Monday, October 19, 2009

Cultural alignment

Montréalers, it seems to me, really do start from a glass-half-full "place". For example, the driving culture, if you will, sets rules positively rather than negatively. That is, at intersections you are told the directions you are allowed to travel. As opposed to the directions you are not allowed to travel.

Thus, I am at an intersection with a left-bound one-way street. The sign I see is a green-rimmed circle with an arrow pointing straight upward (forward) with an arrow swooping off to the left. The sign is indicating the ways I am permitted to travel. only. Further, the traffic lights that come on will frequently show a straight green arrow which allows you to travel forward. only. You may not turn even if it is permitted at the intersection, until a full green spot comes on indicating that all permitted directions are now allowed.

In contrast, the United States frames all this in terms of what you are not allowed to do. There will be a sign with an encircled arrow pointing to the right with a red slash through the circle; you may not turn right. There will be a single green spot that comes on permitting travel in whatever direction is allowed. There will be a labeled one-way arrow sign; in Québec there is simply a directional arrow with no explanation of what that means indicating that a street is one-way!

The purpose for the two-tiered green arrow/green spot system in Canada is to allow protected time for pedestrians -- gasp -- to cross. It's quite clever and minimalistic. And respectful of pedestrians of course.

But mostly, I believe this is an example of a positive approach to society's structure here. Microcosmic indeed, but extant, IMO. The "joie de vivre" (sp?) is permitted just a smidgen more freedom when things are formulated this way, as what is *permitted*, rather than what is *not* permitted. I would contend this is one small part of what makes life here feel the teensiest tad looser, freer, happier.

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