Liebling and Chiquito live in a red brick apartment building in a complex of dozens like it, built in the 1930s at a time when not many people owned cars. The sidewalks are wide and the streets are narrow. I paced off the width of the their street, and it measured roughly 6 paces. My highly scientific calculations done with a sheet of A4 paper put that distance at roughly 4 meters (13 or 14 feet).
In contrast to the 1930s, lots of people own cars in Kiel in 2014, and though they’re generally smallish cars, they’re substantially bigger than a breadbox (even the Smart cars). When Kiel-dwellers come home, they pull up on either side of the road onto the sidewalk as far as they can, but that still leaves what might be called a straight and narrow path (unlike the other one, this one just leads to the street we cross on our way to the playground with the zipline). It’s a two-way street, but there’s clearly only room for going one way at a time.
And so we come to the ritual dance of the compact cars. As you thread your way between sidewalks of parked cars, you can consider yourself “good to go” until another car begins heading your way. At this point, there is an etiquette prescribed. Liebling has explained the different protocols that apply in various situations, but the main procedure is straightforward. It involves scoping out empty parking spaces on either side; the car that can slip over into a spot proceeds to slip, so the other car can slide past, after which the first car pulls back out and continues until the next car comes along. If there are no parking spaces or wide bits or other options, somebody has to back up until one is found.
As with many ritual dances, there are probably complex hierarchies involved, though they may not be discernible to outsiders. For all I know, there may be an automotive equivalent of the alpha male, either bigger or more expensive, in the face of which others must back down. I didn’t ever witness a dominance display: no chest pounding or puffing, no guttural growl–not even any honking. Everyone just politely pulled over for one another.
It may be that we’ve all got our instincts well in hand, and are too advanced for such displays. On the other hand, perhaps the thought of really getting up in someone’s grill, and all the paperwork and subsequent insurance rate increases that would surely follow, is enough to guarantee relative peace in the ritual dance of the compact cars.