Thursday, February 11, 2010

Accra Road Language Part 1: The Art of Honking

Marginal Revolution linked to a Slate piece on the non-verbal signals that drivers give each other in the US. You know, like flashing your lights if there's a speed trap or flashing the bird if you get caught off. These things happen sometimes in the US, but Ghana takes it to a totally different level. You could literally devote an entire blog to this subject, but I'll start with the Art of Honking.

Living in Accra, you quickly learn to distinguish between the three major species of Honk. First, and most critically, there's the "LEAP OUT OF THE WAY RIGHT NOW OR I WILL HIT YOU" Honk, which must be heeded, and sounds like: MEEEEEEEEEEEEEEET.

Then there's the Taxi Honk. Taxi drivers are truly prolific honkers. It would be impossible to overemphasize how often taxis honk. They literally wear out their horn buttons and have to install a new horn trigger on their blinker paddle. Some even install a new steering wheel paddle dedicated solely to honking, to make incessant honking more convenient. Think Formula 1 race car shifting paddles, but dedicated solely to the Art of Honk.

There are two subspecies of Taxi Honk. There's the "WHERE ARE YOU GOING?" honk and the virtually indistinguishable, but less common, "I HAVE PASSENGERS!" honk, which makes hailing a taxi lots of fun. "Where are you going?!" sounds like: MEEET MEEET; and "I have passengers!" sounds like: MEEET MEET. Drivers look befuddled when I can't distinguish between them.

Finally, we have the "I'M DRIVING!" Honk. There is little order to this honk. You can be pull this honk out at any time for any reason, but common uses include approaching a blind corner or an intersection with people, or because it had been more than 3.2 seconds since your last Honk, and you have a compulsion about not going more than 3.2 seconds between Honks. It sounds like: MEET-MEET, MEET-MEET. Some, but not all, taxi drivers also utilize the "I"M DRIVING!" honk, which makes hailing a taxi even more fun.

A quick way to tell who's new to Accra is to watch for people who turn their heads for each honk and people just instinctively leap for the Leap-Out-Of-Harms'-Way honks. The old hands also know to watch out for the old hand signals that tro-tros use to advertise their routes, which will be the subject of Part 2.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Elephants Are Feminists is Currently Plus One

My girlfriend (yes, I can call her that now. After two years, we are now FBO -- that's Facebook Official, if you're as out of touch with the youth as I am) is visiting from the US, which among many other things, has made me realize what a solitary activity blogging is. So I'll be taking off my nerd-glasses and pretending to be hip for the next couple of weeks (shhh, don't tell her! Somehow, she's still convinced I'm interesting). which will mean less time spent blogging. But don't worry, she's nerdy enough herself to let me still post occasionally, and I like to pretend I'm an arteest when she's around, so there may be some pictures of our travels to look forward to. If you ask nicely, she may even grace Ye Loyal Readership (Mom & Dad) with a guest post?