Monday, April 18, 2011

Road rage

We're back and have plenty of stories and pictures to share about our trip, but first I have to get this one out.

This morning on my drive to work, I was at a busy intersection awaiting my turn when I witnessed a man in a fancy suit get out of his fancy sports car at the stop sign directly opposite me, walk briskly to the SUV idling behind him and proceed to ream out the driver, gesticulating wildly, his coiffed hair shaking with each syllable shouted. Though I couldn't hear him over my iPod, I could practically see spittle flying out of his mouth and veins pushing their way to the surface of his beet red face.

This was one angry driver. I missed whatever action had provoked this reaction, and I missed the resolution as I had to turn right and soon lost sight of the scene, but as I continued to drive in heavy stop-and-go traffic for the next 20 minutes, I filled in the back-story myself.

First of all, I should say that what I saw this man do was the scenario I've daydreamed about since I began driving in Abu Dhabi. How often have I wished to serve up justice for inappropriate driving behaviors! For all the emphasis on politeness and protocol in the Emirati culture, the UAE roads are a place where rudeness rules, where size matters, and where drivers hiding behind darkly tinted windows act as though The Art of War1 was their driver's ed manual.

Now, I appreciate the car horn as much as the next person. It's an important tool when you feel your safety threatened or when the person in front of you is obviously not paying attention and is holding up traffic. But there is one particular use of the horn, far too common here, which causes my blood to boil with its audacity.

It happens to me, and I see it happen to other people all the time, when the driver behind you, or even several cars in the line behind you, takes it upon him or herself to decide that it is now time for you to pull out into traffic, and lays on the horn to tell you so, often encouraging others to join in the dissonant chorus. It is no matter that they do not have the proper vantage point to judge the distance and speed of the cars barreling down the road into which you are trying to enter. It is not important that they do not know the level of responsiveness or horsepower of your car. They are the all-knowing, all-powerful Abu Dhabi drivers, and you better get out of their way, even if it means compromising your own safety.

It's a form of peer pressure, really. And it's amazing how when it comes from the car behind you it carries a different tone, one that accuses you of being too timid. Chicken! you can practically hear them cry. And how unfair that there is no rear-facing horn that you could use to defend yourself. The only options are to take it sitting down, use hand gestures which may or may not translate, or get out of your car and tell them off. Of course, I would never do the latter (and probably not the middle either), but I would be willing to bet the altercation of this morning's commute was exactly that. He had simply heard one honk too many.

Interestingly, as the man carried out my own fantasy of telling off an inappropriate horn-blower, even though he was holding up a long line of cars behind him, not one toot could be heard from the other drivers. I think we were all watching in awe, silently applauding, relieved that someone finally put his foot down.

1Speed is the essence of war. Take advantage of the enemy's unpreparedness; travel by unexpected routes and strike him where he has taken no precautions. (The Art of War by Sun Tzu, 600 BC)


  1. I know you were writing in all seriousness, but your writing makes me laugh because it's so good! If someone came toward me from their car the first thing I would think is,"Please don't shoot me! Or my kids!" Ahhh! I would probably drive around Abu Dhabi crying, since I hate it when people honk at me, or even near me. :)

  2. :) Wow.. i think i was actually AT THAT intersection :D... lovely post and a great blog ! Would love it if you guys had an email subscriptions button ! Just a though :)

  3. Hi Shafeena, thanks for reading! Blogger actually just added the "subscribe by email" gadget, so you can now find it at the top of our page.

  4. This can happen back in America, too, Shannon, usually almost coinciding with the changed light before one can apply acceleration.

    So you describe how drivers on the receiving end over here can feel as well.