Differences I

I haven’t worn shoes or socks since Monday, February 14. I can safely say without exaggeration that this is the longest I’ve ever gone without wearing shoes or socks probably since I was an infant. Instead I’ve worn a pair of Tiva sandals purchased before we left the US. Every day. I’ve owned sandals and worn them from time to time but never have they been my only form of footwear. I’m a bit surprised at how easy the transition has happened and how comfortable and natural it feels. That being said, I know I need to get a decent pair of flip-flops as even velcro is too cumbersome when taking shoes off or putting them on upon arriving or leaving our language school or our apartment. Shoes are not worn indoors in the home here.

There is no such thing as a right of way on the roads here. Nearly anyone might do anything on the road at any time and doesn’t cause too much consternation unless they move too quickly or too slowly. Everything is up for negotiation. Any random person or designated parking attendant can stop traffic to enable someone to pull into traffic or back out onto the road. There is a universal understanding we are more or less in it together on the road and things will flow best if we go slowly and make provisions for others.

One way streets are generally one way, unless you’re not going very far in the other direction and you stay well off to the side of the road soas not to cause anyone any problems. Lane markers are decorative or, at best, suggestions. Gaps between cars are understandably perfect rivulets for motorcycles, bicycles or mopeds to flow forward for better position. At major intersections either there is a clearly designated area for these smaller vehicles at the very front of the pack or they naturally trickle to the front of their own accord.

Crosswalks are few and, since traffic rules are more suggestions than hard and fast rules, can be dangerous places. It’s always best to make eye-contact with oncoming drivers, even if you have a light telling you it’s OK to use the crosswalk. When crossing amidst traffic a slight patting motion is done with the hand held low at your side, bent out at the wrist towards oncoming traffic. This is universally understood to mean the pedestrian is going to cross and therefore drivers should adjust soas not to hit them. As a pedestrian you don’t want to stop once you’ve started crossing as the drivers are already adjusting for your expected trajectory and an unexpected stop can be painful or worse.

Everyone is addressed with a title or honorific of some sort. If there isn’t an official one, you refer to the other person based on relative age or respect. Not just once, but in literally everything you say to the other person. Living the last decade+ in California where we don’t stand on much formality, this is a nice but difficult change to get used to!

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