I remember in primary school “Hector the Cat” coming to see us and teaching us how safely to cross the road. It was a police and government initiative to teach young kids the importance of road safety. It must have worked well, because ever since I have always looked both ways before crossing and waited for the green signal.
That was before I moved to Europe.
Living and working in Europe has taught me how to cross the road whenever is needed, except of course in Germany where nobody would dare cross on a red signal or J-walk for fear of being fined by the police. Also in Berlin and Dresden you have “Ampelman” the coolest crossing man ever, so why would you disobey?
I cut my road crossing teeth so to speak in Rome, one of Europes craziest motoring towns. In Rome, the red light for a moped or taxi is a suggestion rather than a given. So perplexed at crossing the road I quizzed one of my local guides. “Dean, it’s all about eye contact. Look a driver in the eye and you have formed a relationship. If it’s a girl crossing the road, the male driver automatically thinks she wants to sleep with him. In your case, they think you are admiring their stylish clothes or sunglasses, give it a try” I was told. You know what? Sure enough it worked. I would then dispense this pearl of wisdom to my groups and eagerly demonstrate with the leap of faith. I would wait until there was as much traffic coming as possible, make eye contact and just walk out. As the traffic stopped, my groups would scurry behind me amazed at the Jedi Mind Trick powers of their Tour Manager.
In London you just go for it whenever you can. As Natalie likes to say, “I’m a Londoner we just go!”. For unsuspecting people who drive on the right, London even has “Look Left” clearly printed on the ground to remind tourists that we drive on the left side of the road, how easy does that make it!
This of course does not work everywhere, when I travelled through Vietnam I discovered it was the “Frogger” approach. Based on the 1980’s arcade game you slowly inched your way across the road and the locals would avoid you. Stop, speed up or stutter and there was bound to be an accident but maintain a constant pace and there was no road that could not be conquered.
My favourite roads to cross would have to be La Paz in Bolivia. There they have people dressed up as Zebras holding rope to stop the traffic for people to cross safely. In scorching heat and at high altitude these striped protectors of pedestrians would have to get the award for the most inventive way to help you get from A to B.
China was relatively easy by comparison. We had both heard how crazy the roads were and apart from the odd motorbike whizzing past and the fact you can turn left on a red signal, crossing the road in China was disappointingly easy.
Then we arrived in India. India is a whole new kettle of fish. Not only do you have to negotiate the cars, trucks and bikes, not forgetting the mountains of rickshaws, but you have the cows to try and avoid as well! The rickshaws are fine and easy to dodge, generally speaking they almost come to a screeching halt every time they see a tourist on the side of the road, but it’s the cars behind them you need to watch. The cars will swerve either way to try and avoid them and you have to hope you are not on the way! Eye contact doesn’t work neither does the “Frogger Manoeuvre”, something that has gotten us into trouble on more than one occasion! It seems the best option is a combination of everything we have learnt about crossing the road from around the world, and if that fails, stand next to a local and do what they do.
So next time you visit a new city or country feel free to try any of these. If you have a method that works leave a comment at the bottom of the blog. Meanwhile I will sit at this roundabout a while longer, surely this traffic is going to subside eventually?!