American driver in Britain
A reader commented recently on how I didn’t put anything in Bringing Up Brits about driving in Britain. I think perhaps by the time I wrote my book, I felt I had mastered the art of driving on the other side of the road and parking in unimaginably tight spaces. But looking back, it was a challenge learning, pretty much from scratch, how to drive in Britain.
These were the main difficulties:
- I had never driven a stick-shift car before
- I didn’t have anyone to teach me because at the time, my husband wasn’t a driver himself
- I had to get used to driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road
- I had to get used to sitting on the ‘wrong’ side of the car
- The roads were tiny compared to the roads in the USA
- I had to learn how to drive through roundabouts – They don’t exist in the USA
- I had to learn what the road signs meant (once i drove up a one-way street in the wrong direction only to come head to head with a police car. He got out and asked what I was doing looking none too pleased. As soon as I opened my mouth to apologize he said ‘Oh you’re American! Well that’s OK then. Just be careful next time’) Phew.
- I had to get used to the fact that no matter where you go, there are always ALOT of cars around.
- Parking in tiny tight spots. Getting out of tiny tight spots.
- No parking anywhere!
- Driving a stick-shift car in very hilly places
- Using the handbrake (what’s a handbrake?)
- Filling up my own gas tank (something i had never done before)
- I’m sure there must be more…. Please add what you have found difficult!
Even now, although I am much more confident and have passed my British driving test (on the second try! I failed the first time due to riding the clutch too much), I still sometimes drive on the wrong side of the road and often walk to the wrong side of the car to get in. My husband is now a driver too so that makes it better for me. I have someone to ask questions to and to remind me about certain things. And now I understand what most of the road signs mean!
I do look back and laugh at myself when I remember the time i stalled 8 times around 1 roundabout. Or when I nearly crashed into a huge pole because I jammed on the clutch instead of the break pedal (the car stopped about 3mm in front of the pole!). I have actually bashed up two different cars in those indoor parking garages on those square pillars they seem to stick everywhere. And i still sweat profusely and have major palpatations when I’m stuck vertical on a hill stopped still with cars in front and behind me and I have to start and stop until the traffic clears or the light turns green. And I still sometimes make mistakes like turning left on a red light when there is nothing coming (I think sometimes that is allowed and sometimes NOT allowed).
Having a SatNav helps too. I always do the long-distance driving because to me, a 3 hour drive is nothing, where as to my husband, that is a long journey. But honestly, a 3 hour drive along a straight highway in the States is a piece of cake and won’t even get you that far. A 3 hour drive in Britain can mean you might cross through 4 counties, numerous towns and town centers, two or three different motorways and A roads and then end up in a place that has a different climate! So a 3 hour drive in Britain is actually much much longer than a 3 hour drive in the States. Hope that makes sense, it’s hard to explain it!
I welcome other people’s driving stories and experiences – please post here!