in contrast to New Zealand where use of the horn is reserved primarily to signal a “thank you” (for letting me in/pulling over so I can pass etc). Two friendly pumps on the horn and a wave in the mirror is the most exposure I ever had to the horn before coming to this country (remember, Aucklanders who may frown in disbelief at that comment – we Wellingtonians are very polite).
But the strange thing is that as Mr or Mrs Horn-Happy passes you, or pulls up beside you after blasting you into submission with their horn, they don’t look at you at all. Hands on the wheel, with eyes fixed on the road ahead – they act as if you don’t exist. No over-the-top gesticulating of the sort we became accustomed to in Buenos Aires. Not a middle finger in sight. No-one even dares shake their head and glare (those are the big guns for a Kiwi). I’m not trying to imply that Kiwis are somehow above reproach when it comes to driving habits, but as a rule the horn is not normally the preferred weapon of choice.
The “rudeness” on the roads is also evident wherever queuing in general takes place. It is not your position in the queue that matters, but how much elbow room you can force onto the counter. I have seen some of the most spectacular displays of pushing in in my life – I mean stuff to really behold. What is most impressive is how people keep a straight face after bullying their way into service ahead of everyone else. Again – it’s as though you don’t exist. You can sigh and shake your head in exasperation (another opportunity to pull out the big-guns), but you needn’t bother because the pusher-inner has absolutely no remorse whatsoever. It’s a customer-eat-customer world out there, and if you miss out on service simply because you’re too afraid to use your elbows for the purpose they were intended – well that’s your loss.
I pondered these strange new experiences while considering the old adage “When in Rome…”. I think back to Buenos Aires; I did eventually learn how to throw my hands up at the bank/post-office/supermarket and wave them around while swearing in what can only be described as the adult version of the tantrum. In Samoa (and I admit this one wasn’t too hard) I learnt how to laugh at people when they tripped over and not feel bad about it.
So, this week I have dedicated myself to learning how to leave a horn-wake in my path as I drive. And what do you know… it’s been brilliant! I’ve gone from not even being aware where the horn was in my car, to driving with my hand permanently hovering above it. Sometimes I just toot for the fun of it, randomly – 5 cars and three lanes back while sitting at the traffic lights. Just to let people know I’m here. I’ve also learnt to embrace “being tooted at”. At the traffic lights I can read my book (they’re long interchanges) – no need to keep an eye out for the green, the guy behind me will let me know when I need to move into gear. I must admit that queues for service are harder; my elbows are poised and ready for action, but I have to work on my steely gaze of indifference. Give me a few weeks though, I reckon I’ll have it down.