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South Americans are not quiet people. The streets are filled with a mixture of shouting, traffic, the thud of a reggaeton track booming from a passing car, sirens and of course, the incessant beeping of car horns.

When I lived in Europe and drove regularly, I have very little memory of using the horn in my car. My first car had a very weak, pathetic beep, more of a parp really, so I tended to avoid it. Plus, horns just aren’t really used much and when they are, people tend to pay attention.

South America (and Colombia in particular) is different. In the 5 minutes I’ve sat here writing this I have heard the honking of a car horn 17 times (honestly, I counted). Oh, make that 18. Once I’d noticed this, I tried to figure out in which circumstances they are used, and more importantly, why?

The Impatient Honk – we’ve all been there – sitting in traffic, the lights ahead turn green, yet the car in front just decides to sit there. At least, that’s what it looks like. So, rather than patiently wait for whatever encumbrance is snarling things up to clear, honk. For 5 seconds. Things don’t move (incredible – how can this be? Can’t they hear the honking?), so honk again. And again. Until persistence and hard work pays off and things start moving again.

The Blocked Honk – linked to the Impatient Horn, except this time driving down a narrow one-way street and the large 4×4 2 cars ahead has stopped. The driver is chatting to someone on the pavement, and ain’t moving. Honks break out until, after 2 minutes the 4×4 reluctantly says bye to his friend and moves on.

The Hola Honk – driving along with the Reggaeton blaring, windows down, arm out the window and a friend is spotted. HONK! Wave arm, shout unintelligibly, make bizarre handsignal meaning “I’ll do something else another time”. Continue driving. An alternative version ends in the driver swerving across the road to talk to the friend and to a  Blocked Honk scenario.

The Transport Honk – this honk was new to me, yet is very prevalent in Ecuador and Colombia. Picture the scene, little ole you is walking innocently down the street, or stood on a street corner when cars, buses, taxis and motorbikes all start honking their horns as they drive past you. At first you don’t notice, then you ignore it, then you look up and see the driver looking at YOU. They’re honking at me! But why? Very simply, you are a pedestrian, they offer transport and you might want a lift for which they get paid. Only you didn’t know it until they kindly honked at you to remind you of how bad a job your feet are doing.

The Coming Through Honk – you know that scene in the film where there is a car chase through a shopping mall and the driver of the chased and out of control car constantly and desperately honks his horn to warn shoppers to get the fuck out of the way? That’s this one transferred to the public highways of South America. Often linked to application of blinking hazard lights for no apparent reason and overtaking on the inside.

The Cos I Can Honk – if the driver has been unlucky enough to avoid any of the above situations for the previous 3 minutes, then he’ll just honk anyway. Cos He Can.

So, keep an eye out for all of the above and if you come across any new ones let me know!