Thursday, October 08, 2009

Another Milestone for Momma

So, the other week I drove in Paris as well as on the peripherique (bypass) by myself for the first time. I was not technically by myself as I had my charming 3-foot-tall companion with me, but that fact just ratcheted up my anxiety level even more (and she's not yet at the point where she can really assist with merging into traffic). Things worked out fine considering the car was malfunctioning, but all clouds *did* have a silver lining that day -- in my case it was a cloud of black smoke billowing out the exhaust pipe so that the cars around me tended to give me a wide berth.

Driving in France was stressful for me in the beginning. I had to adjust to driving a straight gear, adjust to the differences in driving regulations, adjust to the fact that I was driving a car smaller than my former US refrigerator on smaller roads around people who tended to leave smaller margins of error (and at speeds that can only be described as zippy). Perhaps it wasn't as much a cultural difference between countries as it was a cultural difference between city driving and country driving.

My husband and I had an interesting discussion this week about driving differences between the Paris region and Virginia. I was talking about the epiphany I had that radically altered my ability to cope with roundabouts and crowded roads here. Back home, turn signals indicated an intent to change direction whereas here turn signals seem to indicate an act. "At some point I would like to change lanes" versus "I am changing lanes; yes, I mean right now, back off." He mentioned that he felt it was more difficult to change lanes back in Virginia because people wouldn't necessarily let you over if you had your turn signal on. For example, let's say you were at a certain multi-lane traffic light for the first time and you realized you were in the wrong lane and needed to get over so you could go to Wal-Mart and buy a bag of ice. Let's say you put on your turn signal and the light turns green -- what happens next?

Well, in many cases (unless you were driving a granny car and some nice person assumed you were elderly and let you in) you'd probably have to wait your turn and when the light turned yellow, you might be able to get over. Otherwise it looks like you're butting in line and people don't like that, right? Here, on the other hand, if I put on my turn signal and just change lanes, the people behind me are expecting it and I'm able to switch without too much of a problem. I guess everyone does it so it somehow all works out.

My wonderful friend, Kathy, taught me one surefire trick for changing lanes in stopped traffic and it does still work here: make eye contact with the other driver, smile, point to where you want to go and mouth the words, "Can I please get over?" In Virginia, it worked like a charm and without fail, every single person smiled back and let me in. Here, no one smiles back and they look at me like I'm this huge weirdo (which I guess in all fairness I am, in this respect) but they do let me over. Of course, I haven't used this trick once I realized all I had to do was put on my turn signal and eye contact or smiling was necessary. But the whole issue of what a smile means is a completely different topic...


Laura said...

Yea, good job!

I also had driving adjustments here in Germany... .the traffic lights, the priority on side-roads, the autobahn, to name a few. Now I am completly stressed in the US when people pass on the -right- on the freeway. I also have to admit we did specifically buy an automatic transmission car for me in Germany. :-)

Pardon My French said...

It *is* funny to have to re-adapt to driving back home. I do notice that I do automatically start waving at everybody once I'm back in my home county, though that might just be a southern thing. I don't think I've ever given anyone here a one-finger steering wheel "howdy." Sad, really.

Anonymous said...

so good to see the splish splash. Loved every second of it. Glad you made the trip safely and to let you know we had a wonderful time with you and yours. Look forward to the next trip, also looking for a picture of the hat