Saturday, November 11, 2006

Changing Lanes

Many people have heard of Culture Shock. Anyone visiting a foreign country faces a shock to the core in that basic “cultural truths” are out of kilter for them. The daily assumptions of existence are violated in a place where everyone else has different assumptions of existence. There are stages of culture shock that are similar to the stages of grief. Culture shock has a duration that is different for most people by usually lasts no more than a year, though various events can cause culture shock as they become newly discovered over time.
        There is another issue that is less well known; culture stress. This problem occurs when, rather than discovering cultural differences, you are facing differences that are well known but still just too hard to deal with. You find yourself about to face a place in cultural dealings where you know the host country sees these things differently, you understand why thy do, you have learned how to deal with it... but it still causes you a kind of stress like fingernails on a blackboard. Culture shock goes away and turns into acceptance. Yet there are small parts of the cultural differences that you can never seem to accept as correct or right and these events stress you.
        Let me offer and example.
        Most of Taiwan has a culture view of lines, ques, and lanes that is much different than westerners. In a restaurant cafeteria, an American waits in line and takes their turn, never cutting in front of others. In Taiwan the american waiting in line is elbowed out of the way by everyone. The concept of personal space and order in line does not exist in Taiwan and the westerner is often stress by this due to their upbringing that you do not shove into a line to serve yourself until it is your turn. For me, this is a culture shock that I have overcome. I can elbow to a degree, but I am not offended that I have to wait for someone who has elbowed their way in.
        However, I have a culture stress. It has to do with traffic. It is a similar cultural thinking as the restaurant issue. Rather than lines, it is lanes. The lines on the road are somewhat optional most of the time. This too is not a big issue for me now... until it gets to intersections.
        Most of Taiwan has no protected left turns and nearly no left turn lights. Left turns in large cities is a danger. On a recent visit to Taichung I noticed that some new left turn lanes and lights had been added! Yowzers! That is so cool. NOT.
        First of all, understand that when there are three lanes in your direction at an intersection, it will quickly turn to five lanes. The break down lane or parking lane will become a lane. The natural space between cars in lanes is cramped together to allow for a fifth lane. Then, when the light turns green, the five lanes race like dragsters to all fit into the oncoming three lanes.
        The left turn lane adds a new dimension and danger to this equation. The new left turn only lanes were great in my mind... until I was in the middle lane at a read light and there were cars in the left turn only lane waiting as well. As soon as the green light came on, the left turn lane suddenly became the 6th lane to go straight! Now all six lanes are squeezing into thee lanes. Understand that these three lanes are really only two lanes, as the far right lane is really for parking. So, now there are cars parked, people from perpendicular lanes are making through right-on-red turns into our traffic without stopping and all six lanes are now coming into two and a half lanes. Ahhhh! All of them RACING to be the first there.
        What happens in the left turn lane when the light turn Green Arrow Left Only and the car in the front wants to go straight? Well, he goes straight! he has a green light in that lane after all... so as he is dodging the on coming left turn traffic and causing them to stop and go in that dance of the uncertain, those behind our offended must wait. But oh no! The left turn light goes out and is now red and the offender is long gone. No problem. Those in the left turn lane that were robbed of their green light take it in credit against the now red light. A dozen cars slip through causing the on coming straight traffic to join the dance of the uncertain (stop go stop go stop go).
        Oh, the horror... the horror.

-The Haggard


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