Thursday, August 1, 2013

Why Did the Iranian Cross the Road?

There is a lot to see and do in Iran. For the foodie, there are vastly different cuisines and local specialities from north to south, east to west. For the history buff, well, where do I even start? It's a given. For the literary mind, it doesn't get much better than the land of poetry. Even the hip-hop artist TM raps about the city of Shiraz as "the city of Sa'adi and Hafez". Could you imagine Jay-Z dropping a rhyme about E.E. Cummings or Edgar Allan Poe and making it sound cool? (Well, he probably could, but it wouldn't evoke the same sense of national pride.) For the athlete, there is world-class skiing, wrestling, polo. Not to mention our awesome female ninjas! You can spend the night with the nomads, explore caves over 12,000 years old, hike mountains, the list goes on. And in case that's not enough for you, there is the everyday adventure of crossing the street. 

As kids we are always taught to look both ways before crossing the street. But as I was driving to work, I realized that adult Americans definitely do not- at least not when there is a crosswalk. I notice they don't check to make sure all cars have stopped or that a car has slowed down to give them the right of way. They just look forward and walk. That's how confident they are that cars will stop for them. Maybe it's because of the time I've spent in Iran, but I automatically assume that drivers won't give me the right of way.

In the U.S., the pedestrian always has the right of way, green means go, yellow means slow down, and red means stop. In Iran, the pedestrian is always in the way (and expect to be honked at because of that), green means go, yellow means go, and red is a mere suggestion to proceed by perhaps taking a quick glance around. I remember my uncle blatantly passing a red light once when I was young. I was astounded. "Daie Joon, the light was red!" His response was, "No, daie jan, it was more pink than red." To this day we laugh about that comment. Remember when Daei Joon said... yadesh bekheyr!

I've tried as much as possible not to cross the street in Iran. It's always an intensely stressful situation for me. But it's impossible. At some point, you have to do it. I even thought it would be easier to cross the street in a smaller town like Neyshabur, but if anything it's almost worse than a big city like Tehran because you have more motorcycles and bicycles to contend with. I am fortunate enough, though, to have the best cousins in the world who are willing to literally sacrifice themselves for me- that is the Iranian way after all, right? They would hold my hand and say "Don't step back. Whatever you do, just keep moving forward." If cars were coming on the left, my cousins would stand on my left. If they were coming on the right, my cousins would stand on my right, so that "If a car hits, it'll hit me, not you." (Yes, that is a direct quote.) Or were they doing it to not only ease my fears, but also because they trusted the drivers? It's funny, as reckless as Iranian drivers are, they also seem to know what they are doing because they do this every day. This is the traffic they are born into, the traffic they've grown up with, the traffic they take their driving tests in. It's no wonder one of my cousins says that Iranians are the worst drivers, but exactly that makes them the best drivers because they are prepared for anything. A bear could come out of the corner and an Iranian driver would be prepared. In fact, it probably wouldn't even phase the Iranian. It would be like that selective attention experiment. Later, they would interview the Iranian, and s/he would say, "Rast migi!?, Are you serious!?" I'm starting to agree that Iranians really make the best drivers because they have so much to deal with. Each and every person has their own unofficial driving rules and regulations that others are not aware of, yet somehow they all manage. Whenever I am annoyed at the traffic in my daily commute, I think, well, I could be in this mess in Iran right now. And *poof* my stress vanishes. It's like my cousins always said, "Boro baba! Driving in the U.S. is just: put your car in D, your foot on the gas, and go forward." True story. You usually just go on auto-pilot. How many times have you arrived somewhere after driving and thought, how did I get here? You have that same thought in Iran, but it's usually because you are wondering how you managed to defy death so many times.

So, an entire blog entry just about driving and crossing the street? Absolutely! It's such a production that Rageh Omaar found it important enough to include in his BBC documentary about Iran. In that linked clip, his statistics on driving in Iran would prove quite the opposite of my outrageous claim that recklessness equals good driving. But then again, I have to disagree with his claim that crossing the street is an exhilarating experience. It actually brings me one step closer to death every time. 

If you haven't seen this documentary in its entirety, it's worth your while. It's from a few years ago, but that doesn't make it any less awesome. It has some excellent insight into Iran. Enjoy!


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