Thursday, March 30, 2006

And the First Round of Road Rage Goes to ....

As I write this, I realize that I don't exactly have the moral high road when it comes to driving in a foreign country. Hitting a tram pretty much places me at the bottom of the driving food chain, right above those (God bless their souls) that drive their cars into canals. But, legal disclaimer aside, there's nothing quite like driving in Brussels. Nothing!

For those State-side, let me break down the Brussels' driving population for you in terms that you may understand:

  • 60% of the drivers are comprised of those people that refuse to wait in line at the exit, so they speed up in the adjacent lane and try to cut in at the last minute;
  • 15% are the people that drive on the shoulder and then try to cut back into the exit lane at the last minute;
  • 10% are "xtreme" drivers who consider sidewalks, medians and curbs as grinding rails;
  • and the other 15% are lost - incredibly and horribly lost.

Now, have all of these "drivers" lay on their horns at the same time, and there you have Brussels driving in a nutshell.

To compound the problem, many roads do not have lane lines. So, depending on the width of the roadway and/or the sidewalks, not to mention the aggressiveness of the drivers, you could just as easily be driving on a two-lane road as you could a six-lane road. The trick is being able to dodge the oncoming traffic, pedestrians, trams, the beggars, and the cars parked in the traffic lanes. Nothing to it!

When I ventured out the other day, I forgot the single most important rule for driving in Brussels - merging does not exist! I was caught in a traffic jam where 2 lanes were feeding into a third. Apparently, "me first" had kicked the shit out of "my turn, your turn," because the lane to the right was not letting anyone from the left lane in. Fortunately, I was in the "me first" right lane.

In the interest of fair play, when I got to the intersection, I let a little red car from the left lane merge in, not realizing that my random act of kindness would spark a huge bout of road rage. Apparently, the driver of the silver BMW behind me took great exception to being one more car away from his final destination. He jumped the curb on my right, which places him firmly within the 15% that abuse the shoulder lane, as well as the 10% that grind, and tried to drive his way in front of my car. Well, that simply was not going to happen.

I punched it so that my front bumper was right up against the red car's rear bumper. When the red car inched forward, Mr. BMW tried to intimidate me by driving as close as possible to the side of my car, which, frankly, I found extremely weak, and not just because of the width of the sidewalk. I've driven for the last ten years in Southern California -- where road rage was invented, thank you very much. It was going to take a lot more than dirty looks and sidewalk navigation to make me crumble. Besides, I've played chicken with a tram - and lost. BMW's don't scare me.

Mr. BMW realized that he was going to run out of available sidewalk before he could clear the front of my car, so he angled his front left bumper into the lane of traffic, thinking this would impede my forward progress. Silly homme. I have wrecked a Formula One race car. Did he think for a second I would not sacrifice a leased Opel station wagon?

When he put his car into reverse, to avoid the awkward moment where we exchange insurance information, I knew I had him. Like the good global citizen I am, I refrained from flashing the big "L" at him. No sense rubbing it in, especially considering that the me-firsts weren't going to let him off the sidewalk anytime soon.

© 2006 Cindy Lane. All rights reserved.

7 Comments:

Blogger Cindy Lane said...

For further reading on the Brussels' driving situation, check out: http://www.expatica.com/source/site_article.asp?subchannel_id=48&story_id=28782&name=70pc+of+accidents+due+to+breach+of+traffic+rules

8:31 PM  
Anonymous Eric said...

Opel station wagon...yikes. I'll see if the US Army has an extra Humvee they can send you! That should trump anything on the road over there!

11:34 AM  
Blogger Cindy Lane said...

As long as you are requisitioning vehicles, how 'bout throwing in a Porsche 911 -- much more my speed!

2:10 PM  
Anonymous Rod said...

Hey Cindy, by driving the Opel Station Wagon, you have just entered my world. I am thinking of going back to Marion and searching for that Gremlin that my dad bought me in high school so that I can ship it to Brussels.

7:27 PM  
Blogger javacurls said...

Hi Cindy,

I actually just found out that my family & I will be moving to Belgium this summer! I've really enjoyed reading about your Belgium adventures. Your most recent entry shocked me. I lived in Germany for 3 years & for some reason I thought the driving would be similiar in Belgium. Having learned to drive in Southern CA and driving in NYC for 3 years I'm I'm ready! hahah I'm so glad you didn't let that BMW get in front of you! You go girl!!

7:58 PM  
Blogger woman wandering said...

I lived in Istanbul 2 years, where there are rumours of crazy driving, and sure perhaps they are, but the Belgian drivers scare me SO MUCH more.

I used to be queen of the road back in New Zealand (in my own mind) here, I don't even dare ride a bicycle since they also have right of way rights that terrify me.

My partner is Belgian and he has this evil little smile he does when I slide down the seat, as he calmly slams on the brakes to avoid that unseen speeding car that's allowed 'right of way' from the right at so-many intersections.

Mmmm, and add to that the fact that everyone is driving on the opposite side of the road from back home and I'm ruined.

Good luck, I'm so impressed by your valour on the roads ...

4:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice site man! Very nicely done. I will be back!
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7:02 PM  

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