I recently had a quintessentially Beiruti driving day.
I got stuck in traffic.
I valeted my car at McDonalds.
I drove the wrong way down a one-way street.
Then I ran a red light (directly in front of a traffic cop, no less). I did refrain from whipping out my cell phone to snap a shot of the infraction as I was doing it, so no pic of that one.
I have a couple of friends who are terrified to drive in Beirut. Based on what I’ve just written, maybe you can understand their point of view – because all of the above is perfectly normal in Beirut. But despite appearances, there is a method to the madness. Living before in Honduras, I saw traffic accidents on a daily basis, ranging from fender benders to real tragedies. Lebanese are the best defensive drivers I have ever seen, and because of the traffic, no one is ever driving all that fast. While there are undoubtedly serious traffic accidents in Lebanon, the ones I’ve witnessed on the road have been limited to the fender benders, and I rarely see even those.
I’m posting this from the U.S., where I’m visiting family in my hometown of Seattle. Here, a quintessential driving day includes overly polite drivers that nearly cause accidents fighting to cede the right of way.
Not everyone in the U.S. drives as politely as us Seattleites, however, and Lebanese drivers remind me of those I saw on a visit to Detroit, who speed up for yellow lights and cut each other off as the norm. Is it a coincidence that Greater Detroit is home to a good chunk of the Lebanese diaspora in the U.S.? Lebanese first arrived to the area in the late 1880s, and have since made Detroit home to one of the largest Lebanese-American populations in the U.S.
The Beirut-Detroit connection provides the backdrop for the 2012 movie Betroit, by Lebanese filmmaker Adel Serhan, “a portrayal of three couples as their lives become intertwined with one another.” The movie takes place in both cities, and is in English and Arabic. While the trailer (linked above) doesn’t have subtitles, a reviewer on IMDb says the movie does have subtitles – I’m looking forward to checking it out. If you’ve seen the movie, let me know what you thought of it.