I have been driving in the US since I was 17. I’ve gotten used to driving in the US. To borrow from David Letterman, here is my top 10 list of “Things an American Driver Has to Get Used to While Driving in Europe”: (Not including the price of gas, which I covered in a previous post.)
10 – Many of the cars and other vehicles that you encounter on the road in Europe are a whole ‘nuther breed than what we’re used to seeing in the U.S.
9 – Roadside distractions abound. In addition to the beautiful scenery, there are other, more peculiar distractions.
8- Speed “bumps” in Europe are speed “plateaus” (the French call them “passages surélevé” which translates to “raised passage.) You get the bump on the way up and on the way down. Interestingly, many of the locals don’t slow down much for these traffic calming devices.
7 – Roundabouts are the rule, not the exception, when it comes to intersections. Some of them are very pretty, like this one.
6- In those cases where there is an actual signal controlled intersection, the yellow light warns you both when to get ready to stop, and also when to get ready to go. In other words, the yellow light comes on just before the green, as if to say, “get ready to go if you don’t want to annoy all the drivers waiting behind you!”
5 – Tailgating is socially acceptable. It’s just how everyone drives. Even in parking lots. Get used to it.
4 – Some two way streets are only one-and-a-half lanes wide. If you meet a car, the two of you just need to creatively figure out a way to get around each other which generally involves use of the sidewalk.
3 – Out on the highway, there are different speed limits for the different lanes. For example, the left hand fast lane might have a speed limit of 90 kilometers per hour, and the right hand lane might have a speed limit of 70 kilometers per hour. Everyone routinely goes about 20 kilometers per hour over their respective speed limit. (It wouldn’t have been safe to take a picture going 90 kilometers per hour, so you’re going to have to trust me on this one.)
2- Scooters and motorcycles don’t have to obey any lane designations. They can go wherever they want, whenever they want. This can be especially dicey while waiting for a red light, where the scooters will simply speed ahead between cars to the front of the line.
… And the #1 Thing an American Driver Had to Get Used to Driving in Europe”: Everyone — and by that I mean literally
— is in a bigger hurry than you are.