Stories from Scotland: Observations on driving in Scotland
October 15, 2016
Driving is something that is often taken for granted. You get in the car, go to the grocery store, go to work and go visit a friend without even thinking about it — that is, until you can't drive.
During my six years of living abroad, there have been many adjustments: new languages, new cultures, new foods. But by far the hardest thing for me to get used to was driving.
When we moved to Italy, I didn't know how to drive a stick shift, and since there are approximately two automatic cars in the entire country, I spent our first year there walking everywhere and letting my husband drive me around when I needed to go farther afield.
By year two, Ryan was sick of being my chauffer, if you can imagine that, and insisted that I learn to drive. When I reluctantly agreed it would give me a bit more freedom, he took me to a parking lot, stuck me behind the wheel and patiently tried to explain to me how cars work while I stalled 12 times.
In Italy, there are a few things you need to know before you can drive on the open road: These include how to get around slower cars and the appropriate hand gestures that correspond with passing. Speed limits are a suggestion. And, it helps to understand which road signs mean "Do Not Enter" and "One Way," so when another car comes barreling at you from the other direction, you know if you are in the right or the wrong.
But, by the time we left, I had mastered not only driving a stick shift, but driving in Italy. I thought I had everything figured out. Then, I found out we were moving to the United Kingdom, where they drive on the left. Panic ensued.
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First, a bit of history: In the UK, they drive on the left because, long ago, it made more sense to ride your horse on the left side of the road so you could pull your sword with your right hand (as most people are right-handed) and attack anyone you might need to attack.
Most countries that were once British colonies still drive on the left, or did, at one point. Canada decided to switch and drive on the right so border crossing between Canada and the U.S. would be easier for everyone. Personally, I propose that, since people aren't on horseback drawing swords anymore, we should all just drive on the right. But I digress.
Suddenly, I found myself driving on the left side of the road, sitting on the right side of the car, shifting with my left hand, which, at times, was slightly chaotic.
Like Italy, Scotland has some rules of the road the general tourist may not know. For example, the stop signs, where we live at least, are on the ground, marked by double lines. You are meant to use your turn signal to enter and exit a roundabout, and if you find yourself in the wrong lane when you're already in the roundabout, someone will gladly lean on their horn to let you know you're doing something wrong.
But, as with any obstacle that comes from living abroad (and there are many), the only thing to do is go around it — appropriate hand gesture included.
Sophie Dingle is a freelance writer currently living in Scotland. Dingle's husband, Ryan, is a Steamboat Springs native and professional hockey player; you can follow their adventures online at sophiedingle.blogspot.com.