Cultural differences and misconceptions?

August 12th, 2011

We came across a number of differences in the rules of the road whilst driving in Europe which highlight how cultural differences can impact on potential conflict situations.

In the UK we are so used to giving way to incoming traffic onto a dual carriage way that it is almost instinctive to do so. When I did so in France in an attempt to be helpful, I got the middle finger treatment. Incidentally, I also got the middle finger treatment when I pulled out in front of a French driver. I will admit that I had not given quite enough room but in my defence it is more difficult to judge when you have your steering wheel on the wrong side of the car and are relying on passengers to assist.

Driving in Italy the give way rules are reversed, so it is ok to give way to Italian drivers. However, I know from experience that, a moment’s hesitation in navigating your way around a city brings swift disapproval and honking of horns which is not entirely helpful! That said when we got lost finding our way to a hotel in Italy a rather nice young man got out his own car and personally escorted us to the correct location. How brilliant is that? He went so far out of his way to ensure we found it and were ok that we now love all Italians!

To me these are good examples of how our actions (often with the best of intentions) can be misunderstood and misconstrued by others, particularly when we are operating under different rules. It also demonstrates how others reactions to situations will differ according to the context and cultural differences. It is very easy to react in a way that would be seen as acceptable by some without thinking that to others such a reaction may be totally unacceptable. To avoid such situations causing further conflict it is important to try to stand back and understand both the context and the other persons point of reference. With that in mind I resisted the temptation to respond with similar hand gestures and simply smiled and waved.

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