When a One Way street is not one way!

In Egypt, I have found that a One way street is indeed an interesting social phenomenon. In many other countries, the one way definition and rule of the road, along with the road signs, clearly mark out which is the one way allowed, and thus the other direction by definition is not allowed. 


Well, as with many aspects of Egyptian culture, it is good never to assume that what happens is your home country is exactly what will happen here. When we first came to this country, our apartment was on a one way street. But shortly after arrival I was almost run down by a car coming up the “wrong way” in this street. The driver seemed to imply (by shouting at me out his window) that I was in the wrong.

So, from our 4th floor balcony, for several days, I began watching the flow of traffic in that “one way street”, and I discovered many interesting and unexpected aspects of the flow of traffic in this small supposedly one way street:

  1. One way definitely does not mean the one way that I am used to.
  2. It is considered  and treated as a very, very small 2 way street! In this particular small, one way street, there were usually cars parked on either side of the road, which made the road even smaller.
  3. During non-busy times, the cars coming the “wrong way” would dart up the street (and I would hold my breath) until they got to the turn at the top of the road, where we would breathe a sigh of relief. 
  4. During busier times however (usually around school drop off and collection times) this little road used to become extremely busy: cars, school buses, motor cycles, grocery delivery trucks… and even then, vehicles would come up the wrong way! But I discovered that even one car coming up the wrong way, with vehicles backed up going the right way, can actually get all the others to back down, reverse, move into spaces and let them through. How is this possible?

I have discovered some patterns of positional power of the one way challenge:

  • Pretty female drivers: the gracious and charming Egyptian men are always ready to go out of there way to be of help to a pretty female!!
  • Expensive cars: usually the Mercedes or BMW drivers or equivalent seem to have more right to be going up the wrong way, and the other drivers will try and manoeuvre into spaces (which are usually tiny tiny tiny) to allow the fancy cars to pass…. By centimetres on all sides, and side mirrors are quickly flapped down to avoid losing them in the process!
  • Loudest shouting: this is a common way to success: the person who shouts and gesticulates the biggest and loudest, can generally get anyone to back down, including loud use of the vehicles horn! I have even seen a small tuk-tuk (driven by a child under the age of 10) shout down a small truck and win the battle of the one way street.

So once again my conclusion was never make too many assumptions. View everything from an open perspective until you get a sense of the norms here. 

But until then, make sure you look both ways before stepping into a one way street: you literally never know from which direction the traffic will flow!