Give a Friendly Toot

By February 11, 2012 culture, language No Comments

When I took Drivers’ Ed oh-so-many years ago, there was a training video explaining the rules of the road. One scene showed a driver backing out of a blocked-view driveway, and the voice over said in such situations, drivers should precede slowly and “give a friendly toot” with your horn to warn oncoming traffic. This, of course, evoked much snickering from the class. I’ve never forgotten it.

I do believe the Friendly Toot Principle originated here in India. There is a lot of honking happening. I think it’s highly likely that our van driver has used the horn more in the past two days than I have used mine in 24 years.

But horn usage has a different feel here in India. Horns are friendly warnings by motorists wishing to pass others, squeeze through tight spaces, or merge into the flow. Truck drivers have painted instructions on the back of their trucks that say, “Horn OK Please” which is in desperate need of some punctuation. It could be a statement (Horn, OK; please) or a question (Horn, OK? please). Whatever it should be, it means that drivers who wish to pass should beep their horns first.

Driving in the States is rather solitary; it is rare that I interact with other drivers, aside from muttering to myself about crazy lane usage or rude drivers who drive too close for my comfort. Horn usage is reserved for those close-call situations when fear prompts me to response with some sort of acknowledgement of another driver’s error.

Here in India, however, driving requires engagement with others. You can’t isolate or space out. All your skills in communicating, negotiating, and maneuvering are needed. Horn usage is expected. And overall, it is friendly.


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