3.04.2008

The Road Less Traveled

I am becoming a licensed driver in Germany. Ordinarily, this would be laborious and expensive process because Germans see driving as a privilege and not right. As a result, new and prospective drivers face $1500-2000 in fees, after a minimum of 25-45 hours of professional instruction plus 12 hours of driving theory.

But not me. I have a license from Virginia, one of several American states that have an agreement with the Federal Republic of Germany. German expatriates living in Virginia can get a valid license without jumping through too many hoops, and Virginian drivers have the same consideration here. As a result, I paid a measly 80 Euros to secure my status as a bona-fide, German driver.

However, being sanctioned by the local government as someone qualified to navigate the many stra├čen and autobahns, doesn’t mean that I am really able to do so. Just like everything else here in Germany, rules of the road are similar enough to give you a false sense of surety, while the subtle differences will kick you in the ass until you really learn what you are doing.

Aside from speed, I don’t have too many difficulties driving on the highways. However, place me in a car in the center of town, and I become a nervous Nelly because I haven’t gotten the hang of the right-of-way rules.

When approaching an unmarked, four-way intersection, people where I come from practice the ‘whoever gets their first’ theory of right-of-way. However, in Germany and unless otherwise posted, the driver coming from the right at an intersection always has the right of way regardless of who got there first.

The rule may sound simple in theory, but it’s easy to forget when you’ve been driving for 24 years under a different premise. If I let my mind wander for even a second while driving, I might just barrel into a car coming from the right. So I do what I can to eliminate distractions. I refuse to grab a Coke via drive-thru anymore. My cell phone and radio remain off while driving. In fact, the only voice I allow is that of my GPS system, who sadly doesn’t seem to know her way around very well either.

As a result, driving, even in my cute, convertible Mini, isn’t a pleasurable experience unless I see my favorite German road sign. It displays yellow diamond, which tells me I am on a road that has priority. I see it as the ace of diamonds of street signs, the one the trumps the German rules of right-of-way. It’s also my personal sign, that then and only then, can I relax as I face the road less traveled.

18 comments:

LZ Blogger said...

Diane ~ I just loved this line... "the only voice I allow is that of my GPS system, who sadly doesn’t seem to know her way around very well either." CLASSIC!
The thought of driving in foreign countries [who drive on the opposite side of the road] (and car) as those you are used actually scares me a little TOO! Because when in a split second decision time, you always revert to what is MOST natural to you... which in this case could be DEAD WRONG!
That's great that you are driving slowly and keeping your thoughts clear about just DRIVING! Be safe! ~ jb///

christina said...

Oooh yes, one of the reasons I despise driving here (well, I despise driving in general, but that's another story) is that you just have to concentrate too damn hard what with the right-of-way and the tiny little streets and the tight-squeeze parking.

Number one rule of the road: the guy with the biggest Mercedes wins!

Vespertine said...

I think my favorite German road sign is : Ausfahrt. Of course, that may be because I have an extremely juvenile sense of humor....

Mimi said...

I LOVE driving in Germany. You always know what to expect; people follow the rules, with minor exception. You don't have to worry about the idiots who who drive in the USA and just make up their own rules for the situation. And most people are not distracted by cell phones, food, drinks, smokes, etc. When Germans drive, they pay attention to what they are doing.

kenju said...

I know that speeds allowed on the autobahn are excessive by our standards. Have you braved them yet?

swenglishexpat said...

Just go steady there, Diane. Better safe than sorry!

Shelly said...

Oh goodness, I got a little nervous just reading the post...lolol. I'm such a sissy when it comes to foreign driving, otherwise I think of myself as a brave girl. A few years ago I went with "the girls" to Italy and am ashamed to say I never took the wheel...I regret that now. I feel like such a chicken!

Diane Mandy said...

lz blogger- In fairness to my GPS, I couldn't get anywhere without her. But it still can be a struggle.

christina - I forgot to mention tiny streets and tight parking. Yikes. It's one reason we ended up buying a Mini.

vespertine - I also find it funny. Guess I have a juvenile sense of humor, too.

mimi - Max also loves driving Germany for all the reasons you specified. Me? I need to get more familiar with the rules of the road before I get there.

kenju - I was just on the autobahn today. More and more limits have been imposed, but there are still moments when you feel like you in the Indy 500.

swenglishexapt - I'm trying, I'm trying!

shelly - we can be chickens together!

Charlotte said...

Hahaha. Let me tell you: I'm still confused by those four-way stops in this country. I mean, what sane person puts four stopsigns on an intersection?

But the "rechte Vorfahrt," that I get. ;-)

The Grunt said...

Good luck figuring it all out. At least they don't drive on the wrong side of the road there.

juz said...

Big LOL about the GPS not knowing the way! I find that here too. I dont turn it on until I really have to, other wise it sends me the weirdest directions!!

Wow - that is expensive to get your licence, isn't it? No wonder my sister hasn't even bothered!!

The Grunt said...

BTW, I've finally put you on my blogroll. It's unorganized, but I put you in near the top.

Lynda said...

Well done - I can remember being terrified everytime I heard the alert for a 'Geisterfahrer' if I was on an autobahn.. sure that they would be heading toward me. It just happened to be one of the first words I learnt in Germany - not much help that I couldn't understand the rest of the message!

Good luck - you will be great!

utenzi said...

Driving in other countries is usually more "exciting". Good luck!

patches said...

My husbands GPS stays pretty lost too. He favors it in lieu of street signs, then swears about getting lost. Gotta love him anyway.

Day Dreamer said...

Can your GPS system map you out routes of all those diamond signs....then you could only take THEM! LOL!

Snooker said...

Love the post! I too have trouble understanding why a perfectly good main street would have to stop for some little itty bitty street coming out from the right. Duh.

The right of way thing is my biggest failing and I'm afraid one day it will lead to me to a crunch.

headbang8 said...

Diane,

I'm with Mimi on this one. Yes, a different set of road rules may stress you out from time to time, but the pleasure of sharing the road with drivers who are polite, law-abiding, and fast more than makes up for it.

You, madame Virginian, are a lucky woman, indeed. I need to do the whole damned license thing over again because the State of New York is too grumpy and arrogant to sign a treaty with anybody.

Ah, well. A first aid course, in German, this weekend, is the first step. Ah, well...