Somewhere in Southeast Asia
When visiting another country, it can be difficult learning the customs, eating the food and understanding any of the language. But the greatest obstacle, and arguably biggest threat to our safety, comes from a simple act we take for granted in the U.S.: going across the street.
From the time the first Australopithecus attempted to wade across a shallow creek on the African savanna and stubbed his big toe, making it safely through moving obstacles has been a hit-or-miss proposition for our species. With such things as the domestication of the horse and invention of the automobile, the risk has become much greater. Stop signs and traffic lights should therefore be regarded as two of mankind’s best and “brightest” achievements.
Unfortunately, traffic signals nowadays have become subject to various interpretations across the globe depending upon the local culture. To aid the wary — and weary — traveller, some of the those rules and suggested safety tips will be covered here to minimize confusion and avoid the possible loss of life or limb.
It’s a little-known fact that many of the forty thousand taxi drivers in Buenos Aires are former rugby players, usually angry over their too-short careers. They vent their frustration through aggressive, almost homicidal driving. Therefore, the first rule in Argentine street crossing is to look in both directions for the black and yellow cabs. If one is sighted within a hundred meters, stay on the corner until it has passed. In fact, we suggest taking a few steps back from the curb.
The traffic lights follow a red, yellow, green, yellow pattern which we will explain.
Red: Heavy cross traffic. DO NOT CROSS.
Yellow (1): Gentlemen, start your engines! DO NOT CROSS.
Green: Taxis are making vicious right or left-hand turns into the “scrum” of any pedestrians. DO NOT CROSS.
Yellow (2): Last minute drivers frantically trying to make the light. DO NOT CROSS.
So what can a person do here? The rule is simple: wait until there are no cars coming, then make a mad dash for the opposite corner similar to a base runner attempting to steal second. Take deep breaths and keep your motions fluid. Do not look behind you and above all, do NOT stop to assist a fellow crosser. If they stumble, they are beyond help. Save yourself!
More than most countries, Brazil is a melting pot of many different races. Natives, Negroid, Asian and Caucasian. This blending is best symbolized by the traffic signals found in the town of Foz, near the world-famous Iguasu Falls.
The first thing you notice is that the signals have a double row of flashing, alternating lights. Also, there are four colors: the usual red, yellow and green with a snazzy orange thrown in for some reason. (We suspect these devices were manufactured by a U.S. company whose specialization is Los Vegas slot machines.) The local drivers somehow are able to make sense of these kaleidoscopes and know when to stop, go, or don sunglasses to reduce the glare. For you as a pedestrian, we recommend waiting until you see double green. This means it is either safe to cross, or you have just won the local lottery. Keep an eye out for any gold coins tumbling down the pole.
In regards to the other color combinations, contact a fortune teller or your horoscope to see which are most propitious for a safe crossing.
No need for special explanations; many of the stoplights simply do not work. They stand on the corner like metallic totem poles. In vain you will supplicate these traffic gods for guidance, but will be rewarded only with silence. Here you must proceed on your journey unaided, relying only upon your reflexes. Fortunately, most of the automobiles in the country are still owned by slow, white drivers.
Special Warning! People in this country drive on the left (as in wrong) side of the road. If you are from America, you’re instincts will have you looking in the wrong direction for oncoming traffic. Recall your grade school advice and look both ways.
This ultramodern city-state features charming little cookie cutter figures beneath most of its traffic lights. Below are the meanings.
Green Man: OK to cross.
Flashing Green Man: Time is running short. Better get the lead out.
Red Man: Do we really need to explain this one?
Flashing Red Man: Don’t even think about it…
Flashing Red Man In Handcuffs: Whom are you going to contact for your one phone call?
Important Reminder: Jaywalkers, along with drug dealers, serial rapists and people who chew gum in public, can receive the death penalty in this country, so pay attention!
The wild traffic here is so deadly street corner vendors sell cigarettes and blindfolds to waiting pedestrians. The locals will usually cross halfway, then balance precariously on the thin yellow dividing line while tuk-tuks, cars and towering, multi-story tourist buses go rushing by in both directions. Definitely not for the faint of heart or slightly overweight.
The key here is patience. Don’t overreact when you look down the street and see a mile-long line of vehicles storming your way. It might take a few minutes, but an opening will appear. When it does, scamper through! It’s especially helpful if you’ve had experience as an NFL running back.
If all else fails and you find yourself totally befuddled, simply follow the crowd. Try to position one of the more obese locals between you and the oncoming traffic as a sort of human air bag. And be careful not to get detached from the herd: stragglers are far more likely to be picked off.
Ultimately, you must keep in mind that you are a guest in these strange, hectic nations and confrontations are never a good idea with an adversary encased in two tons of rapidly moving steel. If the stress starts to get to you, take a deep breath and raise your right hand…to hail a cab.
If you can’t beat ’em, ride with ’em!