Expat life wouldn’t be expat life without the daily moan about driving. It’s the most talked about topic at dinner parties, breakfasts, brunches, apart from how frikkin hot the summer is. So we’d be remiss if we didn’t include our take on driving on the blog.
I met a mum new to the school (and the country) last week. As I asked how she was settling in, she commented how terrified she was of driving, and was taking a couple of weeks whilst her visa was processed (ie no local licence) to take taxis everywhere (another blog in and of itself I can assure you!)
But her comments and reaction reminded me of driving myself for the first time in the middle east all those years ago, and absolutely shitting myself, gripping the steering wheel until my knuckles were white and doing a victory lap around the living room when I got home without:
being honked at,
or breaking down in rage,
I remember feeling that way after my first time driving in London too. And France, and Germany, and Australia…
Just so you know, it’s not country specific.
It’s always nerve-wracking driving in another country for the first time.
And although the majority of places adopt international driving rules and signs, each country has it’s own unique style on the roads. I call it “The Dance”. It’s like dancing with a partner, a rather, a different partner each time. You have to learn the steps and the unique style of dance. Once you’ve worked that out, you’re sashaying down a 6-lane highway (using ALL the lanes,) at 140kmh whilst holding a conversation with your child and singing along to some pretty lame radio station, and dodging tail-gaters, random brakers, camels on trailers, dudes reversing down off-ramps or slip roads, and lion cubs that have fallen out of the back of a lorry (true story).
You got this!
Here, in our opinion, is how to survive your first few dances, and start twirling like no-one’s watching (because no-one is, trust us, even though they should be):
- Head out with a full tank of gas on a Friday by yourself and just explore. Get lost and find your way again. You’ll get more a hang of the ‘flavour’ of the place and Friday morning is dead quiet on the roads so you won’t have the added pressure of someone up your bum.
- Google maps, Waze and the local transport authority app. All good. All have something different to offer. Just be prepared for a road to be there when it’s not marked on the map, or for a road on the map to be a bit of sand, or a building. Roads and routes change on a daily basis as the rate of construction is so rapid. Expect the unexpected.
- Go left to go right. One-ways, and flyovers abound. Keep this mantra in your head if you’re unsure of the route and 9 times out of 10 you’ll be heading in the right direction.
- Have breakdown cover and service speed-dialed into your phone. Sitting on a hard shoulder with no no working aircon in 45 deg C heat with tired, hungry, hot kids is no laughing matter.
- Always have cold water in your bag / car.
- Do not lean over to buckle your wee one in if you have bare legs in the height of summer. I still have burn marks on my shins from 6 years ago from the blistering hot car door. Ouch.
- Remote control ignition is fab.u.lous in the summer.
- Embrace the U-turn. Lots of one-way streets and raised medians, with few 4-way traffic controls mean a long trip if you miss a turn.
- And whilst we’re on the subject of U-Turns, as a pedestrian, always follow the pedestrian signals. There’s nothing quite like the surprise of a car u-turning into you when you think they’re all going straight ahead…
- The bigger and blingier the car, the more you will attract boy racers. And they WILL want to race you.
- White Landcruisers with blacked out windows have a design flaw with dodgy headlights (joke) , if they come up behind you and try to get into your backseat (yes that close), with lights flashing, blow them a kiss. Actually no – that just infuriates them, just get out of their way safely and let them win the race to the eternal ever after. Ain’t nobody got time for that.
- Try to avoid driving in the fog or rain. I’m not going to go into graphic detail, but I’ve seen some harrowing things…
- Be kind to security staff, and never underestimate the power of feminine charm. It will get you out of (or into, if that’s your jam) sticky situations.
- Courier bike and taxi drivers often work 12-16 hours shifts. Give them a break. And a wide berth.
- You will see some hilarious sights, and some jaw-dropping ones. Do not be sanctimonious and say things like ‘that would never happen in my country’. What’s normal for one country – hours-long tailbacks on a bank holiday weekend, mobs of sheep on the roads, military checkpoints complete with anti-aircraft artillery – is normal in one country, but not normal in another. Embrace the differences, increase your dinner-party story repertoire, and drive safe.
- And of course obey the laws of the road and the country.
Above all, relax, be patient and enjoy the fact you don’t have to take public transport…
Love, Kat xxx