Monday, February 10, 2014

Driving me to change

I'm forced to be nice here every day.  It's not always my natural state of being.  And not only does it happen daily, it happens first thing every day. That's like double whammy for me....having to be nice AND early in the morning. But it has to do with driving, so I'm already at a deficit, as you know.  

Here's what happens.  The secondary roads here aren't very wide, and turn lanes are not very common, so most of the time when you are driving, the person coming from the other direction is just a dotted line away. It's not too close, but it is definitely not American-sized, American-spaced.  Then again, the cars are so much smaller, so it's probably more proportionate than it feels to me and my American-ness. 

Coupled with narrow roads is the limited sized driveways, or, in some places, the absence of a driveway all together. Parking lots (or car parks, as they say here) are also small. So, it is the norm to have cars parked on the street. Unlike the US, it's not a city thing, either.  It's everywhere. Our house sits back from the street with a long driveway, so we park there, but once I leave our driveway, on the next block, some of the neighbors who have more than one car must park on the street.

So when a narrow road has a car parked on it, the drivable lanes along small stretches of the road are reduced to just one.  Therefore, one car must stop and allow the other to pass.  The rule (or tradition, or habit - not sure what it is, it just happens) is that if the cars are parked on your side, you must stop so the oncoming traffic can come through. It's always one or two cars at most.  In the case of a wider, more "main" road, there can be cars parked on either side, so then it becomes a situation in which you gauge how far up you can go before needing to pop over so the oncoming car can get you look ahead to see where their gaps are, and it all works out perfectly well.  And since no one here is ever in a hurry (something I'm learning - slowly - to embrace) there's hardly ever an issue of another driver not waiting his/her turn. In fact, with the exception of the crotchety old woman I see in the mornings, (more on her later) I never have a problem with getting my turn. It's always easy and pleasant and adds no more than about nine seconds to my drive.

The best part in all of this? People wave to each other to say thanks/you're welcome as they pass one another.  Every time.  As I sit and wait for the oncoming car to go, as he/she approaches, they lift their right hand in a quick movement - thanks, they say.  I reciprocate with the same motion - you're welcome, I say. Often it's just the lifting of your fingers from gripping the top of the wheel....not even the full hand lift.  In any case, it's consistent and incredibly polite.  Furthermore, sometimes the oncoming person who actually has the right of way, will stop and flash their lights at you to indicate that THEY will wait and you can go forward. And then you exchange waves.  That's like a freebie of kindness.  

I should quickly explain here that this applies to roads in neighborhoods and suburb-like areas.  Obviously the big main roads look and run similar to an American road.  There are multiple lanes, dividers, etc.  I also need to add that this is the way they are built...I'm not necessarily describing really old roads that were just recently paved.  (I know that's what some of you think about places that aren't in the United States.  And no, there aren't horses and carriages here, either. In case you wondered.)  

So back to the mornings. I drive the boys to school, and I have to maneuver my way through a couple of parked car stretches. There are maybe six parked cars on the longest stretch.  Going one direction, I have the right of way - the cars aren't parked on my side of the road.  Returning, it's my responsibility to stop. Admittedly, it's frustrating when I have to stop because at this particular time of day it is busier on this stretch of road as people are leaving for work and driving kids to school, and also the people who've parked there have not left for school and work.  I can sometimes wait for four or five cars to go, which is the longest I ever have to wait, anywhere. But that's my morning. And this return trip is just me going home, so really, there's nothing I'm hurrying toward. So I wait my turn, as all the other drivers that morning have done before me, and the others will do after me. 

Well, all the others except for the scowling old lady I see a few times a week. She has no regard for anyone. She will take the chance of a head-on collision (at 20 mph, granted) every single day rather than wait her turn.  I don't know why, at this stage (four months into it) it still shocks me, but it does. She just drives forward with the assumption that you will wait, or you will move - and - to add insult to injury - she doesn't even wave.  So when she comes gunning past me I've taken to throwing my arms up in an exaggerated, "Oh, by all means, BE MY GUEST!"-sort of gesture.  And if that doesn't give away my American-ness, I don't know what does. Because there's no one else here who practices road rage except for me and my Missouri-trained driving self. (I'm also the only person who consistently drives the wrong way in parking lots and on empty streets...but that's another post for another time.  Let's just say that old habits die hard and without another car demonstrating where you should be, it's easy to be where you shouldn't.)

Husband will tell me that I shouldn't make it my responsibility to try and teach her how it all works. He'd be right.  She's at least 60-something, and she's presumably lived here all her life.  But anyone who knows me knows that I will either take a "you can't fix stupid" approach to people like her or a "you're wrong and I'm gonna show you exactly how wrong" approach. There's not a lot in between.  I'll own that, and I'm working on it.  But I'm only 43 so I'm still learning. 

It's funny, because later in the day, it's not a big deal at all.  If I had to deal with her at 11:30 or 1:30  instead of 8:30, it wouldn't be a big deal.  I'd probably be writing about the hilarious, self-entitled old woman who has a literal "my way or the highway" approach to driving. I might even try to sneak a picture of her.  And later in the day I'm always happy to wait my turn and even happier to thank people for giving my turn.  I enjoy it, these exchanges of anonymous pleasantries, the random act of kindness and manners.  In fact, I've written cheery blog posts in my head as I drive...they begin something like this:
How many times have you waved at someone today?  What? You haven't exchanged a wave with anyone at all today? Or yesterday?  Or this week? Well I's been at least five times already, and it's not even noon. And I need to tell you, it's not quite as nice as a hug, but it definitely is a mood lifter.  It might be one of those serotonin- releasing acts you hear about.

Then I'd go on to cheerfully describe the parked cars-wait-and-wave scenario as described above. That I'm happy to do. After about 10:00 am. The 'being altruistic first thing in the morning' part is still a work in progress. 

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