WHY DO RUSSIANS WALK IN THE ROAD?Issue: Section:
In the latest in a (very ) occasional series of articles on the joys and wonders of living in Moscow for the past 16 years (you get less for murder) I want to turn to the puzzling subject of why Russians prefer to walk in the road even when there is a perfectly serviceable pavement. Admittedly relying on there being a pavement to walk on in Russia is unwise. The village where our dacha is located has gas, electricity and 120 channel satellite TV but no made up road, let alone a pavement. It is also true that walking on the pavement is no guarantee that you will not be mown down by some Russian driver anxious to get to somewhere. In at least one case pedestrians were killed when they refused to get out of the way of a driver who wanted to use the pavement as a short cut. Until it was blocked, drivers often used the pavement I walk on to get to the metro as a short cut. When I remonstrated with them they did the usual thing of turning deaf and not hearing me or looking completely baffled as to why I was annoyed. Interestingly their children always look embarrassed, though that may have to do with learning some new words to try out in their next English class.
Anyway this is waffling on a Wodehousian level. To return to the subject. Even given the fact that walking on a pavement is not necessarily a guarantee of safe passage why would people willingly walk in the road when there is a safer option a few feet away? Admittedly this is not a purely Russian phenomenon. Near our home in London is Richmond Park. Running around the perimeter of this very beautiful park is a first class cycling track. However, most cyclists still use the road. In one extreme case I saw a father teaching his young daughter to cycle by pushing her along the road in busy traffic when there was a cycle path 10 yards away. My helpful cry of “get on the cycle path” was unheeded by all except my wife who is claiming damages for hearing loss.
I see I have strayed from the (foot) path again. When you drive in Moscow, especially in the suburban areas where the streets are narrow, unlike the center and its 8 line boulevards, you will come across Russians of all ages strolling happily in the road. You drive quietly up behind them and wait, they do not move, you give a gentle toot on the horn. They whirl round and glare at you with obvious anger in their eyes and reluctantly shuffle behind a parked car, allowing you past. They then resume their stroll on the tarmac ignoring the nearby pavement which is only occupied by stray cats. I have pondered long and hard as to why they do this and it seems to me that, maybe, this is not an untypical Russian reaction to many things. Russians, especially when abroad, constantly believe that people are trying to trick them but they are too clever for this. Watch a Russian in a shop anywhere in the world and they will act as though the prices have been altered or the goods are not genuine. I have to persuade my wife that the prices in McDonalds are not negotiable in our rare forays into those fine dining establishments. So I think that Russians believe that pavements are put there to fool them into thinking that they are safe. But they are not tricked so easily and stick to the place they know best, the open road.