The first hint I had that crossing the streets in foreign countries might not be quite so easy was when the little old man grabbed me by the arm, pulled me back on the sidewalk, pointed his finger at my face, and proceeded to lecture me sternly - in Swedish.
I had been living in Bergen, Norway for several months as a foreign exchange student in the University of California Education Abroad Program. Crossing the street in Bergen was even easier than it had been in California where I obediently waiting for the light to change to green. Bergen in 1969 was still a small city with very little traffic. There were a few traffic lights in town, but I followed the lead of the locals who checked for cars and then crossed when it was safe - even if the light was red.
The Swedes apparently took a different approach. A group of us American students from Bergen took the ferry over to Lund, Sweden to visit our compatriots studying in the program there, and I had my memorable encounter with Herr Svenskacop. Red-faced and bewildered, I turned to my American friends from the Lund program who were laughing uproariously. In Sweden, one follows the rules!
Could crossing the road be a clue to the cultural norms of a country? I'm not sure if it is that cut and dried, but there is no doubt that the rules of the road vary depending on where you are. In Great Britian, of course, the greatest obstacle to safe crossing is remembering to look to your right instead of to your left to see if any cars are coming. Happily (or is it unhappily, because so many tourists got a painful surprise?), some of the sidewalks in London have this helpful reminder.
In big cities, crossing the street is often an adventure. European cities often have few traffic lights, relying instead on traffic circles, which keeps the traffic moving along constantly with few opportunities to leisurely stroll across the street.
In Naples, a red light is "just a suggestion." Young teens on Vespas zip through helter-skelter whether the light is red or green...and if they are really impatient, they just drive up on the sidewalk and scatter the crowds into the street. In Italy, Rob and I discovered the "schooling method" of crossing the street. We either joined a large group...and tried to stay in the middle...or we walked side by side with a lady pushing a baby carriage or a nun, as these two types got a little more respect from the drivers.
Many cities in Europe have solved the competition between pedestrians and cars by turning some of their shopping streets into pedestrian malls. These streets are some of my favorite destinations on our travels! I love wandering down the middle of the street or sitting in a sidewalk cafe watching the parade of tourists and locals enjoying their city. Two of my favorite cities have taken this even a step further. Venice, Italy and the old walled city of Dubrovnik, Croatia have no cars at all! What a joy to be able to jaywalk to my heart's content!
|Markets below the Rialto Bridge, Venice|