With a Wave of My Hand…Magic!
Day 014 – August 5, 2011
While it must be said that Peruvian drivers do stop at red lights and stop signs (although here they have PARE as their warning text), this is most likely only one of the three driving rules followed. The other two are don’t smoke at a gas station and ALWAYS obey the police officer making hand gestures.
All other rules of the road (i.e., lane markings, turning from an appropriate lane, distance between cars) are merely suggestions that drivers in Lima are free to adhere to or ignore as their whim allows.
By no means should the reader be left with the impression that Lima’s roadways are choked with the remnants of accidents and fender-benders. Surprisingly, despite the (to my mind) chaotic and pell-mell nature of driving, I have seen few accidents. It’s as if some unseen force manages to keep all the autos, trucks, and taxis from crashing into each other much like how similar poles of a magnet will repel each other.
I may not know what that force is, but I know its origin: the left hand.
A ubiquitous sight on Peru’s asphalt is a person, whether it is the driver of a taxi or the assistant of a combi, wave their left hand out a window in a back-and-forth motion similar to as if they were shooing away a fly. Peruvians will use this gesture right before they execute a maneuver that would make them fail a Driver’s Ed test , but would be worth bonus points in Grand Theft Auto.
Whether it was turning right from the left-hand lane of a four-lane street or attempting to merge their bus into a three-inch gap, Peruvians wave their hand in a wordless display that can be roughly translated as, “I am about to do something incredibly silly, reckless, and/or dangerous. By waving my hand, you have been warned and I am absolved from all liability for what will occur in the next five seconds.”
This hand-waving is enough to make all drivers sit up and notice and give this lunatic a wide berth. In the same way that there is professional courtesy among businessmen, all drivers know to pay attention to the hand because they know they, at some point in the near future, will also have to call upon the magic of the left hand.
And, really, a tradition and culture is only as strong as the belief the people have in it.