Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Saudi Car Horn Translations

A major factor in our culture shock after moving to Saudi Arabia was the gratuitous use of car horns. The Mister and I grew up in the South. You only use your horn for one of 2 reasons: 1). To warn someone of an impending traffic accident 2). to get your friend's attention so you can wave hello.


That is not the case in Saudi Arabia. The car horn is like an extension of your larynx; voicing your frustration or excitement so you don't have to go to the effort of rolling down your window and shouting at the other drivers. After many hours of observation and analysis, the Mister and I have come up with a translation guide for the typical car horn honks you will hear on the streets of Saudi Arabia.

"I'm passing you in a way that is illegal in most countries, whether you're ready or not." This usually sounds like a staccato succession of honks that vary in duration and intensity. For example, if you are passing a person on the shoulder, and they are hogging the entire left lane instead of moving to the far right side of the lane so as to allow you to pass ON THE SHOULDER (some people are so selfish), give them 4 to 5 quick honks and watch them bend to your will. If, however, the offensive driver, blatantly obeying international driving laws and staying in an actual driving lane, refuses to give way, you have the right to lengthen the honks and increase the number.

Similarly, if you are impatiently trying to pass a car in the zebra stripes that create a barrier between the cars on the on-ramp and the flow of traffic (the Saudi driver's motto: If it's paved, it's fair game), tap your horn anywhere from 3 to 7 times rapidly because he's probably not paying attention as you're creeping into his blind spot while simultaneously changing lanes and sending out a BBM about how annoyed you are to be stuck behind a nimrod like him. He should really watch out for people like you who are driving in places that are designed for motorists' safety.

"I'm in a tunnel/at the border crossing and I have a horn." This honk is a good way to identify the young male drivers of Saudi Arabia. This honk can be heard while cars are stuck in the bottle neck that inevitably forms under the highway overpasses during the morning commute. You'd think the civil engineers of this country would have planned for the fact that if you're going to have 3 lanes of traffic and 2 shoulders leading up to a tunnel, they should have same number of "lanes" in the tunnel itself. Where are the people driving on the shoulder supposed to go!?

Anyway, to pass the time while stuck in a tunnel or while waiting at the Bahrain border crossing, you can let everyone know your maturity level by starting an audible version of everyone's favorite sports fanfare: The Wave.

Start by finding a rhythm, usually 2/4 or 3/4 time, and tap it out on your Toyota Camry's car horn. After 1 or 2 bars of this beat, a comrade of irritation will join in, syncopating your rhythm and adding a few quarter notes and half notes. If you're really lucky, 3 or 4 other cars with similarly childish drivers will join in and before you know it the walls of the tunnel have created a reverberating cacophony of annoyance that will drive other commuters over the edge.

Isn't having the freedom to drive fun?

"I'm at the back of the line and I want to be at the front of the line, so I'm going to honk my horn until I get what I want." If you're a hired Indonesian driver for a wealthy Saudi family, this honk is for you. You are a busy guy with several schools at which to retrieve the various off-spring of your employers, and you don't have time to wait in the pick-up lane anymore! The sliding door of the Ford Windstar you drive has been shut for an entire .25 second, what is the hold up?! Let the rest of the world know your frustration and really get things moving by laying on the horn for 15-20 seconds. Pause for approximately 2 seconds and repeat until you finally get to the front of the line 5 to 7 minutes later. That will really inspire the other drivers in the same exact situation as you to inch along that much faster.

This honk is only effective, however, if you maintain a stone-faced, couldn't-hate-my-life-more expression on your face the entire time.

"Hey, the light is green." In the West, boring law-abiding drivers actually stop at the white line at intersections and wait for the light to turn green. Can you believe that?! Wimps. In Saudi Arabia, the drivers have cojones to ignore all laws and common courtesy and skip to the head of the line, or just inch their way forward every 2 seconds, leaving the white line yards behind (that is, if they even stop at the red lights to begin with). The only problem is this means drivers can't see the stoplight anymore. This is because the lights aren't hanging from power lines or large metal beams that extend across the roadway in plain sight of everyone. Nope, they're on poles that are placed adjacent to the white lines that the rebels ignore. So, as a favor to the king of the hill, drivers will give a polite, demure tap on the horn when the light turns green so the alpha dog at the head of the pack will know when to let off the brakes.

"HEY! THE LIGHT IS GREEN!!" This horn honk is reserved for the donkeys' behinds that actually stop where they're supposed to, and wait for the light to turn green. To add insult to injury, they seem to have conspired against you and gotten their friends to also get at the front of the line in ALL the lanes, including the shoulder! AUGH! The nerve of some people.

You know what'll communicate your frustration to these chicken-liver rule followers? Blaring your horn angrily the nanosecond the light turns green. Sure, they have the reaction time of a normal human being, and it takes them the normal half a second to move their foot from the brake to the accelerator, but that's not your problem! Your problem is that you're still waiting 2 second after the light has turned green, and you're 15 cars back! Don't these fools know you're in a rush, and you have VERY important things to do!? You have a barbeque with the shebab on the sidewalk of the corniche to get to, you don't have time to dilly-dally.

The Mister and I hope that this guide to car conversation will be helpful to any of the fortunate souls that get the pleasure of driving on the highways and byways of Saudi Arabia. Who knows, perhaps a new language will be created if women ever get the right to legally get behind the wheel.

Vicariously yours,

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