I recently met a Russian fellow at an international launch. It was quite an experience, because I had never met a Russian before.
I wanted to know everything about Russia, because if everything you read on the internet is true, it has to be the wildest place on the planet.
As it turns out, my new friend, whose name I couldn’t pronounce and ended up calling Yanik, wasn’t a heavy drinker. After two beers, he proclaimed that he had had enough and that he wanted a still water. He was, however, a heavy smoker and had the ability to roll a cigarette with one hand while making insane hand gestures with the other.
He spoke English with a heavy accent and had trouble pronouncing my name as well, so we simply stuck with “buddy”.
“Listen, buddy,” I said. “Are the Russian roads really that crazy because, to be honest, you guys make us South Africans look like F1 drivers?” If you have ever seen Russian dashboard camera footage on YouTube, you’ll know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, do it right now.
I’ve probably seen a hundred of them and the Russians seem to have the ability to spawn out of nowhere to have an alarmingly massive accident. There are countless videos of a driver going along, minding his own business, only to be rudely interrupted by a car flying over his bonnet. They also seem to have wild ideas on what constitutes as a good time in a car, because I recently saw a video of a few Russians mincing along in a previous generation M5. They stop in the middle of a busy intersection and do a few do-nuts, while shooting their AK47s out of the rear windows. They make Jozi look like a high school musical.
Our discussion was interrupted by a loud argument between a Greek journalist and a hack from Italy. The Greek said that he preferred a Lotus to the Alfa 4C, and the Italian nearly had a heart attack.
The next day I was ferried back to the airport by an Austrian in an Audi A6. We averaged around 160km/h on a soaking wet highway, but it felt as safe as sitting on my couch at home. He turned with confidence and kept a safe following distance from the car in front.
Most surprising for a South African like me was the respect that road users showed for each other. Slower cars simply moved over and in the small towns they were polite to a fault. I tried looking for someone playing on his phone while driving, but this infuriating habit doesn’t seem to exist over there.
You could tell that the Austrian had been driving fast for ages and that he had been well trained. I guess that’s the norm in a country where you could count the dry days on one hand.
Back home, I jumped into the X6 and was immediately annoyed by the tedious progress on the highway. There was a VW Up! in the right hand lane, snailing along at 80km/h. I had to pass on the left and was in the process of making a rude gesture when I noticed the petrified look on the young girl’s face. She obviously hadn’t had her licence for long and I ended up feeling sorry for her.
My anger shifted to the institution that hadn’t trained her properly, which would have given her the confidence to keep up with the rest of us. Or just trained her well enough to know that she shouldn’t have been there in the first place.
An hour or so later, while driving along Malibongwe at 80km/h, I suddenly had to swerve for a couch in the middle of the road. Oddly, that’s not the first time something like that had happened to me. This time an overly enthusiastic Lewis Stores driver had swerved from one lane to the other, with the result that a brand-new couch was neatly delivered to the middle of nowhere in the industrial district. The driver and his buddy casually got out of the truck to assess the damage — and to soak up the abuse from frustrated motorists held up by their antics. A police car drove by, but the scene wasn’t interesting enough to warrant a stop…
That’s when I realised how crazy South African roads are. We’re not on the internet, but only because the dash cam hasn’t caught on here yet. In Russia, they are sort of forced to have them for insurance purposes, but that’s not the case here. Yet.
I suspect we would become a YouTube sensation within a week because, crazy as Russia is, we would give them a good run for their money.