When careening down the ‘wrong’ side of a curvy road in the hinterlands and suddenly coming upon a busy roundabout, sounds emerge from one’s mouth reflexively that resemble a bad impersonation of a humpback whale. (picture Dori in Finding Nemo) Upon the counsel of the brave man riding shotgun in the left-sided passenger seat, courage is mustered, brakes are applied, monosyllabic prayers are mumbled and the lorry/18-wheeler barreling through said traffic circle rumbles past clearing the way for entry– assuming one can find the right gear. Once in the circle, the situation can deteriorate rapidly for one must stay in the correct lane until of course you don’t need to be in that lane anymore and you must signal, while shifting gears with the same hand and still speaking whale-speak, and merge into the correct lane while not hitting the other people merging (sharing!) your traffic circle (I believe I should have exclusive use of this circle people!) and we narrowly escape the circle with our lives and find we are on the wrong road! Welcome to our attempt at driving in Scotland!
Last week we finally got around to trying driving. Using my international driving permit for the first time, we rented a car and headed off. Our little Vauxhall 2 door Corsa was a stick shift, like most cars in the UK. (Why are most cars stick shift? Even the Mercedes and Audi’s? They are cheaper to buy and they used to save petrol/gas but now its almost the same mpg as an automatic apparently.) Having driven stick for the last many years in the states, I was ready. However, it was still a challenge. Reverse gear is upper far left instead of lower right, and it took me most of the trip to find 1st and 3rd gear without a struggle. Thankfully the accelerator, brake and clutch are the same as American cars. ￼
And what about the ancient narrow cobbled lanes built before cars existed, squeezed between cottages of stone and thatch; roundabouts 2 or 3 lanes deep, numerous pedestrians and bicyclists, buses and lorries galore; zebra crossings, puffin crossings; HOW DOES THIS ALL WORK? How is there any way to avoid a smash up?
Hubs has a theory: he contends that the culture here in the UK is a ‘Give Way’ culture. What we Americans would call ‘yield’ is called Give Way here. And hubs contends that it extends beyond just a sign you see occasionally along the road but it informs the style of driving overall. People just have to give each other a break or it would be a nightmare. And that is what we experienced in our brief 3 day sojourn. We were not honked at once! And in general, there is very little honking as I walk along the streets here in Aberdeen. I would also say that the give way culture extends to bikes as well. Not only have I not seen any bicyclists yelling at motorists, I have not seen any threatening behavior towards the bikers either. This is all a very, very, sharp contrast to driving in Washington and I must say its a huge relief! It makes the prospect of getting behind the wheel again a little less intimidating and hopefully I won’t sound like a wounded whale the next time either.
Up next: A birthday adventure in the mountains