So you’re ready to start driving in Al Ain. You’ve rented your car and you’re confident that you’ll have no problems navigating what seems to be a nice and clear system of roundabouts and streets. There are just a few things to keep in mind before striking off to whatever mall you’d like to see today. Let me break down a few things to keep in mind while you’re behind the wheel here in the Garden City.
1) Here is a list of cars by brand that you should beware of while driving here in Al Ain. I have taken the time to list them so that you can know which cars are more likely to disobey traffic laws and drive erratically.
2) There are posted speed limits (in kilometers, of course – for those of us from the U.S.) and they should be obeyed. By you. Not by anyone else. That’s okay. You’ll have people whizzing by you, flashing their lights, honking sometimes, and then inching into your lane to show their disgust. Don’t give in. Drive like a 90-year-old with bad eyesight. Drive in the slow lane and give way to anyone in a hurry to get wherever they’re going.
Here’s a little tidbit of information for you: The radars are set to allow for a twenty-kilometer leeway. That means, if the speed is posted at sixty kilometers per hour, you can probably go eighty without getting into too much trouble. However, go one mile above that and you’re likely to get pulled over. As a wise person once told me (okay, it was the guy from Thrifty where we rented the car), you can’t argue with the police officer that you were only going one kilometer over the twenty kilometers leeway over the posted speed. It ain’t going to work buddy.
3) Roundabouts are amazing! Really, they are! Just know how to navigate them and you’ll be alright (but look out for the cars listed on number one). I am including a handy navigational graphic for anyone who may be confused as to how the roundabouts work.
Keep your lane at all times and be HYPER-AWARE of the people around you. Again, refer to number one. For the most part, as long as you are an aware driver, you’ll be fine. Complacency is going to be a problem. In the United States, we have become too reliant on lights, signs, and signals. Here, don’t take any of that for granted. If someone puts on their blinker and then actually turns in the direction they indicated, smile and silently applaud their courtesy. If you’re in a lane in a roundabout and plan on turning right, put on your right blinker for those around you. If you’re planning on turning left or doing a U-turn, turn on your left blinker until you get to your exit and then switch it to the right blinker to indicate that you’re getting out of the roundabout. Simple, right?
4) Motorcyclists don’t care. They zig and zag through traffic. They are anticipating that you will be consistent in your driving. Silly motorcyclists.
5) Emirati drivers will drive down the wrong way, cut you off, kiss your back bumper, swerve into your lane, and any manner of crazy driving techniques that have been culled from the Fast and Furious franchise without the help of professional trainers.* When they pass you, you will notice that they are on their phones, in a discussion with someone in the car with them, or they are stone-faced and determined to get to where they’re going. It is not personal, nor is it often intentional. See number two above. It is just the way it is. We are all guests here and should take the high road (which is the right, slow lane). See what I did there? This last bit is, of course, a gross generalization. Not every Emirati driver is going to behave in this way.
UPDATE AFTER DRIVING IN AL AIN FOR ALMOST TWO MONTHS: Drivers will come so close, you’ll think they are looking for something in your trunk, then they’ll speed around you only to turn into a lane that was completely clear the whole time. Crowded parking lots? Forget it. ZEN, my friends. Waiting for that space with your blinker on? Doesn’t matter. As soon as space is clear it’s a free-for-all. It doesn’t matter if you had your blinker on or that you were waiting there.
You must truly integrate this into your heart and mind: TODAY IS NOT THE DAY TO GO TO JAIL IN A FOREIGN COUNTRY. Golden Rule? Nope. Expecting a wave or smile because you let that person in? Nope. Will they return the favor a mile down the road? Nope. Are they willing to crash and/or seriously injure you? Yes. Remember: TODAY IS NOT THE DAY TO GO TO JAIL IN A FOREIGN COUNTRY. On second thought… maybe it is…
6) People stop wherever they need to, whenever they need to. I was behind a parked car in the middle of a one-way street for about twenty minutes before getting mad and going around it, staring down oncoming traffic. As I passed the car I gave my best mean face to an empty driver’s seat. There was no one in the car. It was just parked in the street. Because, well… just because.
7) Number seven is a positive. There is a method to the madness here. What looks like irrational, suicidal driving behavior here is actually a culturally-ingrained mechanism of road-caste, wealth-assisted, new-money-narcissism that is more benign than aggressive in nature. Again, the best advice is not to take it personally, to graciously move out of the way and live another day.
I hope that this helps you to feel more confident in your driving ability here in Al Ain. If it doesn’t, then you’ve internalized the meta-narrative of this post – keep your guard up, be aware, be preemptive and reactionary all at the same time. Sound good? Good.
*I’ve encountered crazy drivers everywhere. From El Paso, Beijing, New York, Managua, Al Ain, Paris and beyond. The observations in this post are certainly not meant to offend anyone, or make negative generalizations. This was written in a mostly tongue-in-cheek manner and should be taken that way. Cheers!