Monday, August 31, 2009

Driving on the Right Side

When we moved to England, I was really quite nervous about driving on the left side of the road. It was nerve-wracking enough sitting on the bus from the airport to base watching cars coming from the "Wrong Side," the idea of remembering to drive in what seemed like an unnatural manner was very intimidating. And I'm not going to lie, I made some mistakes. Fortunately, they were all on base where drivers are more understanding and forgiving.

Driving is easy enough in traffic. Follow the cars. Simple. But when you approach an empty intersection? Shoot. Which one is it? Left? Right? We drive on the right in the states, yes? No. Yes. Okay, remember Beyonce. "To the left, to the left, over here in England we all drive to the left!" Maybe those aren't her words exactly, but I'm not lying when I say I recited them over and over for the first few weeks (months?) we lived in England.

And then, gradually, it became natural. In fact, I remember watching an American movie and there was a scene in a car and for a split second my heart rate doubled when I thought, "Ohmygosh, they are driving on the Wrong Side!" I remembered, though, that the right side used to be the Right Side and felt a bit foolish and amused at my mistake.

So much of driving is habitual. We don't think long and hard about what to do at a red light. We don't mediate on what a yield sign means. All of the littlest details about driving cause us no more than a nanosecond of thought, a flash of quick decision, and we're off. Even the stupidest things, like which side to pull your seatbelt from when you get into drive, can set you off when you start driving on the other side. It took me months to reach to the right for my seatbelt in England! I got into the wrong car seat many times before it became natural to get in on the right.

When we were planning our trip to Germany, I began to feel that familiar flutter in my stomach, that anxious feeling that I'd be going against the grain to *gasp* drive on the other side again. This wouldn't be my first time driving on the other side. We made a trip back to the States last year, and I'll be honest...I drove on the British side at least twice. Both times were when there was little-to-no traffic and were easily corrected.

What made me more nervous this time is that I'd be driving my husband's British spec car with the steering wheel on the right side of the vehicle. And I'd be trying to navigate through a very foreign country with a very foreign language I didn't speak. Ohhhh, I was nervous.

Ten days later, I will say that it hasn't been as bad as I thought it would be. For the most part, there's plenty of traffic and I keep in line with everyone else. Also, the roads in Germany are top notch. Mad props to you, Germany! England, I love ya, but your roads? Your traffic? They aren't my favorite. Getting around Germany is a piece of cake. Getting from our house in England to the base is like pulling teeth....painful.

That's not to say there haven't been...umm...incidents.

In Belgium, I pulled out of a gas station onto the left side of the road. It wasn't terribly busy, but there was oncoming traffic approaching down the road. And they flashed me. More than once. I was so into the habitual diving zone, it took about three flashes and my husband yelling at me to snap me out of it. Not a proud moment. Took about fifteen minutes for my stomach to unknot itself.

And then there was this one time here in Germany. It was on base, actually. I was pulling out of the parking lot of the BX, and again I found myself in the left lane again. Imagine a bit more yelling here from my husband, which put me into a bit of a panic. I was in the left lane. I need to be in the right. I was approaching a roundabout. OHMYGOSH, I'M APPROACHING A ROUNDABOUT! Yield to the right? Yield to the left? I DON'T KNOWWW!!!!!

I totally entered the roundabout going the WRONG DIRECTION. Lemme say, driving on the wrong side? Easily correctible in most cases. Going through a roundabout from the wrong direction? Not so much. Enter more yelling from both me and my husband and sprinkle a bit of Caleb crying because he has no idea what's going on, and you've got a good idea of what the chaos was like in our car at that moment.

I managed to get out at the very first exit in the roundabout with no damage done other than to my ego. Took nearly an hour to come unglued from that one, during which I mostly (and unjustly) blamed my husband for my panic. To be honest, I don't remember much of the day beyond that.

I will say this, though. I haven't driven on the wrong side since!

So tomorrow, we head back to England. About five hours of driving on the right side, a ferry ride, and then nearly three hours of driving on the left side again. I think my car will be happy to see the "correct" side. I, on the other hand, am starting to feel nervous.

So if you're in the UK and you see a BMW driving at you from the wrong side sometime during the next week, flash your lights, honk your horn, and shake your head at the poor befuddled driver trying to determine just what IS the Right Side!

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