Sunday, November 28, 2010

It's a Comedy of Errors

My first time driving in Australia was when we went to the used car dealership to find a car for me.  It was a Saturday afternoon (our second Saturday in the country) and it was pouring rain.  In Australia the steering wheel is on the right side of the car and you drive on the left side of the road.  I had already ridden as a passenger in the front seat of a car several times and it was very uncomfortable.  It just felt wrong to sit on the left side of the car with nothing in front of you and nothing to do.  I found myself acting like a driver’s education instructor…stomping on the brakes, the death grip on whatever I could grab and even ducking a few times…I think I may have some control issues!  So, here we were buying our “family” car, the car I will drive for the next three years.  We decided to buy used and cheap because of the short term assignment (and because of the real possibility of me getting into a fender-bender – that hasn’t happened, yet, not even a scratch).  The pearly white Subaru Outback on the lot just said “Australia” to me so we took it out for a spin.  After Uri drove, it was my turn.  Now, here in Canberra the city is designed into one giant circle.  Basically, every road you are on circles around the city, which means there are lots of “round-abouts” as they are called here, or what I would call a traffic circle or rotary.  It may not be obvious to most, but round-abouts in Australia go around to the left.  So, not only are you sitting in the passenger’s seat as the driver and driving on the left side of the road, but you are taking a round-about in the opposite direction!  Australians, or at least Canberrans, are very fond of the round-about.  They really are quite brilliant (once you get more comfortable driving).  Round-abouts keep the traffic moving and eliminate the need for stop signs and traffic lights.  In fact, there are very few traffic lights or stop signs on the road.  When you approach an intersection you “give way” (says the sign) or yield to on-coming traffic.  After two months of driving, however, I still stop at most “give ways” because I still have a bit of panic about which way the traffic is coming and which side of the road I need to turn onto.  It’s incredibly hard to look right first rather than left-right then left.  So, I opt to be extra careful and “granny” it while on the road.
As I have learned to drive, there are several mistakes I make often.  I often forget when I approach my car that I actually need to get into the right-side of the vehicle to drive it.  It makes me chuckle every time I do this.  I’ll either pretend I am looking for something in the glove compartment or shuffle around on the floor…its silly, really, because who is actually paying attention to what I am doing!  Another issue is that the turn signal and windshield wipers have been switched.  So, I’ll be going down the road getting ready to make a turn and suddenly my windshield wipers will be going…how did that happen?!?!  Again, I chuckle.  For the first few days of driving when I was going to reverse the car, I bumped my head on the driver’s side window as I turned (the wrong way) to look behind me.   And, lastly, I reach for the seatbelt only to find nothing there...
Driving is getting easier each time that I am in the car.  When I forget myself and get too cocky, I’ll make a wrong turn or pull out into the “round-about” too soon and upset the on-coming traffic.  Yes, there have been some angry Canberrans honking their horns at me because of this.   I am happy to report that I have not done any damage to my Outback (cross my fingers).  She is a lovely car – 10 years young.  We call her Mother, short for the Mother of Pearl.  This is keeping with tradition.  The black Nissan Armada we left back in the states was called the Black Pearl.  Anabella named her that after Jack Sparrows’ ship in the Pirates of the Caribbean.   
Until next time...

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