Hebrew Hear-Say: Getting sidetracked

A recent survey suggests urban populations around the world are walking faster and faster.

Relax (if you can find a moment). It's not just your imagination. We're living life at a faster pace than ever before. I still haven't discovered scientific backing for my strong suspicion that only yesterday we were cleaning for Pessah and yet Rosh Hashana is waiting just around the corner. But I have at least found a report which seems to explain the feeling that I'm rushed off my feet. I am. A recent survey suggests urban populations around the world are walking faster and faster. The study was carried out by the British Council (which I'm not boycotting - it's just that since it closed its library in Jerusalem, it's been hard to find a reason to avail myself of its polite services). Researchers in 35 city centers timed how long it took 70 people unencumbered by phones, shopping and companions to walk 60 feet (some 18 meters). The pedestrians studied (without their knowledge) took an average of 12.4 seconds - a second less than in a similar survey conducted a decade ago, as reported by the BBC (which I'm not boycotting, although sometimes I feel compelled to tune it out). Singapore came top of the table (10.55 seconds), followed by Copenhagen, Madrid and Guangzhou in China. The most relaxed were the walkers in Malawi, who took an average of half a minute to complete the trip. "The key conclusion is that the world is speeding up," said Prof. Richard Wiseman, who headed the study. "Pace around the world is 10 percent faster than ever before. That's not great for our health. As people speed up in their lives, they are not eating properly, exercising or seeing friends and family. All these things can lead to all kinds of things, especially heart attacks." People who walk fast are also more likely to speak and eat quickly, wear a watch and get impatient, he said. They don't like to sit still, sit in traffic or wait in queues - and I thought that those were quintessentially Israeli traits which can drive you crazy. I admit my life often seems more a case of perpetual motion than poetry in motion. On the other hand, I live a happy car-free existence and think my life as a pedestrian (holech/et regel) is calmer than that of those who are constantly driving in the fast lane. Incidentally, a local report this week showed that Israel's only toll road is taking its toll on our already bad habits: The average speed recorded was 151 kph, despite the limit on Route 6 being 110 kph. The Israeli commuter (yomem, according to the Hebrew Language Academy) has proven that where there are wheels, there's a way, but I still think it's so much pleasanter to put your best foot forward and take your time. There are those who firmly believe in the cycle of life: Biking is a healthy and quick way to get from point A to point B without being taken for a ride, and many local authorities are finally getting on the right track with bicycle paths (maslul ofanayim). I couldn't find results for Israel in the British Council survey, but anyone who's been in the country any length of time knows how fast we get things done around here. The proverbial man in the street (ha'ish barehov) often walks down the middle of the road in the most literal sense. While Brits and Americans argue whether to call it a pavement or a sidewalk, they at least know what to do with it. Israelis have one word for it - midracha - but multiple uses: as a place to park cars, sell flowers, seat cafe patrons and provide an obstacle course for anyone with a stroller/wheelchair/blind man's cane. On the other hand, Israel has to be the only country where the right to walk in the middle of the road (kvish) has been taken to court as a God-given one, with whole neighborhoods demanding they be able to take a Shabbat stroll (no 10-second dash here) in the vehicle lane, even if it means blocking traffic on main thoroughfares. I don't think this is quite what songwriter Naomi Shemer meant by "Anashim tovim be'emtza haderech," "Good people in the middle of the road," but it takes all types. For those who don't want to get somewhere on their own two feet (at least unaided) the options are also increasing at a fast pace. While the skateboard (galgeshet) is still considered child's play, the Segway is making tracks so fast that the Hebrew Language Academy had to come up with a word for it: rechinoa. Its many fans pronounce it "sof haderech", literally "end of the road" but used to mean "great." Most important, of course, is to remember no matter what path in life you choose to travel and how you choose to travel it, you do it with the untranslatable concept of derech eretz, literally "the way of the land," but used to mean being a mensch and doing the right thing. Wherever you might be, steer clear of trouble and drive carefully. liat@jpost.com