Driving in a new country is always a tricky business, least of all when, even though there are lights, no one's paying attention to them. I recently got behind the wheel in Beirut and I'd be lying if I said the car remained unscathed. I'm a survivor, though, and these are my nine tips to negotiating congested roads, dodging potholes and BlackBerry using ladies who can't see you.
Choose your car carefully. I would say that when choosing the car, you should be looking for something easy to park. The streets are narrow and parking is practically impossible when it seems there are twice as many cars as humans. That said, the trend is for big and bigger. It's not uncommon to see a 4x4s trying squeeze down an old side street. No one will bat an eyelid if you decided to go for a Hummer with blacked out windows and fake police siren as your horn.
Use the horn liberally. Learn to toot when there is no possible, sane use for it. Sometimes you can use it to let a pedestrian know that you are about to mow them down but mostly you want to use it to let all the cars in your traffic jam know that you are very important. Best to hold the horn down for at least five seconds at a time for maximum effect. It's surprising how easily this habit can develop.
Get up close and personal. Don't panic if you feel your car caressing another. Many a vehicle in Beirut looks like it's suffered multiple collisions - but this is an illusion. These cars just had the misfortune to be subject to the 'Oops, let's carry on' philosophy of making contact with parked cars.* Indeed, most of the time it's just the slow build up of tiny little encounters while trying to park, or driving while intoxicated (it does happen). That and cripplingly low wages that prevent people from repairing or upgrading.
Keep intentions to yourself. Indicators, forget about it. When you boarded the plane to Lebanon you left that particular finger gesture behind. But obviously, get annoyed when others don't use them.
Be brave. Depending on the car, a seatbelt might be a rare accessory but don't worry, they're for sissies. And you know, that little handle above the window is probably strong enough to hold your body weight.
Look after the ones you love? If you have a baby, put it on your lap. We all know babies are tougher than they look, so it's a double air bag for you. This goes for dogs as well.
Make your own rules. When the lights say STOP, you go. Edging out is the name of the game, even when there is a policeman standing right there. In many respects I feel like this isn't a half bad idea but then again, you never know when a young fool is going to speed around the corner in his new Lotus.
Never park yourself. People don't really do walking here, least of all to a bar or restaurant. Learn to trust the valet, even if he does look like someone on a wanted poster. However, do be prepared to have the car returned with the odd dent. *See earlier instruction on caressing.
But don't be scared of parking. Pavements are legitimate parking spots in this city, so if there's no more room on the road don't worry about just laying a few wheels on the sidewalk; or if you're feeling very bold, go for all four.
Know the language. No driving experience would be complete without some choice expletives so become acquainted with some Lebanese phrases, such as 'la nik rabbak' and 'kol khara ya er'. They are extremely rude but when in Rome...
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