The way people navigate traffic can tell us a lot about their respective cultures.

Recently, while walking to my office in midtown Manhattan, I stopped at a red light when an elderly woman with a walking stick caught my attention as she cautiously looked both left and right. When she saw that no car was close enough to hit her — assuming they adhered to New York’s speed-limit laws — she gave me a puzzled look and crossed the street. I must admit, I felt a bit foolish.

Such an incident would be unthinkable in Japan. Years ago, on the first night of a weeklong visit to Tokyo, my young, jet-lagged children, who had lived only in India and the United States, were amazed by the law-abiding Japanese. Peering out of our apartment window at midnight, they observed a man standing alone at a crosswalk. Even with no cars in sight, he waited patiently for the light to turn green.