Cultural musings: Traffic light VIP

I have no voice in this city and I deserve no ‘opinion’ – I am but a mangy laowai who is (in theory) just passing through. So take any such opinion with a pinch of salt (I was going to say ‘with a pinch of MSG’ but … come on) and just ignore it.

Nonetheless, here is just one cultural musing from this confessedly smelly foreigner.

I urge people here to, if at all possible, just calm down. Just take it a little easy. I realize that they all have things to do throughout the day, such as hang laundry, eat rice, gossip with the neighbours and such – but the city would just be a better place for each person if they all (and you and I) just slowed down a little.

Not much, but a little could make the difference – realising that there will be another Metro train along in a few minutes (or less). Realising that lift / elevator doors will stay open, and will not snap them in half. Realising that yes, YES, that traffic light WILL TURN BACK TO GREEN SOON. Its countdown from green to red is not some kind of final and permanent change.

It is not the end of that traffic lifecycle, and it is now stuck on red, forever blocking that street intersection for the next century. Just slow down, calm down, and realize that you do not need to try to ACTUALLY KILL a few pedestrians, some cyclists, other drivers – and yourself – just to make that one particular light. (There will still be more traffic lights after it. Making that one traffic light does not release you from later road rules and conventions)

I could now rant on about the idiocy of many drivers and take deep psychological essay into the brain-power of someone who, riding a scooter, sees actual dead bodies in the road having been hit by a car – but then carries on driving in the same kamikaze (watch it) style.

But I won’t. No, what I am writing about now is a little about the cultural and/or psychological issues behind the driving style of people in Shanghai, where this is heading, and if there is any way of improving it.

For sure, the driving behavior has improved very slightly in 12 years, but this is very, very, very slight indeed. The aggression and rudeness is something that needs to be tackled with comprehensive education given by the ‘top’, to the people, about the simple fact “treat others how you want to be treated” – meaning “everyone will have a better city life if we just drive a little considerately”.

The problem is related to VIP. The problem is that all companies can make an easy sales pitch by offering ‘VIP’. Some people will do A-NY-THING for VIP. With a culture of scarcity deeply embedded, the feeling of being BETTER than another human is so delightfully new and fresh to them that any form of VIP is deemed vital. Even the phone-booking taxi service has a ‘VIP’ option: you can pay a couple of thousand RMB a year in order to have access to a ‘special’ booking number.

How ‘Very Important’ you have to be to (1) use taxis and (2) lack the common sense to not waste money on such a venture, is beside the point.

The point is: at the very time that two drivers are aggressively and very dangerously fighting it out to make the green traffic light, the reason they do not want to be stopped at the light is that they won’t feel like a VIP.

The light will have ignored them, given them no special treatment, and instead of sailing away to the next green-light-fight, they are left sitting at the red – a non-VIP, a nothing, a worthless shell of a man. And for a driver of a [whatever car their parents bought them], that just won’t do.

There is a way out of this – but it would take a monumental change in social thought in the city.

However I do believe that it is possible, in time.

Sure, some people generally have no idea what is real class (less is more, for example, not MORE and MORE and MORE flash / cheese / gaudiness / over-the-top-ness / Louis Vuitton is more), they don’t actually care what something LOOKS like or IS, as long as it is labeled with a ‘posh’ European ‘luxury’ brand, BUT, class and politeness can win out.

Saying “no don’t worry about me – you go first, you must be in a rush to get somewhere” is something that could give people the ego massage that they so crave. “I don’t need to make that green light, my life is wealthy and organized already, I have no great schedules or deadlines”.

Like the sound of that, certain drivers of Shanghai?

Good. Then be polite. Ta.


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Categories: Expat Life


Foreigner in Shanghai


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5 Comments on “Cultural musings: Traffic light VIP”

  1. July 31, 2012 at 5:52 pm #

    I once yelled (in English) at a scooter that almost killed me crossing the street. It was a long day and what I yelled may have been close to “F-YOU!” – the Driver screamed back in English, “What?” Since then I’ve been even more skeptical. I enjoyed the post.

  2. September 27, 2012 at 8:09 pm #

    Traffic in China… an never ending source of stories…

  3. January 7, 2013 at 1:42 pm #

    Hong Kongers hate Mainlanders for this very reason. And others. “They’re so rude. And LOUD!” my Hong Kong friend used to tell me.

    • January 7, 2013 at 1:56 pm #

      Gee thanks for starting an inter-cultural argument on my website 😉

    • January 7, 2013 at 1:59 pm #

      Lol. Sorry! Just relating to this via my own experiences. No argument intended!

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