IT’S WORRYING TO THINK that, at any given time, 25% of road users really aren’t sure where they’re going. What’s even more chilling is that, when you stop for directions, 90% of people you ask haven’t a clue where you’re going but nevertheless give full instructions of how to get there.
Foreigners get lost easily and often ask for directions. They pull up, wind the window down and ask, “Where is Mercers Road?” whereupon two things happen: you realise that you’ve never heard of Mercers Road and they realise that they don’t speak English. In an ideal world you would say, “I don’t know” … they would say “I don’t understand” … and then they would drive off and everyone would be happy.
Instead, you give directions to anywhere you can think of that a foreigner would be likely to be going at that time of day. And they nod in a painful way and wonder what this ‘roundabout’ is you mention so often. Finally, with much embarrassment all round, they roar off up a cul-de-sac – and then drive back past you three minutes later, slumped so low in their seats it looks as if no-one’s driving.
An amazing thing happens when you ask for directions from someone. You immediately start nodding and stop listening. When you drive off you both ask, “What did he say?” – and you realise that neither of you heard a word he said, but you both noticed his luxuriant nasal hair. Even if you do listen, it’s impossible to take in any road directions with more than three elements. People can only absorb left, right, straight over – after that your mental road-map goes blank.
Remember when you ask directions that you’re speaking to a pedestrian who is thinking like a pedestrian. When they say second right, third left, you’ll be counting sealed, sign-posted roads – but they’ll be counting alleyways and holes in hedges. Which is why where you want to go is 50 metres away, but where you end up is 50 kilometres away.
Finally, if you’re asking for directions, never pick on people who look starved of social interaction. Given that they never go anywhere, they won’t know how to get anywhere. But that won’t stop them having an hour-long conversation, reading your entire road-atlas with you, settling down in your back seat and helping themselves to your takeaway coffee.
© GUY BROWNING IS AUTHOR OF ‘NEVER PUSH WHEN IT SAYS PULL’ AND CREATOR OF ‘TORTOISE IN LOVE’ (DVD) – USED BY PERMISSION.