Despite having lived abroad for as long as I have, there is one question I still get a lot. What’s the difference between America and England?
Dude, I’ll tell you one thing.
In America, I thought nothing of it when the camp I worked for handed me the keys to a van capable of holding about 7,009 children in it. In fact, I liked that mofo. It was huge and tall and I felt like the king of the road.
In England? NOT SO MUCH.
The roads are so much narrower, the cars so much smaller. And they drive like maniacs – despite having the world’s hardest process to actually get a license (which I can testify to, having been through it over a grueling period of time) and being avid rule followers, there’s this curious business of lane sharing and driving in the middle of the road to avoid bikes, etc. Seriously. Lines painted on the roads? They don’t mean much – just swerve to move your car forward. It’s like playing an 80s Nintendo game, except it is punctuated by nicely understated British hand signals to convey thanks at the other car not smashing into you.
I’d gotten used to it.
When I was first driving here, what a hot mess. The first time I felt comfortable driving – in a very busy part of London – I relaxed enough to just turn into the right line, the American lane, the oncoming traffic lane. At night. You’d better believe I let loose with a yelp. (This was the road I was later hit by a moped as I crossed the street, barely five weeks pregnant, but that’s another story.)
Then I drove more and more, but I still often punctuate certain streets with exaggerated sweating, muttered curses, and high pitched whining intakes of breath as another car squeezes past me on a lane that is clearly only meant to fit half a car on it. And did I mention I drive one of the biggest cars available in the UK? It would be awesome if I was driving on American roads, but the amazing boot size and extra space hardly seems worth it sometimes.
M said to S today, ‘Please, be quiet. Stop asking Mama things! She’s trying to drive on a skinny road!’
So imagine my delight when I managed to not scrape the sides off the car today in this particularly twisty and narrow part of Bristol. I found a biggish spot on the side of the road, so I grabbed it and parked, not caring that we’d have to walk a bit to get to where we were going.
Did I mention this was on a very steep hill?
Man, it was GREAT when I went to put the handbrake on and it offered no resistance. Ha ha! You survived the streets, the narrow evil streets, but you WILL NOT BE ABLE TO PARK ON THIS HILL.
It was superb. I managed to pull the handbrake up to the end of its working travels (a huge sin, according the the British driving test thingy), put it in first gear, and the car held steady. I was so relieved to get back and have it where I left it, I almost avoided heart palpitations when I saw how wedged in I was both in the front and back.
All I can say is thank god I’ve mastered the clutch, because being in this situation two years ago would have resulted in needing to phone Suzy to rescue me.
Also, let me tell you about the power of the jinx. I wanted to write about the craziness of driving on British roads with an American sized car this morning, but I thought, ‘Oh, I’m driving in that horrible part of Bristol today. I should wait and write about this later, cause I bet I’ll get a good story from today.’
Shut up, self.