Monday, January 24, 2011

The white man says "GO"

When we first moved to La La Land, the first thing I needed to adapt to - and quickly - was crossing the road.

Without killing myself. Or my daughters.

It isn't easy to undo thirty-something years of being conditioned to look to the right first. For those of you who are unaware, Australian road rules require us to drive on the left side of the road, meaning you need to look to the right before crossing. Likewise in the UK. Here, I had to learn to always look left before crossing.

The traffic lights also took some getting used to. Australian pedestrian lights are a logical affair. When it's safe to cross, a green walking figure lights up. When it's not safe any more, the green figure changes to a red, stationary figure that flashes for a few moments, then remains red until it's safe to cross again.

Green for go, red for stop. Just like driving.

To further help, there is often a loud beep, every few seconds, while you wait (at least, this is the case in Sydney). When the green walking figure appears, the casual beep explodes into a frenzy of beeps - this jolts you out of your daydream and reminds you to cross. I suppose the original intent was to assist the visually impaired.

But for me? I've been conditioned, in classic Pavlovian style.

Without those frenzied beeps telling me to get my arse across the road now, I have nothing to haul me out of whatever reverie I happen to be in (lusting after caffeine?). The lights change, silently. Nearly ten months later, I still frequently miss opportunities to cross. I need those beeps.

So I'm left with no choice but to stare at the lights. Not look away for more than a few moments. I've become familiar with the appearance of the lights. They're different, of course, to the pedestrian lights in Sydney.

Green for go? No. Let's have a white walking figure instead. When I'm trying to get the Faery to cross with me, I hear myself saying, "There's a white man, let's go!" 

Something about that seems wrong and makes me feel uncomfortable, as if there's a bit of subtext: white men = safety. I don't like describing people by their colour, yet if we were in Sydney, I'd be saying green man and not have any problems with that. My brain is wired strangely. Political correctness gone slightly askew.

Red for stop? Yes, thankfully. A red hand that my brain is unable to find fault with. I just wish the red hand would appear a little later during the journey across the road (you try crossing a six-lane road while pushing a stroller, and ensuring your four-year-old doesn't dart out ahead!)... but I suspect this is a universal problem.

As for my experiences with driving on the opposite side of the road? I'll save those stories for another day...


  1. Oh yeah, no sound cue for crossing the road. I'd be lost, too!

    And the allotted time to cross the road as a single, able-bodied is near impossible. Adding kids and prams to the mix is hell.

  2. The silence truly does throw me! Getting better, though...

  3. I remember this well.

    You know they are not expecting pedestrians don't you? It's LA - everybody drives! Everywhere! At least unlike Melbourne, they don't intentionally try to run you down and kill you.

  4. LA drivers are a species of their own, and I will dedicate a whole post to them soon.

  5. Ever since first reading this post I have noticed that I NEVER look at the crossing light and ONLY rely on the beeps!! Once the fast beeps start I have aquick glance to make sure def green and then off we go. I would have no hope over there, or at the very least would really need to work on my concentration skills!!!

  6. Haha! NEED those beeps, huh? I wonder how strange they'll seem when we go back to Sydney for a visit.