Fewer rules, more guidelines

“There are no stop signs at this intersection. What shall I do?”

“Just drive through and honk your horn so people know you’re coming.”

“But what if someone else decides to ‘just drive through’ as well?”

“Then I guess we’ll crash. But that never happens.”

That was a conversation I had with one of my Bolivian friends the other day. While I was driving. Verbatim.

I come from a place where rules are enforced. If you speed, or park illegally, or forget to signal, or drive through a red light, or drive on a sidewalk, or pass on a solid line, or neglect to wear your seat belt, or run a stop sign, or jaywalk, a generally angry man in a blue uniform will stop you and ask for money. A lot of it. We call these people “police officers” and these monetary requests “tickets.”

In Bolivia, “tickets” do not exist. If the guy in front of you is driving too slow and the sidewalk is open, you can declare that sidewalk a lane and use it for passing. If the traffic light is red but you don’t feel like stopping, or even slowing down, you simply honk your horn a few times, say a prayer, and drive right on through. If the highway is busy but you have places to be, you just cut everyone off. They’ll understand.

Some of the things my friend does while driving in rush hour:

  • Puts make-up on
  • Takes pictures
  • Stops in the middle of the highway with the hazard lights on when she’s lost
  • Talks on the phone and changes cassettes while driving with her knees (and the car is a standard)

One night, we were driving so fast that the car actually started smoking. You can’t pay for experiences like that.

These countries don’t have rules—they have guidelines. If you choose to follow them, people will know you’re not from around these parts. If you choose to ignore them, you’ll fit right in. Perfectly.