Saturday, May 4, 2013

Stop in the name of a pedestrian!

Germans really earn their reputation for being a rule-conscious, order-conscious people. This manifests itself in a number of ways, from street cleaners literally sweeping the sidewalks at 5am to homeless men chastising you for putting a recyclable into the trash can. Not that I would know.

The concern with order really comes out in things like traffic signals, perhaps because American me is accustomed to Bostonians ignoring walk signs and nearly getting themselves run over twice a day. Germans wait until the light tells them to go. Pedestrians usually don't walk across the street until walk signal comes up, even if there aren't any cars coming. When cars come to a crosswalk without signals, the presence of a pedestrian hovering at the side of the road will cause them to stop, even if there are no other cars behind them and they have to brake hard to keep from jutting into the crosswalk. I can count on one hand the number of times a car has not stopped for me.

I certainly don't mind waiting a few extra seconds while the car that is nearly past the crosswalk already goes on through. Also, I don't trust that the driver is actually going to stop, because American, and usually wait for the car to fully halt before crossing. This makes some people impatient, as all the Germans step blithely out into the street, secure in the knowledge that they will not be run over. Often I end up scurrying across the street like some sort of foreign mouse to keep from feeling like I've overly inconvenienced the person who didn't have to stop for me in the first place.

Not that I'm bitter or anything.

This practice of yielding-to-pedestrians-with-a-vengeance became especially surreal when I left school yesterday to walk to the train station. I got to the street I always cross (it doesn't have a signal) and did my normal fearful inching out, only to step back smartly when an ambulance came around the corner. It didn't have lights or sirens, so I can only hope that it was just out for a relaxing drive and not headed to the hospital because it stopped and waited for me to cross the street.

My scurrying was especially fast, I assure you.

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