Getouttamyway! How to Interpret the Frenzy on the Roads of China

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2018-03-19 dd Getouttamyway! How to Interpret the Frenzy on the Roads of China

I wrote this when we lived in China. Indeed, the getouttamyway! frenzy on the roads there provoked my imagination.

What Might Driving Patterns Say About National Character?

Living in Ningbo, China for a year, we didn’t own a car. That forced us to use public transportation. So we often found ourselves on the streets of Ningbo as pedestrians or waiting for a bus. And this gave us ample time to observe the driving habits of the people.

In fact, it really wasn’t that long ago when only few cars could be seen on the streets of China. Instead, people rode bicycles. Because of this, urban streets would be choked with bicycles. This left little room for cars or trucks to maneuver.

As the Chinese economy has found success, the number of automobiles has increased astronomically. In response, the Chinese have developed an interesting style of driving.

Chinese drive the way they stand in line. They nudge and jockey for position. And they dart through any opening, cutting off the next guy without an apology. It’s all Getouttamyway!

The big guy goes wherever he wants. We saw this as buses in China turn right. They shamelessly turn regardless of the presence of pedestrians.

Oh, that was a pedestrian crosswalk? What’s that? 

Method in the Madness

And yet, there is a kind of gracefulness in the whole process. The cars sidle up to each other. They subtly read signals as they weave from lane to lane. And they respond to the slightest wiggle of the other cars.

Horns communicate with a wide variety of meanings from the gentle “I’m here” tap honk to the blaring “I’m bigger than you so Getouttamyway!” honk.

Even the bus turning right that scatters pedestrians like leaves seems to have the ability to stop inches from a bicyclist’s back wheel without touching it, then use a wake of air to push the bicycle on its way.

Driving as Metaphor

Indeed, maybe this is a metaphor for modern China.

Ancient China was a slow-paced, erudite nation with all the pomp and circumstance of an imperial system.

Modern China, on the other hand, is a brash, newly technologized, getouttamyway country. It burst onto the economic stage of the world with cheap labor and a centralized communist government. As a result, the government has been able to focus all the country’s resources on the goal of modernizing and developing Chinese business and finance.

The Traffic Jam of Global Interaction

China awkwardly nudges and jockeys itself into the limelight. For example, the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics seemed to amount to a giant infomercial glorifying China. It seems there’s a definite underlying tone: Getouttamyway, or else!

And China seems to dart into any business opportunity becoming available. Likewise, it uses its weight to shove smaller players out of the way.

And yet – China does so with a certain amount of Asian sensibility and relational sensitivity, mixed with pragmatism.

All this said, a few days ago we were taking a bus to downtown Ningbo. And the bus was proceeding very slowly through traffic. Despite the jockeying for position, honking and overall getouttamyway posture, we weren’t making much progress.

After several minutes, we saw why.

In the opposing lane of traffic, a city bus turned sideways with a dump truck embedded in its side caught our attention. And the truck must have been traveling quite fast in order to be able to push itself so fully into the body of the bus.

For sure, there can be drawbacks to the getouttamyway approach….


How can the CultureWeave community encourage cultural sensitivity between countries as the traffic patterns of modern interaction develop?


Image credit: depositphotos

Dale DePalatis

Dale DePalatis

Editor & Interculturalist at CultureWeave
The husband of the principal founder of CultureWeave, Dale is a high school teacher of English with an M.A. in English Literature from Stanford University. With a passion for language learning (including Italian, German, and Japanese), he loves the way the brain expands when studying overseas and experiencing new cultures. He also loves reading, traveling, running, and enjoying meaningful conversations about life’s deep questions.
Dale DePalatis
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The husband of the principal founder of CultureWeave, Dale is a high school teacher of English with an M.A. in English Literature from Stanford University. With a passion for language learning (including Italian, German, and Japanese), he loves the way the brain expands when studying overseas and experiencing new cultures. He also loves reading, traveling, running, and enjoying meaningful conversations about life’s deep questions.