I was in Rio in April and just thought of an interesting cultural difference worth writing about here. There are probably more but life has been a whirlwind since I got back, so I will have to catch them as they come to me. This phenomenon involves the difference in attitude toward pedestrians v. cars on streets in Brazil from America. What is even more interesting is that the attitude varies from city to city in Brazil.
In Rio De Janeiro, Sao Paulo, and Belo Horizonte, Brazil's three largest cities, you cross the street at your own risk. Even when you are on a crosswalk with a light. Basically pedestrians are regarded as obstacles and nothing else. If you get hit, it is your fault for being there, not the drivers' fault for hitting you. And I am told it would be unlikely someone would be convicted for vehicular homicide for pedestrians struck by his or her car in this manner and killed. Now, in the U.S., of course, pedestrians have the right of way -- as long as they cross in a lawful manner -- even though most drivers tend to forget this from the quick read of the driving laws booklet given to them by the DMV. I mean, after all, we all skimmed it just enough to pass the test. The only time reading it was even partially serious was in high school drivers' ed. And even then, how many really read it thoroughly? But definately, in the U.S., if you hit someone with your car you would be sued and could lose your license. And if they died, you could go to prison for murder, voluntary or involuntary, depending on circumstances. Pretty much if you danced around with glee afterwards, you would likely get voluntary.
Anyway, in Varginha, Minas Gerais, Brazil, a smaller city in the interior, I found the attitude was much different. While Brazilian drivers there were as reckless as ever, crossing the street mid-sidewalk was generally much easier and safer than in the larger cities, and required less running for your life. Locals also told me, unlike those in big cities, that pedestrians were much more respected there. And I certainly felt that as I walked around. I will still never forget my first time in belo Horizonte when pedestrians in a crosswalk with a green walking light scattered in all directions as a car came racing blindly up a steep hill and plowed through the middle of them without applying brakes.
All of this points to the difference different cultures place on the value of human life and of personal responsibility. In the U.S., human life is quite valuable and the drivers' are held responsible. In Brazil, the car wins and you were stupid to be there. I am not passing judgement on which is better, but I certainly think drivers do stupid things, too. Some kind of mutual responsibility seems more equitable to me. Maybe that's why I liked Varginha's attitude better. But in the dog eat dog world of cities like Rio, I doubt this will change any time soon. After all, Rio De Janeiro has more murders per capita than any city in the U.S. People are regularly subjected to a level of death and violence that most Americanos cannot imagine. Maybe this in itself desensitizes people to death and thus decreases the value of human life. Maybe death by such a manner is just more accepted as natural and part of the reality of existence because of it. I don't know. I do know I will never casually cross the street in Brazil like I do at home.
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