Beeping is more accepted south of the border

Published 9:35 am Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Pothole Prairie by Tim Engstrom

People in Albert Lea don’t beep their horns much. We’re Minnesota Nice, right?

You can sit at a light that has turned green three seconds ago, yet no one honks at the lead-car driver who is staring at a cellphone. If it gets ridiculous — perhaps six or seven seconds — someone will gently beep. To be sure, it’s a quick, little beep.

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Go to the Twin Cities, and people tend to beep their horns a bit more often. At least one motorist will beep if a driver fails to go on a green light. Go to Chicago and multiple drivers will beep. In many cities on the East Coast, they lay on the horn. HOOOOOONK! It’s as if they are saying, “Wake up, moron!”

In New York City, however, and they will honk and actually lean out the window and holler, “Wake up, moron!” They might even throw in a few naughty words.

OK, maybe I exaggerate. Apologies.

In Albert Lea, horns on our automobiles are for saying hello. Ever notice that to say hello to someone, people tend to beep twice? I think it has to do with two being a much more pleasant number than lonely old one. A single beep kind of sounds rude, doesn’t it? Two beeps is friendly.

“Hey, there is Sara Aeikens walking down Fountain Street.” Beep beep!

People in Minnesota used to honk when they would pick people up for a ride, though never during usual sleeping hours. “Hey, I am outside,” the honk meant. During sleeping hours, they would get out and ring the doorbell if the person wasn’t watching out the window already. But now we just send a text message no matter what time it is: “Just pulled up.”

In Latin America, drivers practice offensive driving, not defensive driving. In doing so, they use horns as an avid means of communication. It’s actually quite fun to drive in those countries, when considering the notion from the perspective of sheer automotive enjoyment. I wouldn’t want to drive that way all the time.

I got to drive in Guatemala in 1995 when I was in the Army Reserve (which came after my stint in the full-time Army) and in 1999 during a visit to Mexico. And I visited several countries in the Caribbean in 2004 as part of a cruise, so I witnessed it there, rather than drove in it.

Drivers in those countries beep when they see a buddy. They beep when they get cut off. They sometimes beep to point out they are ones who get to go next at a four-way stop. They honk immediately when the lead driver fails to go at a green light, or if the car in front them takes too long to accelerate after a light turns green. They beep to tell a driver in front of them he or she is going too slow, as if to say, “Get out of my way, dude.” They honk when the driver in front of them slows down too quickly, as if to say, “Are you meaning to crash, idiot?” They honk when driving through a crowd of pedestrians to say, “Don’t end up under my wheels, people.” They beep to warn others about the collision they are about to encounter. They — well, some of the young men, anyway— honk when they see a hottie.

There are many more situations. And whether the driver uses one, two or three beeps or long beeps means completely different things. I never did drive in those countries long enough to clearly understand much of it. Two beeps is used for saying hello to a buddy, just like here Minnesota. One beep by an open parallel parking space means, “Hey, I am taking that.”

You know, that’s kind of handy, actually. How many times have you stopped to parallel park, perhaps even with the left turn signal on, only to have the driver behind you creep up to your bumper, leaving you no choice but to keep driving and lose the space?

The honking in Latin America, at least where I went, wasn’t completely chaotic. I hear you have to travel to Asia to experience that. Bloggers on the Internet indicate that Vietnam wins the prize for honking madness.


Tribune Editor Tim Engstrom’s column appears every Tuesday.

About Tim Engstrom

Tim Engstrom is the editor of the Albert Lea Tribune. He resides in Albert Lea with his wife, two sons and dog.

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