Okay…payback time! Dan is in Bathurst for a couple of days, so I get to write what I want, when I want. This post is going to address one of the most common questions people ask me — what is it like to drive on the other (or, some would say, “wrong”) side of the road?
Well, it wasn’t easy, but I think I’ve mastered the fine art of driving like an Australian. That is, when Dan lets me drive (sigh). He’s the most annoying passenger on the planet! Hates to sit passively, so he critiques all the things that you choose to ignore about his driving. Let’s just say that in the interests of marital bliss I happily ride along while he drives like a crazy person (or an old lady, depending on the day). And I live for the times that I get to drive on my own. Did I mention that we’ve only ever had one car and that we have commuted together forever? Some day I’ll have my own set of wheels… But until then, I have to get my thrills while he’s away.
Like everything in Oz, things are just backward here. The steering wheel is on the right and passengers sit on the left. This is an important fact! First, you don’t want to look like an idiot when trying to get into the wrong side of the car. That’s what a purse is for! If I forget, or if I’m distracted and thinking about other things, I can just pretend that I need to put my bag on the passenger seat. Or that I desperately need to dig in the glovebox for a pen. Yes, I’ve done both… Not sure how Dan deals with this problem… He probably just looks like an idiot.
Second, it’s important to remember that passengers are allowed to text while driving. It’s very unnerving to be driving along and thinking that all of the other drivers are texting! “What the hell is Wagga coming to?” you think – “Where the hell are the cops?” – until you realize that those are the passengers. “Oh, yeah…everything is backward here, so passengers sit on the other (“wrong”) side of the car and text to their hearts’ content.
Third, it’s important to know that the rear view mirror is useful, even if it’s in the wrong location and your natural inclination is to look for it in the wrong place. Here, we had to train ourselves to look in the mirror. It’s not easy! Here, you try it… (Aussie readers are off the hook on this one, unless you’d like to play along to see what it’s like to drive in Canada, by sitting on the other side of the vehicle). Get up right now and go to your car. Sit in the passenger side and pretend that you have a steering wheel in front of you. Start (pretend) driving; sing along to the radio, watch the kids playing ball at the neighbours’ house… Now check your mirrors. They are all in the wrong place! And your neck just doesn’t want to turn to look in the right places, either. All of the skills you’ve honed since you were 15 and learning to drive are out the window. Not easy, is it?
Now, let’s add a few more wrinkles. First, let’s say that your darling spouse convinces you to buy a standard/manual transmission. That’s fine if you’ve owned one previously (as we did). But, what if the stick is now on the left? And you’re right-handed? Still in your pretend-driving car for this little simulation (hope you have an IPad and wifi for this post!)? Now try to shift gears… Don’t forget to check those mirrors!
Oh yes, and did I mention that they have roundabouts here? Like… everywhere? We do have a few sets of traffic lights, but they really just slow things down. Roundabouts are awesome! Especially when people know how to use them (read: NOT Edmontonians). But, learning to drive on the other side of the road, while shifting with the left hand and navigating roundabouts is not for the faint of heart! Luckily, we had a rental for our first few days in Wagga. Dan decided to be nice and “allow” me to drive it a few times, to get used to things. It was an automatic, so I didn’t have to worry about the clutch, etc. I drove to The Rock and back, which was a great first road trip (despite listening to Dan whine about how close I was to the other traffic or to the shoulder… He kept gripping the dashboard and freaking out, as I said “Now you know how I feel when you drive! But I don’t yell at you – I just suck it up!” Needless to say, it’s not easy to be a passenger in Australia either… The view from the “wrong” side of the car as a passenger is just as disturbing… Perhaps more so, since you’re not in control of the wheel).
Sadly, my comfort with the rental was short-lived; we picked up our new car during our 2nd week in Oz and my driving came to a halt. It took me a month to get behind the wheel (partly due to the fact that Dan was unemployed, so drove me to/picked me up from work every day for something to do). Finally, I was forced to do it… In part because I knew I had a meeting in Canberra and would have to drive there for work for myself. And, I also had a hair appointment coming up. It’s terribly lame to have to get your hubbie to drive you to the salon! Even my 84-year-old mother drives herself to the salon – and in the snow, no less! Over time I started to run around town a bit. It was (and is) easier when Dan’s not in the car… I know he hates riding along (with anyone; it’s not just my driving), and probably wouldn’t appreciate my singing along to Triple J.
So, for the next few days I’ll be touring around Wagga in my little Kia… Wishing it was my dream car (any bets on what that is, dear reader?) and singing along to my fav tunes.