Somehow, ten days have flown by, and I realize that it’s about time I work on another post.
When comtemplating what I was going to write about, I had many options, all of which I’m sure I’ll get to at some point. But as this past week has been governed by a particular attention to all the small things that make this place different, I think I’ll choose one of those small things to talk about: traffic.
Yep, they drive on the opposite side of the road. By now, though, the feeling that I’m constantly going to be hit by an oncoming car has long vanished, and for the most part, I’m usually pretty good about remembering which way to check for oncoming traffic twice (right-left-right). Last week, I found the street signs (they aren’t on a pole on the corner, but are posted somewhere on the upper stories of surrounding buildings, which makes them tricky too locate if you don’t know where to look), and I’m even starting to understand the roundabouts.
That being said, there are some traffic signs and parking practices that I find quite comical. One such sign is a warning to watch for elderly people crossing the road, and depicts two hunched over figures crossing the road. I have a feeling that in the states this well-intentioned sign would be considered discriminatory on many levels.
And as far as parking practices go, well… in many places it’s clear that Brighton is older than cars. Generally speaking, the roads here are much more narrow, and in most places, there is not room for more than two (three on wider city streets) cars to pass side by side. What results seems to be an almost anything-goes system of driving, where cars do things like drive into the other oncoming lane to pass up a bus or drive up the curb, sidewalk, or front lawn of someone else to let another car pass. In some cases, if a car comes and there is no place to pull over, I’ve watched one of the cars have to back up the entire block until they come to the intersection where the car can pass. A prime example of this is seen in my very neighborhood. It makes me very glad that I am not driving here.
All the cars here are stick-shift, and the driving tests are notorious for being difficult. Considering what tight driving conditions they have, I understand why most people do not pass their first or even second time. In addition, most all of the cars here are stick-shift (I’ve yet to see an automatic), so that adds to the difficulty of learning. Those my age are suprised to learn I’ve been driving since sixteen, but then they laugh when I tell them about how some guys in the States consider themselves to be hot-stuff when they brag about being able to drive stick-shift. I’ve also noticed that, even in newer cars, automatic windows are not a standard feature, nor is being able to pop the trunk (or, the boot, as they call it) from inside the car. I wonder if they have cars that don’t require keys, like we do.
The traffic lights here are red, yellow, and green like those in the States. However, before the red light changes to green, the yellow one comes back on to warn the driver that the light is about to turn green. I only mention this because a few days ago, I was on the bus, and the light was on red. The yellow light came on, and somewhere behind me on the bus, a three or four year old went “Ready… Set… GO!!!!” along with the light. I thought it was pretty cute, and pretty funny. I guess the use of the second yellow light is helpful if you’re wanting to do that sort of thing.
Final thing, I’ve seen some smart cars here that do very dumb things. Some of the really short, condensed ones, consider themselves small enough to actually park perpendicular to the curb instead of parallel to it, even on these narrow roads. Although they are short, they still poke out beyond the width of a normal car parked alongside the road, and thus cause a lot of hassle for those trying to use the already narrow roads. Silly smart cars!
Anyway, this may or may not have been interesting. I don’t normally find cars or driving interesting, but the differences here have opened my eyes to how entertaining it can be. Differences have a way of making everything more interesting.