Proceed with confidence

The crosswalk — a supposedly safe path between fragmented white lines — is not what it seems. Yes, an illuminated green hand beckons  pedestrians across some crosswalks, but they are not the priority.

The Perpignan that I had envisioned was a pedestrian-friendly town, much like the other touristy European cities I have visited. Those on foot outnumber cars by a long run and reserve the right of way. And tourism is a major industry in Perpignan. But the motorists never received the memo. Motorists give themselves the right of way, while the lowly pedestrians wait, fearing for their safety.

Drivers don’t slow for blind turns down narrow streets and don’t hesitate to make u-turns dangerously close to a restaurant patio. Brakes screech because they are so rarely used. The irritated pedestrian in me often wonders where the police are when I hear the Daytona 500 outside my window.  Drivers aren’t afraid to show their impatience either. Drivers in Perpignan have the same attitude toward their horn as New Yorkers. They are used not only to communicate but also to honk off steam. I have heard one horn turn into a chorus many times.

The other day I attempted to cross the street from our hotel, but when I stepped off the curb, it was as if I were invisible. I stepped onto the first painted white line, hoping  it would act like Moses’ staff and part the sea of cars for me. Instead, I nearly lost my toes. I waited on that white line pathetically while 15 cars passed right by me.

If ever you do venture into the street, do not expect the drivers to allow you to get from one curb to the next. The cars will proceed as soon as your first leg has passed, aiming for your second one. I’m told this is a quiet town where industry is limited, but evidently people here have places to go and people to see. And the French say Americans are always in a hurry!

I have come to see how the natives manage to escape the onslaught of the cars unscathed. It is all in their innate confidence. Their faces say, “I am worth stopping for.” They carry the same fearless confidence as the cars that turn corners at lightening speed. They cannot wait for 15 cars to speed past like I did, frozen by intimidation.

My time is limited as well, and I cannot waste those precious moments on the curb. Inspired by this French confidence, I will now approach the intersection thinking, “Yes, you will stop for me.”