Friday, 28 November 2014

'¿Cómo conduzco?' 'Er, not very well'

Sometimes, what is seen as a bad practice in one culture can be seen as a thing to be lauded in another. Or at least no one seems to get too worked up about it, which can be a bit puzzling if it wasn’t what you were brought up on.
Old school buses in downtown Bogotá. Many of their drivers could do with some lessons ...
Is that '¿cómo conduzco?' sticker a cry out for help?
Now while many of the cultural traits in Colombia are not that far removed from what this writer is used to, there are a few head scratchers all the same.

Enough has been written previously in these quarters about relationships and such like, so let’s stay clear of that area this time around. Plus, considering the topic, it’s best not to be completely, erm, ‘driven round the bend’ by trying to analyse this in too broad a scope.

Thus, the focus this time around is on the style of Colombian driving, especially – but not exclusively – in relation to those who drive for a living.

Basically, the general custom is to drive your vehicle as hard as you can, weaving in and out of whatever traffic gets in your way, then equally brake as hard as you can when you must stop (as inconvenient as stopping is when you’re in ‘full flow’).

In fact, quite paradoxically in a country where not much trust is put in anybody or anything – often with good reason – many Colombians appear to put a huge amount of trust in mechanical brakes.

Indeed, given such behaviour, there’s little wonder why a good number of Colombians, women from this perspective anyway, have firm figures. For when you have to make a move to get off a city bus, or when you’re standing from the moment you get on, you’d have an easier time keeping your balance on a small yacht in the middle of a violent storm on the high seas. A good workout for your body’s core you might say, to go along with the regular squat exercises taken on public transport.

A crowded Bogotá D.C. bus.
It's easier to keep your balance when the bus is crowded.
It’s also a common occurrence to see ‘rival’ bus drivers go to battle with their vehicles – like modern day lancers – if they’ve been impeded trying to do their route as fast as they can. ‘Passengers. What passengers?’

Of course, from a Bogotá point of view, this rough-and-tumble, aggressive way of driving was due to change with the arrival of, firstly, the Transmilenio and then the SITP. Commuting in the city would be transformed to something resembling an angelic procession. Well, so some people told us.

However, to paraphrase the old saying, ‘You can take the man out of the colectivo, but you can’t take the colectivo (style of driving that is) out of the man.’

The SITP and, to a lesser extent, Transmilenio drivers are cut from the same mould as their predecessors.

Yes, it’s early days for the new system and changing a culture takes time. Plus, drivers in Bogotá, and throughout Colombia, aren’t helped by the appalling state of many of the main highways and byways.

Yet, for the moment, some money could be saved by not bothering to post those ‘¿Cómo conduzco?’ (literally, 'How do I drive?') stickers on the back of most vehicles. That’s because there’s pretty much a universal answer: ‘Not very well.’

Or perhaps we’re looking at the question the wrong way (as is this blog's wont, obviously). It could be a cry for help, as in ‘How do I actually drive this vehicle?’ The evidence certainly supports this.

Driving lessons – another opening in the Colombian market.

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