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The snarling dialect of Kuwait’s traffic

jamieI've long thought that traffic is like a language. It's organic - a living thing that develops and changes over time. Also like a language, traffic is affected by its environment and is brought to life by the people who engage in it.  As with a language, there are dialects for different regions and places. Kuwait's traffic dialect is an impatient and rude snarl. It's the dialect of a moody teenager, an arrogant and prideful man. It's the dialect of emergency-lane abuse and queue-cutting. Kuwait's traffic screeches and bellows. It knows no patience, no courtesy.

Once you learn the dialect, it's easy to drive here though never safe. No matter how careful you are to stay within the speed limits and keep out of the Indy 500 far left lane, you risk your life each time you enter the conversation and turn the key in the ignition. Again, like a language, Kuwait's traffic is a group of angry foreigners all shouting over each other, none of them listening nor understanding the other. But with only a little bit of courtesy, a few small moments of patience and understanding, we can change the whole nature of the dialect.

Sometimes when I'm driving, I make it a point to be extra courteous. I stop at the traffic bump to let those making a U turn go ahead. I slow down so the SUV cutting from the far left lane can get over and exit off the 30 without killing anyone. I nudge my car as close to the car in front of me will go so that the car behind doesn't have to wait in the line and slide off the right turn.

Staying courteous isn't always easy. Especially when you've watched 25 cars, trucks, vans and buses cut in front of you by using the emergency lane while you sit in unmoving bumper to bumper traffic. But it's necessary for my own sanity and blood pressure. Moreover, just a few small courtesies can be contagious. If you slow down to let someone over or use your blinker more regularly, you improve the experience of other drivers. So instead of yelling and being yelled out, you speak calmly and politely.

Next week will see the return of Kuwait's traffic nightmare in full force as all the grades in public schools return and everyone on holiday gets back to work. Driving anywhere at pretty much any time of the day or night will return to the multilingual shouting match, an avalanche of voices and no one listening.  But if enough people stayed calm and spoke softly, Kuwait's roads might become a bit less like a tower of Babel and with the noise turned down, more of a conversation in civility.

By Jamie Etheridge

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This article was published on 11/09/2014