Insight from the UK Driving Experience: On Understanding Culture

During my business trip to the UK I intended to write about my thoughts about the UK cultural context. Such idea was put aside since my injury, until very recently as I picked up this topic again hoping to communicate my observation in words.

During the business tour we traveled from cities to cities by rented car. Due to my prior living experiences in the UK, I sat at the front seat to help out as a road guide. I am not a driver, and I barely understand about traffic, yet due to that seat arrangement (My first time) I was fortunate to observe some of the interesting UK driving traits I was not aware of before.

England is famously known with its “Gentlemen” culture.  Even such attitude seems to be reflected in the driving activity. The English mostly give ways to the other cars which intend to pass/change route/enter an ongoing road. Throughout our traveling time, in fact it did not take long each time before a car on the motor highway slowed down and gave us signs to merge ahead of it. The instant feeling coming to me was being attended to, as apparently there was good interaction between cars as built upon patience and respect.

Another interesting observation made was the Traffic Jam. There is much rain in the UK, due to its islanded geographical location, and that led to our multiple experiences with the Traffic Jams. Interestingly there was no cut-in scene, or any rushed driving due to the trave delay. All cars seemed to be patient enough to queue one by one, repeated the crawling, pausing, then crawling action again routine.

One of my colleagues, the driver, noted that the UK driving “style” would never be applied to the Hong Kong context – there “cut-ins” are rather the usual scenes, and most people never drive under the speed of 50, nor can indulge more than 5 seconds of the fronting car stopping, which corresponds to the fast paced modern city characteristics. That is also the reason the city relies on the public transport, particularly the underground train, rather than private driving.

The cause of such differential driving style/attitude between the English and the Hong Kong Chinese, I believe is not only based on the cultural label, the psychological presumptuous thinking that “The English are the gentlemen, and the Chinese are rude and money-oriented”; perhaps the area size, population density, environmental pollution, the degree of economic development, and other social factors may also contribute to the construction of “the localized normal” driving concept, hence the shaping of a person’s driving behavior. I wonder if a Hong Kong driver is put to England, the relatively less populated and more spacious area for long term living, gradually he/she may assimilate the certain “gentle” traits from the UK drivers, and vice versa.

It is fascinating how a universal activity of driving could reflect the rich socio-cultural perspective. I revisited the country with feelings of familiarity, and I left with something more: While I thought I understood the UK culture, I learnt to view it from a different and new perspective. I realize that one’s cultural understanding, regardless the home culture or a foreign culture, is not merely based on the normalized theoretical and socialized conceptual model. As culture sets as environment of values, beliefs and perceptions throughout our growth, it is, I believe more importantly, also the lived and subjective experience of a person which helps us shape into people we become today, and in turn how we gain understanding of others and us as who we are.

Therefore I hope to communicate my sharing with you my belief in the experience of culture. Understanding a culture is not sticking with the belief of what we have perceived and understood about our world, and how others should look like. I believe it is important we explore what is around us, whether familiar or strange. We seize those moments and dwell in them fully. That leads to the openness of more wonders, meanings and layers of life.

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