Maybe I’m reading too much into one instance, but….
Canadians for the most part are rule followers. It is part of our national psyche. Our Constitution promises us “peace order and good government” where our neighbors to the south aspire to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” (These days they probably are wishing for some good government themselves.)
Germans are rule followers too, and I didn’t realize how deeply ingrained that is until I was in Freiburg earlier this week. I crossed the street in a most un-German fashion.
Sulzburg has no traffic too speak of. Mullheim, the biggest town in our region, is still pretty small. You don’t see crowds of people at street corners waiting to cross. There is therefore no need for traffic lights.
Freiburg is much bigger, 225,000 people. They have wide streets and a good public transit system, and it is not unusual to have a lot of people waiting to cross at a street corner.
I took the tram to and from the hockey arena on Sunday. I was in town to catch a playoff game (more on that tomorrow maybe). I had never been to the arena before but knew generally where I was going. There were a lot of fans in team gear, all headed in the same direction, so I was content to just go with the flow. Until we came to a street crossing.
The light was red. I looked. The nearest car was a couple of blocks away. And everyone stood there, waiting. Except me. Time spent waiting is tie wasted in my book.
I grew up in Montreal, where jaywalking is almost an obligation. Given the unpredictability of Montreal drivers, it is considered by some to be safer to cross against the lights. Montreal drivers don’t respect pedestrians anyway, so you might as well cross when you have a chance.
At that corner in Freiburg I could see the arena; I saw no reason not to cross. Yes, the light was red, but there was no traffic. The rules are there to protect pedestrians, not those in vehicles. At that moment there was more chance of getting hit by lightning than a car. So, I crossed against the light. Alone. It felt weird. I didn’t look behind me, but I imagined everyone was staring at me and asking: “what sort of person is this who breaks the rules.”
After the game, at the same corner, there were even more people. They were happy – the beer had been flowing freely and the home team victorious. The light was red. There were once again no vehicles in sight for a couple of blocks. Alcohol loosens inhibitions. Yet once again I crossed alone while the boisterous crowd dutifully waited for the walk signal.
I can’t see that happening anywhere in North America. And I am wondering how early the training begins that Germans won’t jaywalk. Or maybe they do, and I was just on the wrong corner. But I doubt it.