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Driving the American way

An English rose in Georgia

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POSTED: June 1, 2011 1:52 p.m.

I am very pleased with myself for driving more than 600 miles recently to and from Orlando, Fla., for a girls’ weekend. This included interstates, downtown traffic, airport arrivals and obviously – to anyone who knows how partial I am to a bit of retail therapy – a few malls.
“No big deal,” you may think. But remember that I grew up driving on the left, so for me to achieve this level of confidence in driving on the other side of the road is a big achievement personally. Driving is not one of my strengths, and I regard it as a necessity to enjoy my life rather than a joy in itself.
While I made my journey to Florida, I thought about my multiple attempts to get my American driver’s license. My husband is a naturally gifted driver who irritatingly can switch from driving on the right or left, depending on which country he is in. He says that stories of my many driving tests (only six in total on both continents) are amusing in any country – not a very kind and supportive view of his wife’s driving skills, in my opinion.
When I first took my U.K. driving test at the youngest allowable age of 17 in the 1980s, it was very different to my more recent experience in Georgia.
For a start, instead of the computerized multiple-choice questions I answered at the DDS, we had to learn the British Highway Code. Back then, the nice man who gave me the practical driving test sat beside me in the vehicle afterward and informally asked five or six questions about zebra crossings, pelican crossings, articulated lorries, roundabouts and more – all official terms and the subject of another column.
There certainly were no questions about school buses – a uniquely American invention – or what to do about deer crossing the road because those are not daily challenges for drivers in central London.
Of course, the real problem I had was with parallel parking. In England, we had to reverse around a corner as part of the driving test and show we could turn right safely (which is like turning left here – confusing, isn’t it?). But there was no need to demonstrate any parking skills whatsoever.
I need to confess that I do not find parking easy; in fact, my husband calls my parking style “abandoning the vehicle,” but I say we can’t all be good at everything.
For example, his memory is not as good as mine, so when we are old, he can park the car and I can remember where it’s at – a perfect partnership.
I also think recent technical advances in motor vehicles are a great thing, and I am not just talking about airbags and air conditioning. The beeping of the Parktronic detectors for the front and back of cars is very useful indeed, and the camera in my rearview mirror is a real blessing.
Now all I need is someone to invent “side-tronic” sensors, and my days of scrapes and scratches mercifully would be over.
Anyway, the very patient people at the Georgia Department of Driving Services were more focused on the safety of my driving than my style, which is just as well. And I am pleased to say that eventually I did pass my driving test in Georgia – so it was third-time lucky, twice on two continents.
God bless America!

Francis grew up in London, England, and moved to Richmond Hill in 2009 with her American husband, Carl, and English dogs. She can be contacted at lesley@francis.com or www.lesleyfrancispr.com.

 

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