Tuesday, June 24, 2014

I'll Be the Roundabout

In honor of the World Cup, I will share a story from my international travels.

My first international business trip involved traveling to London several years ago where I met a couple of other contractors who had rented a car. I did not understand why we rented a car since we would have to to drive on the left side of the road which none of us had done before. But it wasn't my decision, and I would simply be a passenger.

We pulled out of the lot and drove around the airport a couple of times just to get used to this new way of driving. Finally, we got on the major eight lane highway in Monday morning rush hour traffic.

The driver said, "I'm just going to go slow and stay in the right lane until I get the hang of this."

Shortly after pulling into the far right lane, cars flashed their lights, honked and passengers made obscene hand gestures to us as they flew by us on the left. We were surprised that apparently London was the rudest city in the world before we finally realized that we were in the fast passing lane while the left lane was actually the slow lane. I decided that I would not try to learn to drive on the wrong side of the road during this trip.

Flash forward about six years later when I had to spend a month in Belfast, Northern Ireland. I stayed in a company owned townhome along with three co-workers and we shared a tiny car which made a Smart car look like an SUV. One of my co-workers was British so he did most of the driving.

One night after spending some time in the local pub, my British co-worker, who I will refer to as Lloyd because that was his name and it will help you better imagine his high class British accent, suggested that I drive us all back to the townhome.

Lloyd's accent made him sound about ten times smarter than he actually was, and he was pretty smart. For example, we could be having an issue with the washing machine and he might say, "If you put your tongue in the electrical socket, that will probably solve the problem."

And you would think about it for a second before saying, "Hey, wait a minute."

"Remember British electrical sockets are different than American. It's quite safe, really," Lloyd would double down.

Next thing you know, you're on your hands and knees in front of the socket.

Anyway, I explained to Lloyd that was a bad idea since I had never driven on the left side of the road before.

"But," Lloyd said, "I have a British driver's license and if I get pulled over, I'm going to jail and losing my license. But if you get pulled over with your American license, it'll be 'alrighty then, off you go, cheerio.'"

That sort of made sense when you hear it in Lloyd's accent. But looking around at our group, I realized I was the only one that hadn't heavily imbibed, and it probably did make sense for me to drive. Besides, it was only one to two miles on quiet streets and no big intersections save for one roundabout. I took the car keys from Lloyd.

We stuffed ourselves into the car, and I pulled into the street. With the steering wheel on the right side of the car, staying in the left lane would be easier than I thought. I told everyone to warn me if I accidentally got into the right lane, but they were so busy giggling, I don't think they heard me.

The drive was uneventful until we got to the roundabout where I paused then turned to the right. Screaming from the back seat made me jerk the wheel hard to the left. Luckily, being in a small car, I was able to turn in the proper direction without hopping the curb. With all of the yelling and laughing in the car, I lost track of the proper turn and we completely circumnavigated the roundabout. And then again.

"I'm starting to get dizzy," I said. "Would someone please point out the proper turn."

"Just take the next one," Lloyd said. "If we end up back at the pub, it was meant to be."

"We're not going back to the pub."

"Eenie, meenie, minie, moe..." came another helpful voice from the back.

"Go faster, it's like we're on a racetrack," said another.

I finally got my bearings and pulled out of the roundabout onto the correct street. We made it home without any further issues. After parking the car, Lloyd managed to fall out of the backseat onto the ground laughing uproariously. I went inside the house and locked the door.

I learned two valuable lessons that night:

Driving on the wrong side of the road for the first time is probably pretty stupid after a night at the pub even if you aren't drunk.

And a British accent is not necessarily a reliable indicator of IQ.


  1. I would of been terrified. Driving in foreign countries isn't my favorite thing to do but those that require driving on the "wrong" side of the road, freak me out.

    I am surprised that the real lesson learned here isn't to not drive a bunch of drunks home. I wouldn't want to put the "alrighty then, off you go, Cheerio" phylosophy to a test. We got a parking ticket in Germany 6 months ago and can't get anyone on the phone that speaks English to help get it paid. We still haven't figured out where we got it. We just got a letter in the mail saying we owe 20 Euro and that if we don't pay they will arrest us.

    1. It actually wasn't that big of adjustment. I had been there nearly a month, I was used to being in the car that way. To me, the bigger adjustment was walking across the street and looking the wrong way for approaching cars.

      Unless you plan on going back to Germany, I would imagine you can ignore it. There's a few states I should avoid because of parking tickets. Thanks for the comment!

  2. At least we drive on the right side of the road here in Canada but some of our cities have traffic circles (roundabouts) too. I was 40 years old before I encountered one though -- here in Edmonton where there are two-lane circles which must be navigated by complex rules about who has the right-of-way when. I knew none of those rules. Consequently, I barely escaped with my life the first time I drove in a traffic circle. I feel your pain.

    1. There may be complex rules but I have come to learn that the most confident and aggressive drivers have/take the right of way. Thanks for the comment!

  3. Sorry but that is freaking hilarious that you guys were driving like a snail in the fast lane! "I'm just going to go slow and stay in the right lane until I get the hang of this." Now I have figured out what the hell is the matter with EVERY driver native to Oregon!

    1. Yeah, it was funny once we figured out why everyone was mad at us; but we really were mystified for awhile. Thanks for the comment!