Swarm Behaviour in Hanoi Traffic

Asian cultures are usually characterised as being collective in nature. This basically means that people prioritise the objectives of a group over their own individual objectives. Sitting on a fifth floor café, sipping a Bia Ha Noi and watching the Hanoi traffic, I would almost contradict that age old wisdom about collective cultures. As soon as the Vietnamese get on their scooter, in their car or on their bicycles they become the most selfish people around. Much has been written about Hanoi traffic and I think this video illustrates it nicely. Check out the woman with the baskets over her shoulder crossing the road.

Everybody makes their presence known by using their horn, expecting everybody else to move aside when they hear them coming. But, nobody seems to takes notice of the cacophony of beeps, hoots and toots. Nobody actually gives way for anybody else, unless a collision is imminent. When crossing the street in Hanoi you need to forget everything you know about road safety and be like them, be one with the flow, like a bee in a swarm or a cow in a stampeding herd.

Hanoi traffic invalidates everything I have studied about traffic flows many years ago in university. Traffic in Hanoi is not a flow, but a swarm, which has its own internal logic making sure that there are virtually no collisions. I have only seen one accident on the road here, which is a miracle given the many near hits just on this one minute video clip.

What does this say about Vietnamese culture? Does their driving behaviour negate the theory of collectivism? Is collectivism being eroded by their increased wealth? Or is it a reflection of another aspect of their culture?

Author: Peter Prevos

Social scientist and engineer who dabbles in magic tricks.

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