How I learned to love driving in Greece.
The last time I found myself driving in Athens I realized that any difficulty I was having was my own fault. It was my expectations that were causing me stress. People weren't doing what I expected them to do and so I was constantly surprised and on edge. The trick was for me to stop expecting it to be like home, keep my eyes open and learn about how people drive in Greece.
The written rules of the road might only differ slightly but the way people behave and what makes it all work can be dramatically different. Read my tips with this in mind. This is not a guide to the road rules , but rather the road culture .
Here's what I learned, and it's also why I love driving in Greece.
Tip 1: Right of way.
To start with I asked my Greek father-in-law a question and he gave me a great answer.
Me: "How does it all work on Greek roads?"
Him: "In Greece, you have to understand, everyone has the right of way."
This simple summation proved to be a powerful clue to the way people manage to make it all work on Greek roads. Everyone has the right of way.
How does this apply in the real world? Take for example the following situation:
You are driving along a narrow street which intersects with a larger road with a never-ending parade of fast moving traffic. What do you do?
You push in. Keep in mind, you have the right of way, but so do the other drivers. They expect you to push in and nobody is going to let you in until you do. Because they expect it, it's actually not as risky an action as it would be in a nation where people expect you to wait.
When you do push in, people let you in. Greece is great!
Tip 2: Helpful honking.
Traffic lights can be a challenge for the recent arrival in Athens. In many countries, lights are set both at the stopping line and at the other side of the intersection so that wherever you stop, you can see the lights.
In Athens, if you're the first car stopped at the lights you may find that, try as you might, you can't see the traffic light as it's right above you and there's no other light to look at.
Don't panic. The drivers behind you will honk the very second the light turns green and you'll then just have to trust your fellow Athenian and head into the intersection without seeing the light for yourself.
You'll soon come to love your fellow driver for their reliable honks of help.
Tip 3: No tailgating.
Tailgating is one of my pet hates. It's unfair to risk the lives of other people because you think they're not driving fast enough. Fact is, if they need to stop, for any one of a million good reasons, you will drive right in to the back of them.
Having said that, nobody tailgates in Greece.
The reason is that people expect the unexpected. Given that you have the right of way, you may decide to pull over at that road-side stall selling watermelon, or you might care to suddenly park. In any case, drivers in Greece respect your right to be impulsive and so will leave enough space to stop (or veer around you at high speed) safely. You'd be wise to do the same.
Drivers expect you to do the unexpected. Another reason I love driving in Greece.
Tip 4: Parking impunity.
Now don't get me wrong, if you park illegally, you may get a ticket. However, your fellow drivers will do everything short of congratulate you if you manage to change across three lanes to park between a postbox and a park-bench.
Parking is easier in Greece because people understand that if you need to park, you need to park. If you slow down to pull into a parking spot that is really the entrance to a shop and hold up the traffic to do it, you're unlikely to feel as though the cars behind you care very much. When parking, put on your hazard lights to let people know you're about to do something (could be anything). If this turns out to be simply stopping right there and jumping out of your car to buy a paper, well so be it.
Tip 5: Get out of the way.
Greece has built some impressive freeways, some of them with German money. Consequently these thoroughfares are built for speed. If you're doing 120mph and you see some lights flashing behind you, change lanes . It's probably a BMW doing close to 200mph and he expects you to be somewhere else when he gets to where you now are.
Over-taking is also done at speed in situations where there's no lane to change to and sometimes with near-insane margins for error. Not much to be said about it except that after a while you may find yourself doing the same.
- As a pedestrian you are not included in the 'everyone has the right of way ' plan. Cross with caution.
- If there's two lanes, people will drive in both of them at the same time, if there's room.
- Most cars have bumps and scrapes on them, even newer ones. This is probably due to the creative approach people take to parking.
- People will only occasionally indicate when changing lanes.
- Slower vehicles will use the emergency lane on freeways.
- If someone shouts at you, don't feel bad, Greeks don't bottle things up. It's a sign you're fitting in!
I hope you've enjoyed these thoughts of mine. If you have something to add, please comment.
Thanks for reading, and happy trails.