Here I am. Driving a car in the United Kingdom is not one of the easiest adventures I have ever tackled. Still, I am trying to keep on track … and on the left side of the street.
The keychain is dangling from my hand as I approach the grey Skoda Fabia in the car park. My heartbeat accelerates immediately when I see its lights turning on as I hit the button on the key. Finally, the day has come when I am going to drive a car in England. On the left side of the street. With the steering wheel on the right side and the gearstick in the middle with the same arrangement as in the rest of Europe. This is going to be one special adventure and I brought support with me.
Jake generously offered to join me on my first ride, and obviously he did not know what he was getting himself into. Still, he met me motivated and in a good mood. I hope it is not going to change soon … Well, I successfully walk to the correct side of the car and take my seat just to find out that I am desperately searching for the seatbelt on the wrong side. My hand grasps at nothing and the look on Jake’s face tells me that I am making a complete idiot out of myself. Got it. Other side. Noted.
Starting the engine
I feel like the first person who has ever driven a car. My left hand is safe on the gearstick and still my right hand moves instinctively to change the gear, my knuckles clench when I hit the my fingers against the door on my right. I carefully make my way onto the street. “Remember to keep left and to indicate right when you want to enter the roundabout,” Jake says. Yes, indicating right, keeping left and choosing the lane going straight. What? I do as I am told and enter the roundabout. My heartbeat simulating a rollercoaster, my eyes focused on the street, my mind repeating the words “keep left” silently.
Done! My first roundabout, no injuries, no car damage, and I am on my way on the streets of Leicestershire. I try to concentrate on keeping left always looking over my right shoulder, as if somebody would come by right next to me. Of course, this wouldn’t happen. Nevertheless, I feel paranoid whenever I reach a crossroad, looking into all directions several times, just to make sure that nobody is in danger. “So, you first look right, and then left … it’s the other way around in Austria,” I say while waiting for the traffic lights to turn green – at least one thing that is the same here … “Well I guess, we look first right and then left, I have never really thought about that,” Jake replies.
Intuition and a sense of left and right or wrong and right
The further I go, the more confident I feel about using my left hand when changing the gear and approaching crossroads. “You’re doing a great job!”, says Jake and I don’t even recognise that he has just talked to me. I am focusing on what lays ahead of me and the car. He starts laughing: “As I said, you’re doing great, but relax, it’s easy!” Easy. Yeah. Right. Or left. Whatever. I still feel like I am on the wrong side of the street, which makes me think about a ridiculous pun including left and right, wrong and right. In the meantime, my mind is repeating the “keep left” mantra by itself without me forcing it to do. My right hand sticks to the steering wheel and I indicate correctly surviving numerous roundabouts.
When we arrive in the parking lot, it takes a huge load off my mind. I exhale heavily and stop the car. “Every safe drive is a victory!”, I shout. And Jake congratulates me to my first drive in England. “How do you say ‘congrats’ in Austria?”, he asks. “Gratuliere or Alles Gute”, I respond. “Alles Gute, you’re doing alright.”