Aussies march to the beat of their own drums, so why should driving be any different?
As a transplant now with my 4th week on the roads under my seatbelt, this military mantra guides my train of thought while behind the wheel. When people back home ask me what it’s like I explain it’s a lot like a video game where you’re a driver and you have to react to everything that’s coming at you but you don’t have a frame of reference. Your instincts and reflexes are defied in ways that make you think you’re on the show Top Gear.
We drive on the left here. Steering wheel on the right side. Turning signal side swapped with windshield wipers (except on certain model cars like mine). Gears on the left. Go with automatic transmission, this is a gift.
There are no rights on red; you must wait for the green arrow. Roundabouts keep things merrily humming along but you better act quickly because Aussies are generally aggressive drivers. They wouldn’t think twice about cutting you off and taking a parking spot or nearly mowing you down in a parking lot, but in a pinch they’ve got your back.
What made my driving experience feel as close to home and partially within my comfort zone was our choice of car. We spent a day at the nearest car dealers and almost walked away with a Ford Kuga (pronounced Kooga). I had to laugh as I am in my mid-40s and all I could think about was the Cougar stereotype. Good lord, was I about to get this car? Considering cars here are very expensive compared to same model cost in the US, we weren’t about to go back to our Lexus/Volvo cars we had at home. The whole experience was leaving me half-hearted and non-committal and it wasn’t from the haggle (there’s barely a negotiation). Until, my husband spotted a vehicle that was just like mine back home, a used Volvo XC90 SUV! Oh dear, that would no doubt be a pretty penny here! And it kinda was.
Cars are expensive here; it bears repeating. I drove a 2007 version of this car back in the States which we bought used in 2008 at 27k miles. We sold it before we came here at 107k miles for $10k. This one had 100,000 kilometers (do the math it’s about 60k miles) was a 2008 model and we bought it for the same amount of money the 2007 cost us, at a year old!! These are $85,000 here new. Wha?? Nearly 3 times the price. BUT, what made it worth it (at least for me) was knowing I didn’t have to learn the car while learning to drive, so I am happy, albeit poorer for this choice. Bonus is it’s a 7-seater so we welcome guests and you won’t have to drive here!!
Anyone driving with me knows they will be traveling in nearly complete silence.
When I drive my kids:
“Sorry kids, no Taylor Swift, mommy needs to concentrate.”
“No, mommy doesn’t have eyes in the back of her head while driving here.”
“Your drink is staying on the floor until we stop.”
“I can’t see what your sister is doing to you right now but if you make another peep about it, I am pulling over!” This is not a veiled threat; I really do pull over.
So, I can’t multitask the way I used to but it’s for the best. My kids have really become the best backseat cheerleaders with hoorays and claps AFTER I make it through a roundabout successfully. My oldest whispers “Go Mommy Go, you can do it!” as she doesn’t want to distract me. Even she knows this is like driving on the moon!
Everyone I know that’s previously had to drive on the other side of the road gave me great advice and reassured me I’d find myself off the shoulders, in the ditches and hitting curbs. I’ve not kissed a curb yet, nor a parked car, or wing mirror; and I write this while knocking on my wood table and crossing fingers. All of the input from others was great, but as the driver, you need to get into your groove with it.
I simply remember (and chant to myself) to stay left, left, left until I have to turn right (or overtake!), then I pull into the right lane of the 2 lane road, whiz around the roundabout with my right blinker on and take what is the 3rd exit off the roundabout for my right turn and then it’s all left again. Whew I’m tired, someone else take the wheel!