London Week 2.5 – Navigating the Roads

Day 15 in the UK and the Brits have accepted me as one of their own.

Ha-ha. Definitely not. My big ‘ol Yankee accent gives me away every time.

That, and the fact that I still haven’t mastered the crossing of the British street. And no, that’s not a special street or anything, that’s just all British streets generally.

This really irks me. I, who lived in New York City and learned how to zig-zag my way through a four-lane street of zooming, angry cabbies on a daily basis, cannot seem to figure out how, where and when to walk across a single-lane, 6-foot wide road featuring painted-on directions pointing out where to look before crossing, and boasting a series of mini coopers and priuses (prii, perhaps? priem?) just trundling along at their own merry little pace. Your future lawyer, ladies and gentlemen.

The walking street lights in London come in two flavors: 1. The little walking man that we have in the US, although he is green for go here, instead of white for…(yeah, I’m not sure why the US dude is white- white privilege, perhaps?), and 2. Big flashing light bulbs, one on each side of the walking path, which, as far as I can tell, are always flashing.

The little green man is easy, if you’re a legitimate Londoner. If he’s there, walk. If he’s being counted down before he disappears, walk fast. If he’s not there, look in the direction the painted road sign points you to, and, if there’s no immediate sign of danger, walk really fast. For the rest of us, I say ignore the little green man and just follow the pack like a good little lemming. If they’re all walking and you’re right in the middle, chances are the car will hit the brakes before it gets to you. Safety in numbers.

Now, if there isn’t a pack, just wait for the little green man. I’ve been burned trying to cross the street after an overzealous Londoner, and then had to shriek back to the safety of the sidewalk to avoid zooming bicyclists and hurtling cars. One time I legitimately put both hands over my head, huddled in the middle of the street, and prayed the end would be quick as they zipped by me.  But then, an older woman leaned over the curb to tug me the 1/2 a foot back onto the sidewalk, and I realized, first, I was nowhere near the middle of the street, and second, the wheeled-vehicles were probably traveling at a combined pace of 8 miles per hour.

As far as I can tell, the big flashing bulbs give pedestrians the right of way. So, if you’re a car or a bike, no matter what you were doing or how fast you were going, as soon as a pedestrian steps between those bulbs:

Now, if you’re someone like me, with great power comes great responsibility. In public, I chalk this up to a mere misunderstanding of what the light bulbs mean, but in reality, I’m just doing what parents refer to as “pushing the envelope.”

For example… car drives up, I immediately step between the bulbs. Car stops. I giggle and return to the sidewalk. Car pauses, confused, and then begins to drive again. I promptly step between the bulbs, and he hits the breaks again. I lightly rap the side of my head with an open palm, feigning I have forgotten something back on the sidewalk, and return from between the bulbs. Car pauses even longer, peering over at me from the right-hand side of the car, and then cautiously continues to drive by.

Since this is not the US, he doesn’t swear at me, or give me the finger, or inquire in an outraged voice about the level of my sanity. If anything, he’s probably legitimately concerned about what I forgot, which, I know, makes me kind of an annoying b*tch. Don’t worry, I only did this once.

Well… twice. Three times, tops.

This also reminds me of another glorious observation from the UK. Happening areas, like Covent Garden, are easily just as crowded as, say, Times Square, with one serious difference. Absolutely no arguments, annoyed voices, loud discussions, etc. People bump into each other, sure, but nobody gets annoyed.

I don’t know if it’s the exhaustion of the language barriers (I could yell, but, like, will they even understand me?), the excitement of being on vacation (Wait, did someone just bump into me? WHO CARES, I’M ON VACA!!!!) or just a heightened general contentment in the Europe vs. the US (Ah, she just bumped into me, but I am secure enough as an individual to not feel the need to make a big deal about it and protect my pride/reputation in front of all these people I don’t know by screaming at her), but it is wonderful.

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  1. General speaking, when we bump into somebody we think we are at a fault. We are apologetic and thank whoever we have bumped into for being forgiving, regardless of who might actually have been at fault.

    Two Brits bumping into each other, the subsequent exchange probably goes a little like this:-

    Brit 1: I’m so sorry
    Brit 2: I’m sorry, my fault.
    Brit 1: No, no. I’m sorry.
    Brit 2: No, it’s okay. It was my fault.

    There is a trick to using the big flashing bulbs (a Zebra Crossing). Just walking out into the road may not have a happy ending and standing on the pavement will confuse drivers.

    1) Stand on the edge of the pavement, looking to the right. While a minority will ignore you, most drivers will start to slow down as they see you.
    2) When it becomes apparent a driver will stop (or have already stopped), walk out into the road and hold your hand up as a thank you gesture. Being British, it’s an apologetic thank you (“I’m really sorry I need to cross the road and causing you to have to stop “).

    The next part is they key, you are only half way there.

    3) Before continuing to cross, now look to the left and repeat the above for the traffic approaching from the other direction.
    4) You are now free to safely cross the road, thanking both drivers who stopped for you.

    Happy crossing!

    Liked by 1 person


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