Philippines Honking Horns.
When visiting the many blogs and forums related to the Philippines, the one common denominator that seems to always annoy many foreigners is Horn Honking in the Philippines. To the many westerners who have never been to or spent any time in the Philippines, horn honking is one of the first noticeable characteristics of life in this archipelago paradise. It’s not unique to the Philippines and it is a common practice in many crowded Asian countries.
When I first arrived in Manila in 1983 and upon exiting the airport terminal building, the first two things I noticed were the 1,001 wanna be baggage handlers and the thick tropical air. And then, after succumbing to the heat and humidity, I heard horns….many horns. Know that while the airport situation has changed immensely since then (access and crowd control), the heat, humidity, and horn honking remain unchanged.
As we wound our way through the streets of Manila heading for our Subic Bay destination, two things remained constant – the traffic and the honking. Even as we enjoyed the comfort of our air-conditioned van with closed windows, you could still hear the somewhat orchestrated and unrelenting sound of horns. In the hour it took to escape the city, the constant honking became almost predictable…instinctive, but nonetheless, still annoying.
It took me weeks to re-program my mind to tune out the honking (which is not a good thing in its entirety, trust me) to the point it didn’t bother me so much. It wasn’t until I began riding my bicycle that I established some respect for the horn (as I didn’t have a horn of my own), learning that all that honking was in direct relation and in favor of my own safety. The actual ‘cracking‘ of the horn-honking-code came when I purchased and began driving a motorcycle. See, then I had my own horn, and because it came equipped on my Honda Magna 750, I learned how to use it to my advantage. I had no choice. I mean why would anybody have such a powerful scooter when you couldn’t put all that power to good use. Okay, so the horn came in really handy because I liked to go fast, really fast.
What I’ve learned is that tooting of the horn is nothing more than a proactive approach to create awareness as opposed to honking in defense, or yelling at other drivers and people with the horn. A good offense is better than a good defense as they say. I the beginning, I would see drivers honk for no obvious reason and with seemingly no other traffic, and learned that it is done under this same proactive reasoning that somebody, anybody, or everybody might just want to pay some immediate attention. I Now understand that honking helps to keep all vehicles and pedestrians moving in synchronized orderly chaos (Philippine oxymoron?). Without the intention of belittling the lady folk here, it would be hard not to notice that the greatest percentage (like 95% – my guess) of all drivers are men that seem to all be on the same motor vehicle wavelength. See, Filipino men have this mental telepathy thing going on that allows them to communicate easily, with the help of puckering and pointing of the lips and raising one’s eyebrows, and with a customary simple little head jerk up, down, or from one side or another. Sometimes even good old fashioned hand signals are used. The horn is a modern era feature that was quickly adopted as a way to get some added attention. Most male drivers throughout the Republic tend to be rather talented and very astute at anticipating other drivers’ actions. In the past I have realized – and while I am not claiming that stupidity doesn’t exist among some drivers – questionable levels of common sense somehow always seem to prevail (if Murphy was a Spaniard, I would assume there would be a law that applies here). Considering the crowded roadways and pedestrian conditions in many areas, it is rare to witness an incident. While accidents do occur, at many times because slower speeds are so prevalent on the roads, serious accidents are mostly avoided. But upon closer inspection of many vehicles, one will notice the many scratches, scrapes, and dents that better define the overall challenge (and fun) of the driving conditions. Bump somebody? No damage? Just exchange smiles while raising the eyebrows, and both drivers will be on their merry way, hopefully. (not to be taken literally).
Take the pedestrian standing rather close (or in the road in many cases) and with their back to the road. A honk in advance is a simple warning to that person to “please don’t take that half step backward because I’m not slowing down or changing directions!” Honking is used to indicate one’s driving intentions when no one seems to be paying attention – such as an intended turn into a crowd of people. And when you see that large monster bus straddling the centerline at light speed and hear that air horn blast, hold on to your nipa hat cause a big wind is coming. I believe honking the horn is an inherent trait in Filipino genetics as I believe all Filipino children are carriers of that dominant ‘Honking’ gene. Not much later than the time it takes them to learn to walk, they begin schooling – their first class? Honking 101.
It is NOT uncommon to see young children playing on or alongside the Philippine National Highway who will instinctively move away from the roadway upon hearing the distant horn blast of an approaching monster Philtranco Airbus traveling at breakneck speed (usually the only time one of these monster buses slows down is when it hits something!). If you come here to visit or live, you need to know that horn honking is an accepted
and respected form of communication. It definitely creates an awareness, in more ways than one.
That said, and along with adhering to the simple unwritten rule of ‘gross tonnage’ having the right of way, everything combines to make traffic and pedestrians flow more smoothly. It’s like art in motion and it’s beautiful! Call me crazy but I honestly enjoy driving in the Philippines. I also feel that driving more offensively is so much easier than the constant defensive driving one must practice in the West. And until Filipino men begin putting on makeup and drinking their Starbucks coffee while attempting to make lane changes (not to forget texting and driving), it will always be More Fun Driving in the Philippines. A honk here and a toot there – they are simply courtesy warnings – a safety thing if you will. Now, the length of the toot, well…that is subject to more individual interpretation, something us westerners are more accustomed to. That distinctive horn blast was more internationally known as the substitute for sign language or [the middle finger].
Unlike the use (or prescribed non-use thereof) of the horn in the western world, I understand and learned to enjoy the benefits of this custom. I like the regular use of the horn and find it a rather unique and clever way of issuing a caution. What is the purpose of a horn if you can’t or don’t use it. All in the interest of public safety. Horn use in the Philippines – is it excessive?
I don’t think so…I know it’s kept me safe and in all probability, alive! It’s Just More Fun that way!