“Have you ever noticed that anybody driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac?”- George Carlin
When I picked up my life in America and moved to Scotland to be with my husband, I had to basically start over. Obviously moving to the UK isn’t as difficult as moving to pretty much anywhere else in the world- at least I speak the language (well, sort of-broad Scots is actually not always easy to understand, and my Southern drawl is sometimes just as difficult for Scots to understand!) But that hasn’t been a barrier to me adjusting here. Little things took me a while to get used to- the metric system, for one- it’s been a real pain adjusting to unfamiliar cooking measurements, for example (soooo, how many cups is 100 grams of butter?) The money hasn’t been a problem, except for getting used to all these one pound coins that I have to carry around (my wallet weighs a ton even if I only have cab fare in there!) Shopping for groceries, well, I’m still getting used to having to put in a deposit for a buggy-oh, sorry, it’s trolley here. And it drives me crazy that if I forget my bags, I have to BUY bags for my purchases. (Yes, I know, it helps the environment by encouraging us to do the right thing but it does my head in sometimes!) And, as a writer, I’m having to learn a lot of new spellings for things (organized vs. organised.) But by far, the most difficult part of adjusting to life in the UK has been driving.
I’ve been driving since I was about 12. As soon as I could reach the pedals of my grandpa’s truck, he would let me tool around the back roads of Texas with him. I got my full driving licence when I was 15 and have had my own car since I was 18. I’ve had only two fender benders in my life, and I can count on two fingers the number of speeding tickets I’ve ever received. So I could be forgiven for not predicting how much driving on the other side of the road would rattle me.
Before I even arrived here, my then hubby-to-be, being the sweetheart that he is, bought an automatic car for me. Manual transmissions aren’t all that common in America, and though I can drive one in a pinch, it’s not pretty. Automatics aren’t all that common in the UK, but he sought one out especially to make my life easier. Here, whichever type you take your driving test with- manual or automatic- that is the only type you will be licenced to drive.
For the first few months, I wasn’t worried about driving. I was busy settling down in my new house, and since, as a freelancer, I work from home, I wasn’t particularly desperate to be self-mobile. It took me several months to even get used to the traffic as a passenger and stop cringing every time I saw a car careening at us on the “wrong” side of the road- not to mention looking the correct way when I crossed the street. If I needed to go to town, I was usually able to get a ride, or I would schedule my appointments for a time when I could ride in with my husband in the morning or at lunch.
We live only three miles from town, but a mile of that is along a winding A Class road with no sidewalk (sorry, that’s pavement in UK speak) and besides, the weather here can be unpredictable for walking- in winter, forget about it. I started to get desperate. Scrambling around for a ride every time I needed a haircut or had a meeting was getting old. It was time to take the bull by the horns.
I started out practicing up and down the single track road in the glen where we live. That wasn’t too bad, except I had to fight the urge to pull to the right side when I stopped to let another car pass. Next, I got braver and drove out on the A class road- but not into town, no, I wasn’t ready for roundabouts and car parks quite yet. I would drive out in the country. I was still a bit terrified every time a car came from the opposite direction but I was getting used to it. By the way, several people told me that once I was behind the steering wheel on the right side, driving on the left would come naturally. I can say unequivocally that’s not true. It goes against all my muscle memory from decades of driving in America. Thank goodness the pedals are the same!
By law, I am able to drive up to a year after arriving here on my U.S. licence. So, after a few rides out in the country, I had got my nerve up to take it town- even to the Tesco parking lot- a clustermess if ever there was one. But before I did, my husband changed car insurance companies, and was told that I could not be insured unless I had at least a provisional UK licence.-which means I can drive but only with a proper driver in the car. So I went about applying for one- £50 (ouch!) but it was just paperwork, no driving test yet. It took a couple of months for that to arrive in the post, so I just had to wait it out. After getting myself psyched up, it was a bit of a deflator. But I told my husband that the day it arrived, I was driving him to town.
Finally, my shiny new licence came, and, true to my word, we loaded up the car. The only way to do it was just to jump in and do it. I had faffed around long enough. I could do this. So off we went! I have to say the narrow streets here and all the giveways and roundabouts were daunting, but I tucked us into a parking place in the Tesco car park like a boss. My Mom always says “Things are rarely as bad as you think they will be” and it certainly held true in this case.
I’m driving pretty well now and gaining confidence every day. But only being able to drive with my husband in the car isn’t helping my mobility problem. I need to fly solo. That will involve a written test and a practical driving test, which I am told are very difficult to pass the first time. So I’m going to keep practicing for a bit longer. But my goal is to get up to speed, so to speak, by August, when my parents will come over for a visit. I want to be able to proudly drive them around.
I think it is indeed difficult to teach an old dog new tricks. My 16 year old niece back home just got her licence this year, and she’s taken to it like a fish to water. I remember it being a lot easier to do all this when I was a young dog like she is. My neighbor and Scottish foster dad, Liam, who is forever encouraging me, keeps telling me that a year from now I will have all of this under control and will hardly even remember being such a newbie. It’s been quite a year for me, a year of new beginnings and experiences, but I know that Liam is right. Being an expat is hard work sometimes, but it has been worth every minute. And if you get behind me while I putt-putt down the road, please don’t think I’m an idiot, I’m just new at this!