Monday, June 06, 2005

Transport - The Arab Way

I know what you are thinking - that a handsome, tall, Omar Shariff type has fallen under my spell and kidnapped me, taking me by camel train to the darkest reaches of the desert ...

.... no such luck!! I am sitting here on the 14th floor, with not an Omar in sight!

We are slowly beginning to understand the interesting phenomenon of Abu Dhabian life.

Take their driving for instance : firstly, they drive on the wrong side of the road - the right side (if you get my meaning). This includes not only the cars, but the escalators, stairs and pedestrians as well. So we are constantly fighting our way through streams of oncoming cars, trolleys and people - until we are bumped to the other (wrong) side and can then go with the flow!

Because it is illegal to turn left into a block or driveway, u-turns are not only allowed, but are actually compulsory, and are more or less executed from any lane, in front of any number of oncoming cars. U-turns are also the only time it is compulsory to use an indicator. Some u-turns even have their very own little miniature robot to tell you when you can u-turn.

It seems that traffic signs such as robots, stop signs, yield signs are considered (at best) to be a recommendation or suggestion, not an instruction; and (at worst) a pesky annoyance to be ignored, an irritation and a nuisance!

(And some, like these, could be understood in a number of different ways...)

If you have a road accident, you must telephone the police and they come to assess who is to blame. If it is your fault, you get a pink copy of the form, the blamefree motorist gets the green copy. Garages will not repair your car without this form. A westerner (or expat) involved in an accident with a local is generally assumed to be in the wrong - no matter the circumstances of the accident - the reasoning being that if you were not in the country in the first place, the accident would not have happened. Can't argue with that logic!

Oh, did you know it is the LAW here that your car must be clean? There are very few dirty, dusty or neglected looking cars. However, the other part of the law says that you may not wash you car on the street either!!!??? That explains the long queues at the car washes!

Virtually every intersection has a roundabout, but they are not the puny, "traffic calming" ones we are used to. They are huge circles with at least 8 or 10 roads feeding in and out of them. Vehicles can join from any lane and cross any number of lanes to get to any other lane and can leave by cutting across any lane from any lane into any lane of the adjoining road. The result is scary, to say the least. I am sure there are some cars (probably diven by inexperienced expats) who are too petrified to try to leave these roundabouts and have been circling for years! Some of these roundabouts are so large, they have massive fountains, trees and picnic areas, etc. Although, just how one would cross the 4 lane road to get there is a mystery.

All cars, especially taxis, are fitted with special heavy duty hooters and brakes, because no car can operate without the excessive use of one or the other, or both at the same time. The definition of a nano-second is the time it takes between the robot turning green and the guy behind you hooting for you to move!

And remember, camels have the right of way .....

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