We're Jason, Beth, Lee Anna, Sawyer, and Sarah Claire, a family of five living, learning, and laughing lots in Northern Africa.
We hope you can learn a little (and maybe laugh a little too) as you read about our latest adventures.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Art of Parking in a City with Too Many Cars and Not Enough Parking Spots

We’ve told many of you that driving here is really different than in America. When we visited the States this time last year, we were really surprised at how much space there is around everyone on the roads and in parking lots. Living here you really do get used to having people (and vehicles) very close to you all the time.

Parking here is also a very different activity than parking in America. There’s not really enough space for all the cars that are on the road right now. When we go to friends’ homes, we settle for any spot within two blocks (sometimes more) of the destination. Here at home, our doorman keeps a big concrete block in our space and moves it when we come back.

Because of the overabundance of people here and under-abundance of jobs, almost every parking spot in town has an “attendant.” These are guys with lots of free time to hang around on the side of streets and watch your car for you while you’re parked. They also help guide you into parallel parking spots that are only inches longer than the car itself, and they frequently dust off the windshield when you get back. This service sets us back a pound or two each time we park. But a pound is only about 20 cents American, so it’s quite a bargain.

There are a couple of conventions that the locals have made in the parking realm that make things a little smoother. The first is that when you park, you (almost) always fold in your side-view mirrors. This gives several extra centimeters on either side of your car. If you add up all the cars with their mirrors folded, we’re talking about acres and acres of extra parking lots created, one mirror at a time.

The other thing we do to make room for more parking space is to leave the parked cars in neutral with the brake not set. Most of the town is very flat, so the cars aren't going anywhere by themselves. In some cities in America, (Miami, for instance) leaving your car in neutral would be an open invitation to gangs of car thieves to roll your car to their shop and cut it up for parts, but that’s not a problem when there are always lots of people walking by or sitting around watching everything that happens. By leaving your car in neutral, you can double-park behind or beside someone and not make them mad. If you come out to find yourself blocked in, just push the car behind you out of your way and off you go! The aforementioned parking attendants are also handy to have around when multiple cars have to be manually relocated. The above picture is of me (looking fat only because my shirt isn’t tucked in—not because I’ve been eating Oreos every day since Beth's parents brought them 3 weeks ago) pushing a car out of our way on Saturday night.

The most astounding stat I’ve heard recently is that in America there are approximately 500 cars per 1000 people, but that here the ratio is more like 25 cars per 1000 people. That is one stat we're not really interested in raising any. If we get much closer to the American ratio, we'll have to start parking our cars on top of each other!

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