x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

The road - or motorway - to good international relations

There's no equaliser greater than the motorway - we all feel superior to those ultimately making us targets of their abuse

The road - or motorway - to good international relations On a two-lane motorway, the juggernaut just ahead of me suddenly drifted over from the nearside lane without hint of a signal. At first I thought the driver had fallen asleep, but he then spent at least five minutes inching past an even slower vehicle as a queue built up behind him. Forgive me for saying the -element of danger took me straight back to the Abu Dhabi-Dubai motorway. But it happened in northern France and the juggernaut was from -Belgium, reinforcing my belief t-hat Europeans can claim no high -moral ground over the drivers of other continents. Rotten driving occurs wherever there are roads. But people are very sensitive when it comes to comparing their road manners with those of others. ---- For example, driving is one of many things a certain kind of Briton likes to think he does better than the French. I once harboured the same thought, persuading myself that the fabled courteousness of the British prompted them to make allowances for anyone in a car bearing an F-for-France symbol, whereas Brits could expect no such concession on trips to France. Now I am able to put that old -theory to the test; I drive a French-registered car but am currently in the UK. In France, my instinct has so far been confirmed. The history of Anglo-French relations is packed with enough discord to make the phrase entente cordiale seem like someone's little joke. Accordingly, on French roads, I am free of the hostility I occasionally felt when at the wheel of a car bearing a GB plate. I naturally assumed the hostility to have something to do with my country of origin (no driver, of course, ever being prepared to own up to anything that could warrant reproach). On the other side of the English Channel, the results have been a -little more complicated. Having paid careful attention to the way I am perceived, however, I can present a preliminary report. This spot of unscientific research reminds me of a London minicab driver, white-skinned but with an unusually swarthy complexion, who dressed as a Sikh for one day. He was appalled by the routine prejudice and insults he experienced from passengers and other road-users. So in my impersonation of a Frenchman, have I received the special consideration I once imagined to exist? Not exactly. Instead, I have lip-read the abuse and encountered aggression. And that is just from pedestrians. I have also used up a portion of brake lining in avoiding collisions with cars cutting straight across my path without warning or priority. But my conclusion is not quite what you might expect. I do not suggest I have been singled out for unfavourable treatment because I appear to be French. My theory has not been smashed to pieces by wicked Anglo-Saxons intent on -re-enacting centuries of enmity. In fact, I do not get the impression I am seen as a foreigner at all. What happens to me seems to happen to everyone. Something tells me -Londoners have accepted me as one of their own. crandall@thenational.ae