It is common knowledge in Nepal that foreigners do not know how to drive. And if any proof needed, do you see many of them driving around?
Drive as you live. I was reminded of this advertising campaign which took place in France 20 years ago while stuck in a traffic jam between Thankot and Kalanki one Saturday afternoon.
Blocked by line ahead, many drivers of cars, buses, micros and even a steam roller decided to take the matter into their own hands and beat the jam by going down the other lane. Did these people not consider that by going in the right-hand lane they would meet traffic coming from the opposite direction? The result: two hours from Naikap to the Ring Road.
A similarly unnecessary jam locked down Lagankhel for hours last week. Walking through the gridlocked vehicles I could see no conceivable reason for this mess, and surmised that someone will have done a u-turn and blocked the road, someone else will have tried to dart through the space, another will have tried to go through the other lane, blocking that one too. There was no other reason than that.
Driving is an expression of our civic and social behaviour, and requires civility and respect for others. It shows to what extent a society respects law and order, and appreciates and applies democratic values.
The selfishness and lack of consideration evident in the way most Nepalis drive, including psychotic use of horn, threatening use of head lights (get out of my way!) and disrespect for the most basic of traffic rules show that Nepal has a long way to go in this regard.
It's not just an annoyance?driving habits here are also really dangerous. It's not surprising that barely a month goes by without a major bus accident given the way that bus drivers overtake on the blindside on the edge of precipices and blaze through villages with children and pedestrians on the road.
Of course people rarely pay for breaking the rules or causing harm or damage to others. Traffic police are more than happy to look the other way if their palm is greased with a bribe, or the offender has a good connection.
I sometimes wonder if the driving can be linked to the social ills which have famously plagued Nepal: self-interest, in-group cronyism rather than a belief in society, and endless impunity for wrongdoing.
If there really is to be a new mentality in a new Nepal, this is one of the issues that should be addressed. At the end of the day Nepalis just make things more difficult for themselves by driving like morons. Traffic laws, like other laws, exist for a purpose, and if people here started abiding by their laws they might find the country functioned much more smoothly and painlessly.
As the old campaign said, Drive as you live, in a more respectful and egalitarian way, and the whole of society will benefit from it. And casualties and deaths on the road will decrease dramatically too.