I’ve concluded drivers’ training is a U.S.-only thing. That’s because I’ve traveled the world as a missionary and have driven in most of the countries where I’ve served. If you aren’t close to Jesus, you will be within a mile of taking the wheel in another country. Just last week, I was driving a team of students in Mexico and experienced several moments like this.
In drivers’ training, you are taught to leave one car length between you and the car ahead for every 10 miles per hour of speed at which you’re traveling. The only problem is how to measure the car lengths. Five Volkswagen Beetle car lengths are vastly different from five Lincoln Continental car lengths. The drivers training instructors need to be more specific about which car to use as a measuring stick.
When you drive outside the United States, though, you throw all these rules out of the window. In Mexico, for example, they have different rules. There, the faster you are traveling, the closer you get to the car in front of you. I guess this is because if your brakes aren’t working, you can use the ones on the vehicle in front of you, and if theirs don’t work, you just use those of the car in front of them. As you drive, you pray someone in front of you has a good set of brakes.
If you’ve ever driven in Mexico, you’ve been the victim of the surprise speed bump. I don’t know why they even call them “speed” bumps. They should be called “jar every bone in your body” bumps. If a mountain ever gave birth, the baby would resemble a Mexican speed bump. Since the bumps aren’t marked or painted yellow to let you know they are coming, your car will often bottom out as you try to make it across. You only know one lies ahead when you see the people in the car in front of you bouncing around like popcorn or their vehicle soaring off into space like one in a James Bond movie. I’m sure the main cause of headaches in Mexico is riding in the back seat of a car whose driver takes a speed bump too fast.
But I have also driven in many other countries. Peru is the land of a million horns. At every intersection, all the drivers honk their horns. They must think the more they pound them, the faster their cars will go. And as in Mexico, Peruvians don’t like gaps between cars. It’s always been my personal belief that when a person pulls up beside you at a stoplight, you shouldn’t be able to smell their breath. I don’t like people standing that close to me, let alone driving that close.
Meanwhile, in China, driving is similar to the game “Red Rover,” except it is played with cars, motorcycles, mopeds and rickshaws. You come up to an intersection, and thousands are lined up on each side. When the light turns green, it doesn’t matter which side you are on; everyone tries to get across. You have never seen such a tangled mess of humans and machines. But somehow, they all get across, the light turns red, and people line up for the next game of Red Rover.
Of all the places I’ve traveled, the only country I feel somewhat comfortable driving in is Switzerland. The Swiss are so fastidious about rules. If a train is scheduled to leave at 1:13 a.m., it will not leave a second before or a second after. Just to fit into their culture, I schedule meetings at odd times like 2:28 p.m. They seem happier with this than hearing, “We’ll meet somewhere around 2:30.”
Of course, when driving, the Swiss come to a complete stop (in case you didn’t know, you’re supposed to stop for a full three-second look into oncoming traffic, and if you deem it safe, you can proceed through the intersection) before they move forward.
So what have I learned from driving around the world? When you are in Mexico, drive as they do and stay close to the car in front of you. When in Peru, your horn had better work. In Switzerland, make sure your car has better brakes than most of those in Mexico. And if you’re driving in China, find the nearest airport.
The Apostle Paul said, “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings” (1 Cor. 9:22b, 23).
This not only applies to cross-cultural missions but to cross-cultural driving, too. After all, the life you save may be your own.