When I get in my car at home I have three options. I can go left towards Bliss Street, but that left is against traffic. I could also go right towards Hamra Street, which is also against traffic. The one road that is allowed is the one that goes straight for about 40 meters and then you can make those same rights and lefts, but you wait an extra ten minutes in the traffic to get to the same spot you were originally in the opposite allowed direction. You can understand why most people would usually take the illegal rights and lefts, especially when they live in a country that is permeated with a sense of urgency. Time is money, everyone needs money, so ten minutes, is too long to waste.
It has become the unspoken rule around my neighborhood that those illegal moves are reasonable. It’s common to hear the phrase “3aks el Seyr bas el kill bya3milla” meaning “it’s against traffic, but everyone does it.” Phrases like that tend to justify breaking the traffic laws.
If you take a look at Lebanon’s traffic rules and their application you will notice a pattern of unspoken rules governing the situation instead. The unspoken rules could be anything. One unspoken common tradition is allowing pretty woman to pass a red light but vehemently stopping a poor old cab driver from crossing even though he is already in the middle of the road because the police man was too busy staring at the pretty lady and did not see the cab until it got there.
In fact, us Lebanese, we are notorious for our driving methods. To the rest of the world we seem reckless; on the inside, in our reality, we are smart and witty drivers. You may think we don’t know what we are doing, think again because we know exactly how close we are to that other car, and we know exactly how fast to go to successfully make it between those two cars successfully. “Betwenje,” is the term used to describe that kind of intelligence.
Our specialty is going against traffic. Going against traffic is the poster child for traffic violations in Lebanon. It is so infamous that there is even a local youth band called “3aks el seir” that wrote a song 6 years ago, a song that is now the theme song to a T.V. show on OTV also called “3aks el seir”, and that TV show broadcasts footage of the very many traffic violations that occur. The lyrics to that song mean: “we went against traffic, whatever we’ll make it… We went against traffic like morons, whatever, give me your hand, let’s do it anyway.” I’m sure that they are treating that statement a little bit like I’m treating this article, with a smidge of sarcasm, in order to describe the situation we are living in.
Another example of our trademarks is all the mopeds that roam the streets with their own set of rules. For some reason, because they are smaller and more exposed, they feel that they have the right to take advantage of the laws that are meant to protect them. They use those laws as a justification for breaking every traffic law possible. Once my foreign friend asked me why I stop at green lights and look both ways? I almost forgot that in other countries it’s not normal to have to stop at green lights. I forgot that because in Lebanon it goes without saying that a moped can come out at you from any direction at any minute, red light or not, and if they hit you, it’s your fault!
I don’t blame us for abusing the horn. When we are stuck in impossible traffic, missing a very important meeting, we don’t honk in hopes to get the traffic moving faster, we know it’s hopeless. We honk because it’s the only thing we can do!
These habits are forgivable once you take a look at the reasons behind them. The Lebanese claim to not need psychological help because matters of the mind are secondary to physical survival, but if you hold a psychological eye glass over society, it turns into a Petri dish of every typical mental disorder, for example: post trauma disorders, or border line personalities, or sever depression, substance abuse, eating disorders, avoidance issues, not to mention that a large part of the population is crippled by ignorance. Can you blame society for living in a sense of urgency when it’s a dog-eat-dog world and the general rule is survival of the fittest?
Now I no longer get angry when people honk at me for stopping at a red light, or for driving below 50 km/s in a rural area. That’s breaking the unspoken code of survival.