Are Czechs getting even more polite?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Category: Articles

You want to cross the street without getting run over. What do we do? Look for the zebra path. Drivers are supposed to stop there when they see a pedestrian. I’ve heard people complain that drivers don’t bother stopping at zebra crossings, especially in Prague. So then why do they stop for me?

In China they have zebra crossings on each street, but only about 15% of the people are aware of them. Why should they be? Most drivers are too busy on their cell phones to notice the lines painted on the street, or the blue signs by each crossing, reminding them to yield. Even the pedestrians who walk over to the zebra path end up skirting traffic, so most people just cross wherever they want. The drivers expect the people to proceed cautiously, stop and let every passing car go by, and then take a few more steps till the next car whizzes by.

What about Czech drivers; do they stop and let people cross the street? Many locals say that drivers are rude, inconsiderate and don’t stop unless you’re halfway across. Czechs don’t have a good reputation amongst each other when it comes to driving and the fatality statistics back this up. They are reckless on the highways, that’s for sure. But in towns and villages I’ve found Czechs to be courteous to pedestrians (if less so to bicyclists).

In China, crossing the street is a sport that you have to have a strong stomach for. Everyone there knows how it works: people are the lowest form of life on the roads after trucks, buses, cars, motorcycles, bicyclists, cart-pushers and dogs. At least I was usually on a bike/moped. Chinese pedestrians are conditioned to proceed slowly and stop for moving vehicles, even for bicycles. In the West, bicyclists tend to curve behind pedestrians, effectively giving them the right of way, provided they KEEP WALKING. Not the Chinese. Bikes are bigger than pedestrians, so they don’t bother to yield. They know the walker will stop, even take a step back. Needless to say I hit several people with my bike. Usually they weren’t surprised or angry; just grateful to be unhurt. One time I ran into a retreating young man on a major road, whose friends surrounded me, looking angry and at each other quizzically. Remember, I’m a white guy in China. I yelled at him: “You’re strong man, you must move forward, never go back!” His friends glared at him reproachfully, and they moved on. But I digress.

Czechs drive like maniacs when they can. Most of them will let me stand there at the crossing (in other words, they will not stop) unless I’ve already placed a foot in the street. And if I turn my head in the driver’s direction, 99% of them will stop and let me cross.

It is, after all, a two way street.

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