The right side of the street

What side of the street do you walk on?

For most of us, that’s answered by a full mouthed ‘Right’. For the right is the only right side of the street.
Or is it? The side of the street on which you walk is a matter of place and time.

When I was a kid I learned basic road safety in the Netherlands. Meaning, you walk on the right side of the road, cars move on the right side of the road and bicycles move on the right side of the road. From the outside in: Pedestrians, Bicyclists, Motorists.
It was on a bike I first broke this rule. I was fast and sleek, neigh unstoppable was I, on my bike, and the traffic rules certainly didn’t apply to I.
I don’t specifically recall whether I got an earful for that behaviour, but I suppose I should have. And it’s strange therefor that the likely culprit of that earful was the man who introduced me to walking on the left side of the road.

You see, when everyone transports themselves on the same side of the road, the slowest transporter (the walker) will have everything coming from behind him at, in some cases, frightening speeds quite close to oneself. At that time (6-9 years old) I wasn’t well known for walking in a straight line, or keeping my attention focused on relevant things (like speeding cars) and would often, unexpectedly, move sideways into the path of an oncoming bike/car. I have never been like this, but there’s a few instances of word-use not fit for my virginal ears done by heavily swerving bicyclists that stand out in my memory.
If, on the other hand, as a pedestrian you walk on the left side of the street you are still in a spot reserved for pedestrians (the side of the road) and you can see things hurtling towards you prompting you to pay attention, where, had they come from behind, they might’ve caused me a nasty little surprise.

In England and Japan (India, South Africa, Indonesia etc), walking on the left hand side of the street, or, as we call it, the wrong side of the street, is normal. The rule even. Well, mostly. I think I’ve mentioned once or twice in conversation (looking back through my posts I see I haven’t really blogged about it.) You see, in Japan you walk on the left side of the street. Cars go on the left side of the street. Bicyclists go . . .  well, there’s not really a set place for them.
Osaka is the big exception. In Osaka they walk on the right side of the street, cars still go on the left hand side of the street though. Can you imagine what that would be like, changing sides halfway through a country? I think there’s a half-British Island which does this somewhere. This causes a bit of a problem, because Osaka isn’t a really clearly defined concept. It just sorta edges out, like so many other metropoli/metropolae/metropoliseses? I lived about an hour outside of what can regularly be considered Osaka, but most of the people I lived with did work in Osaka. Meaning that half the people would walk on the right (those that visited Osaka regularly) and half would walk on the left (regular Japanese). It also meant that when I was hurtling down the hill I would never be sure what instinct would be most prominent in my dodgee. Would it move to the right or left. All in all, people just sorta walked . . . wherever.

Korea now, Korea is an interesting case. Korea drives on the right hand side of the road. But trains drive on the left, as this system was built when the Japanese ruled here. The metro system though, was built with French help, so that’s on the right hand side. Except on those stations where they connect to the railway where it’s left again. So . . . . that’s kinda confusing. The walking though. Walking is done wherever and that struck me as kind of strange. The only place you’ll see indicators which side to walk on is in the subway and it’s on the right. There’s actually a campaign about it now

You see, the Koreans used to walk on the left in the subway and on the street. But then a few years ago the government said that right was the way they’d now walk. So right is the side people now walk on. Except the ajoshi and ajoma (Old man, Old woman) who will damn well walk where they’ve always walked, even if that way was initially beat into them by the Japanese oppressors.
This means though, that as a weiguk (foreigner) you will now, no matter what side of the street you walk on, be walking on the wrong side of the street for someone.


Quote of the Day:

Work is the refuge of those that don’t have anything better to do

– Oscar Wilde

One response to “The right side of the street”

  1. Marnix says:

    “In England and Japan (India, South Africa, Indonesia etc), walking on the left hand side of the street, or, as we call it, the wrong side of the street, is normal.”
    When I was learning the road rules it was also obigatory to walk on the left “buiten bebouwde kom”. So for me it does not seem like the wrong side at all.

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