When you are a small child one of the first things that you are taught by your parents is the green cross code. Look left, look right and look left again. It's essential for survival and Darwinian in the way that it separates children: there are those who stride out confidently into the street and also those who cling onto their mother's hand in the way a baby bear may cling to it's mother's back. When I was younger, this animal contrast was taken even further and the code was in fact taught to children by watching hedgehogs cross the road. The reckless hedgehog that didn't listen to it's mother would get squished. Pleasant eh?
So why, as we get older, do we forget that the reckless hedgehog ends up being scraped up off the side of the road? In London, J-walking is not just an occasional reckless act, but a way of life. No real Londoner would ever dream of waiting for a red light to change to green. NEVER. The moment you do wait, you are immediately picked out as a foreigner, and those Londoners behind you will begin their huffing and puffing as the hurriedly try to skirt around you and run across the road before the light turns green.
If you don't cross the road in London when your gut tells you to you, you could be waiting on the pavement forever. In fact, by waiting for the green light with all of the other "safe" people, the risk of being stuck in the road becomes far greater when a group of Chinese tourists decide to take a picture of a black cab whilst they cross- not realising that roads work the same in all countries: cars and lorries and buses continue to drive at you whether you have your SLR out or not.
Having been a part of the humdrum of London for some time, I can tell you that this method of crossing a road has now become an integral part of my character. Me?Wait for a green light when the road is evidently empty (or busy, for that matter) ?Pigs might fly.
However, after moving to Germany I am infinitely struck with a completely different attitude. The Germans WAIT. Yes...WAIT. I have seen hoards of business men rushing along the pavement to work and then all of a sudden when they hit the pedestrian crossing, the eagerness suddenly evaporates and they hover there diligently waiting for the green light. Furthermore, the crossing here in Munich takes infinitely longer to change from Red to Green- I once listened to a whole ipod track, tapping my foot impatiently rather than in time to the beat.
Even in the dead at night at 1am when there are obviously no cars around, they will still wait....and wait...and wait. Whenever I, at this moment, decide to cross, my act is met with a look of astonishment from the waiting German across the road. It makes no sense to me why the Germans would be in so much in fear for their safety if they crossed on a red light. I, in fact, find it much more distressing to cross on the green light, as cars are allowed to go at the same time as pedestrians which means they literally drive AT you.
God forbid if you do cross the road in Germany on a red light. I saw the fate of a young teenage girl, equally as impatient as myself (and no doubt she wasn't German to commit such an offense) who crossed a tiny road on red. A tram that was parked nearby and wasn't even coming towards her, sounded his horn at her to signal that she was a "reckless hedgehog". This was followed by mutterings and tut tuts from the surrounding Germans, all critical of the young girl's crossing attempt. The glares she got could have melted the ice on the pavement (oh wait, there isn't any...because the German's salt grit seems to have a magical quality that ours does not have. It doesn't even leave behind any orange gunk when the snow has melted away - yet another German mystery to explore and explain) Still, if anything will discourage me from being a J-walker, it is the prospect of being honked at by a tram in Central Munich and watched by onlookers. Mortifying.
When all is said and done though, at least the German's won't be the ones being scraped off the roads in Munich. That position can be left for the British tourists.