Friday, November 14, 2008

Things I miss about England #20: Traffic lights.
Things I love about Brazil #21: Traffic lights.
Let me take the latter first. Continuing a theme started a few posts back about driving in Brazil, it seems an appropriate time to comment on something I noticed within about two days of being in Brazil.

Basically, local councils use their transport budgets to continually innovate in the realm of traffic lights - often, it seems, attempting to out-compete the last guys with ever more ground-breaking, animated and at times baffling signalisation. Above are pictures of four sets of traffic lights which all sit at junctions within one block of our apartment. As you can see, there's a paucity of consitency about the whole thing. At least they've stuck with red and green (although occasionally dispensing with yellow when necessary). If you were to go to Recife, you would see traffic lights with a countdown digitial display of when the light will change - a sure-fire ticket to people speeding up at an alarming rate as they notice the counter approach zero. But, it has to be said, it makes life interesting and it is quintessentially Brazilian - uniformity is not prized here, flexibility and acceptance of new technology are. Long live non-standardised Brazilian traffic lights.

On the other hand, taking the other side, there's something altogether reassuring about driving in the UK that almost everywhere one goes one can expect a consistent set of road markings, signs and traffic lights. Local road habits and norms vary considerably between cities (for example, turning on red or driving through red after 9pm at night). Sometimes traffic lights won't work (who's to know if we can go or not?) and efficient and long-suffering traffic police are often called out to speed up the rush hour jams. Sometimes one way streets are created and nobody erases the old road markings leading to immeasurable confusion. Out on the open road it's anyone's guess where you are and how far you are from your destination. Your best indication is to make sure you know if the sea is on your left you're driving south and if it's on your right you're headed north. In Natal, somebody has decided you can't turn across traffic at a junction (see pictures above with no left turn signs). This results in us (and everyone else) driving for miles in the wrong direction looking for a spot to do a U-turn. Seriously, Rachel was once half an hour late for an engagement as a result of trying to find a location to perform this maneuvre. We call it the "Natal shuffle" and, although it probably reduces accidents somewhat, it's not something I love about Brazil at all.

I'm not saying here that the British have the perfect road system. Far from it. Apparently, the French say we have too many road-signs and they're right. Come off the A64 into York and there is no way you can possibly digest all the information on display - there seems to be a sign for everything from low-flying planes to recycling rubbish. But, all in all, I think more signs and more consistant signage is still arguably better than no posting whatsoever or the potential for traffic mayhem a la Brazil.

And speaking of transport...
We took Nelson to the Natal air show last Saturday. We had a great time and so did Nelson. Only, problem is he was far more entertained by the small display of vintage road vehicles on display than any of the jetplane acrobatics taking place in the sky.

Staff dinner.
A few weeks ago it was teacher's day in Brazil - a wonderful idea for a national holiday. Pictures in the slideshow to the right are of the Cultura Inglesa staff at a special meal for the occasion.

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