Britain’s motorists are not renowned for their consideration, let alone kindness. The combination of reserve and a tendency to tetchiness while behind a steering wheel might lead some to conclude that this country is far from being a hitchhiker’s paradise.
Such an assumption has been challenged, however, by one of the world’s most accomplished hitchhikers, whose experiences have led him to believe that Britain is in fact one of the most hospitable places in Europe.
Juan Villarino, an Argentinian who has thumbed lifts in 90 countries during 100,000 miles of journeys, has ranked most of the nations he visited by the length of time it takes to get a lift.
Mr Villarino has hitchiked in 90 countries, including in South AfricaMr Villarino has hitchiked in 90 countries, including in South Africa
The average wait in Britain was 18 minutes. Although lengthy when compared with the seven-minute waits he experienced in Iraq, it is the third shortest time in Europe, beaten only by Romania (12 minutes) and the Netherlands (17 minutes, 42 seconds).
Ireland was next, at 20 minutes, followed by Germany (22), Lithuania (26), Hungary (31), Latvia (33 minutes, 42 seconds) and France (33 minutes, 48 seconds). In last place were the Swedes who, despite their enviable social care system, kept Mr Villarino waiting at the kerb for 51 minutes, 30 seconds.
Mr Villarino, 40, who records his adventures on his blog, Acrobata del Camino (Acrobat of the Road), believes that cultural attitudes rather than traffic density are to blame for the differences in waiting times.
“If you dig a bit in history you can find amazing stuff [about national attitudes to hitchhiking],” he told The Times. “Hitching in Britain was even considered patriotic during the Second World War era, when fuel shortages for civil use meant more and more people shared their cars. So this underlying [way of thinking] points that hitching in Britain was something more than a mere act of practical, friendly co-operation between human beings. It was part of resistance.” He said he was aware of British reserve but felt it was a protective barrier that came down once people decided to let him into their cars. “I find the ease of hitching in Britain is the symptom of its ongoing communitarian values and social health.”
He began his first long trip from Belfast in 2005, embarking on a 27-month journey through Europe, Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan and reaching Thailand. He turned the experience into a book, Hitchhiking in the Axis of Evil, which is yet to be published in Britain.
He left his psychology course in Belfast and posted a message on the noticeboard at Bangor Marina asking for a lift to Scotland. An hour later he was on board Big Wamp, a small sailing vessel operated by a man he knew as Nick, a fireman in Londonderry. His rides included one with an organic farmer in a van fuelled by biodiesel, and another with the designer of the lighting system at the Scottish parliament.
Perhaps his most daunting voyage in Britain was when he accepted a lift from a kelp farmer who turned out to have coached the Falkland Islands football team. “I guess I had never met a person from the Falklands before, and he had never met an Argentinian,” he said.
The pair had to confront the topic of the conflict in 1982 that led to the deaths of 255 British servicemen and 649 Argentinians. “Following orders, people can kill someone they don’t know just based on abstract categories such as nationality, but freed from this kind of [mindset], strangers are naturally inclined to share,” Mr Villarino wrote. They stopped at the first pub they could find to “heal inherited wounds”.
His average wait time in Egypt was 22 minutesHis average wait time in Egypt was 22 minutes
Mr Villarino, who travels to record the lives of ordinary people, said the Irish were more likely than the English to take “spontaneous detours”, although there was a student going to Nottingham who added 240 miles to his journey so that he could drop Mr Villarino off in London rather than leave him stranded. Asked if he had any tips for hitchhiking in Britain, he said that the rules were common to all countries. “Find a spot where cars have space to stop and where they have to reduce speed, after a roundabout, for instance. Petrol stations remain the best shot.”
A vital attribute is patience, especially if travelling in Tibet, where the average wait is three hours and 16 minutes.
WAITING AROUND THE WORLD
Iraq 7 minutes
Jordan 9 minutes
Ecuador 10 minutes
Romania 12 minutes
Pakistan 15 minutes, 36 seconds
Syria 16 minutes
Thailand 16 minutes, 12 seconds
Iran 17 minutes, 36 seconds
The Netherlands 17 minutes, 42 seconds
Britain 18 minutes
Turkey 20 minutes
Ireland (the Republic as well as Northern Ireland) 20 minutes
Germany 22 minutes
Egypt 22 minutes
China 23 minutes
India 25 minutes
Peru 25 minutes, 36 seconds
Lithuania 26 minutes
Ukraine 29 minutes
Hungary 31 minutes
Latvia 33 minutes, 42 seconds
France 33 minutes, 48 seconds
Poland 34 minutes , 24 seconds
Slovakia 34 minutes, 42 seconds
Laos 35 minutes, 12 seconds
India (Himalayas) 37 minutes
Denmark 38 minutes
Finland 43 minutes
Norway 46 minutes
Afghanistan 47 minutes
Sweden 51 minutes, 30 seconds
Tibet 3 hours, 16 minutes