How Not to Drive Like a Jerk in a Foreign Country

Jason Weiland

Photo by Dmitry Vechorko on Unsplash

I’m getting better all the time, but it’s hard to get over my lifetime indoctrination of being in the asshole club of America.

I’ve been driving since I was 15 and I pride myself in being a great driver. I know the traffic laws and I follow them as best I can, and I have no patience for people who break them.

But, driving in the Philippines - or any foreign country - is a different experience and one I have been getting better at.

It helps to have great reflexes and awareness of everything going on around you because on these roads, expect the unexpected.

Much like America, everyone is in a hurry to get where they want to be.

The roads are full of speeding taxis, smoke-belching jeepneys that will cut across lanes of traffic suddenly, and tricycles that will hold up traffic for miles without a second thought.

You also must deal with narrow roads filled will pedestrians, bicycles, and random items blocking the way. Go through any subdivision and you will see people using the street like a patio, even setting tables up in the middle of the road to sell grilled meat.

I won’t even mention all the road construction.

Nothing in my driving experience prepared me to drive in the Philippines, but that is also one of the reasons why it’s so much fun. Unpredictable is the name of the game, and sometimes you just have to laugh and have a good time.

I’m not complaining about the Philippines — far from it. Since I have been here, I haven’t found anything I could call bad in the experiences I’ve had. It’s just different.

That is why I have been so successful living here, despite having a life of privilege, entitlement, and ease in the United States for most of my life. I have adapted to how the Filipino people do things, instead of expecting that they will change to fit my needs.

I can’t tell you how many spoiled foreigners I have seen come to the Philippines and end up leaving in a year or less. They are not flexible and expect everyone else to do things as they want them done.

Good riddance.

ve been successful because I accept things as they are — fair or not.

But there is one area where I continue to have a problem — anger when driving.

Conditioned in America

We Americans are an entitled bunch. There is so much road rage on the highways and byways in the States that it almost seems like a good and normal thing.

I was an angry driver. Don’t cut me off, or not use your blinker, or run through a stop sign. If I see you break a traffic law, I turn into a justice warrior that uses rage as his primary superpower.

The saddest thing was, I was not an extreme case. I’ve seen people pull guns on other drivers and ram their cars into each other for minor offenses. It’s like bumper cars living in America.

So, when I came to the Philippines, I had a lot of pride to swallow.

This is not my country. The Filipino people have been gracious enough to allow me to live here, and it is an honor for me. I don’t break laws. I treat everyone with respect, from the homeless man asking for change in front of 7-Eleven, to the police and politicians.

Filipinos are welcoming and patient, and that is why so many expats decide to settle here. But you can only get away with being an asshole for so long. If you continue to be a problem for these gracious people time and time again, they will kick you out of this country.

So, I have to watch myself that my anger doesn’t get out of control when I am behind the wheel. People will pull out in front of you and cut you off in traffic. It’s nothing personal; it is just how they do it here. People in pedicabs will hold up traffic by occupying two lanes of traffic.

People will stop in the middle of the road no matter where they are.

The part of me that wants to scream at them for flouting the traffic laws gets tied up and thrown in the back seat. Where I used to scream at people and flip them off, the most I will do now is give them a polite beep of the horn and a smile on my way by.

Even when the other driver is clearly going out of their way to be a menace and jerk, I try my best to ignore them when what I really want to do is punch someone in the face.

The thing is my wife has terrible anxiety when we are on the road. If I’m screaming and driving erratically, she will have a panic attack. I have to drive calmly, even though my own anxiety wants me to explode in rage.

I recently saw a clip on YouTube of a foreign driver in Manila, who got out of his car and was screaming and banging on the top of the taxi who he felt had cut him off. It seemed like it went on forever, close to exploding into violence.

People were calling for that guy to get deported and I agree with the sentiment. You can’t be treating others like that, especially if you are a guest in another country.

So I am careful to hold my tongue when I want to yell and keep my hands on the wheel when I want to flip someone off. I use my horn to let people know where I am, but not to punish anyone for driving in the way they always have.

I am not the traffic police, and just because someone doesn’t use their turn indicator doesn’t mean I can correct them.

So, when in the Philippines, or any foreign country, drive as the locals do and are aware of everything going on around you. Expected the unexpected and don’t get upset when other people don’t drive the way you do.

You will enjoy the experience a whole lot more that way.

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Writer and advocate interested in mental health, health, family, culture, creativity, and success.

Los Angeles, CA

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