In a country where Supercars are more than ten-a-penny (or should that be rappen?) it has been lovely to catch sight of some true Classics…
I have previously written about driving in Switzerland, but I felt it was time I should warn any soon-to-be expats in Switzerland, or indeed any driving tourists, about the roundabout situation.
If you are English (or Australian) you will immediately fear the roundabout because you are going round it anti-clockwise (which, if you ask me is completely irrational unless you are in the Southern Hemisphere where water goes anti-clockwise down the plughole so at least there is a semblance of rationality about the practise). To be honest though going anti-clockwise hasn’t been too bizarre. I think that in the early days of driving you approach every roundabout with the mantra of “go right, go right” beating through your conscious in order to avoid a fatal error that it rapidly becomes part of the sub-conscious, and dare I say it, almost natural. The issue that has prompted this post is actually to do with the art of indication.
Indication is all about timing to ensure that the other person is clear about your intentions. Basically, the Swiss, if you’re lucky, don’t do any indication on a roundabout until just before they pull off. Now my brain is trained so that if you don’t see an indication the other traveller will be going straight over which has meant that I have had a few near misses when in actual fact the other car has been turning left. I know that this may seem like a small, fairly insignificant problem, but it’s these small insignificant issues that suddenly become huge, massive, whopping ones. I have three roundabouts to negotiate before I hit the highway to school and on the approach to each one my stomach starts clenching and my hands grip the steering wheel ever so slightly, almost imperceptibly, tighter. I have had occasion when I have sat at these roundabouts for an inordinate amount of time just to be sure that the car on my left isn’t going to suddenly whizz past me but is indeed turning off. Or I have taken a chance and pulled out only to realise that the car that I thought was going straight over was in fact taking the third exit and I have totally cut them up. The Swiss are very quick to show their irritation and I am now able to tell the make of the approaching car just by the sound of the horn.
Being an expat means that you learn new things all the time in order to embrace the culture that your find yourself in so that you can fool everyone into thinking that you are in fact a local. In this instance though I am flying in the face of embracing local custom and have instead learnt the art of over-indicating. Indeed I indicate so much that I swear the middle and index fingers on my left hand have got slimmer. I indicate as I approach the roundabout, when I am on the roundabout and when I am about to leave the roundabout. I even indicate when I am in the roundabout-bypass lane. Yes, there is another lane in the roundabout layout which allows drivers to bypass the roundabout and which prompts further navigational negotiation if you happen to be taking the first exit off to the left. This is Swiss efficiency at its most un-neccessary as the roundabout bypass lane only seems to exist in fairly rural locations where the possible build up of traffic (which must be why this lane exists) is pretty minimal. I am aware that my over-indication could be confusing but if the worst were to happen and there was an incident, I can at least say that I was the one indicating where I was going. If there is no indication at all, how the hell does the other party know where you’re headed as, let’s face it, very few of us have psychic powers.
See? 652 words later it is clear that the small, insignificant problems soon become the massive, insurmountable issues. Safe travels everyone.
I finally did it! The look of panic on the man’s face is an expression that I won’t be forgetting for a while. I know it will have been reflected in mine as the realization hit that I was, indeed, driving on the wrong side of the road.
I guess it was going to happen at some stage and, as we have been in Switzerland for three months now, it’s fairly impressive it hasn’t already occurred. Thankfully I noticed in time and did get back to the correct side of the road before the other car hit us, narrowly avoiding a head on collision.
The day before Steve left for Denmark (2 days after arriving in Switzerland) it was time for me to have a go at driving the new car. Ok. Doesn’t sound like a problem does it? In fact sounds pretty exciting. Then I realised that an Audi Q3 was a little bit bigger than a Renault Clio. And then it dawned on me that in Switzerland we drive on the ‘wrong’ side. This means the handbrake is on the right, the ignition is on the right, the oncoming traffic is on the left. Just wrong. Now, you understand my reluctance to get behind the wheel…
So, first trip was planned deliberately short, just 2 miles down the road to the buzzing mall that is Zugerland, a quick stop to do the recycling then back home. We all pile in, yep kids too – after all no one to look after them right, everyone’s in the UK. First trick, the ignition key must be turned with the foot on the clutch. Then, there’s no handbrake. Well there is but it’s a button which has to pressed (or is it pulled?) at the same time as depressing the foot brake. Then once that has been done off we go. Easy. Except for me I became the woman who suddenly lost all ability to drive. It was awful. Really awful.
First hazard turning from our road onto the main road, but on the ‘wrong’ side. Next, 100 yards away a roundabout, approaching from the ‘wrong’ way and going round it anti-clockwise. I have to change gear, with the right (wrong) hand! Crap stalled the car half way round the roundabout. Ohh, getting nasty looks from the other road users – don’t blame them but do make a mental note to be much nicer to others when I’m whizzing about in 6 months time . The kids meanwhile are asking why we have stopped and are we there already and Steve is, like, “don’t worry, just put it into gear and start again.” Only I can’t because I haven’t pressed the clutch (or is it the brake) while turning the key. With a queue of traffic rapidly building behind me I manage to get going again and exit the roundabout.
Sarah! The wheels, watch the wheels.
I have no concept yet of the width of this vehicle, I’m driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road for pity’s sake and so yes, I have scraped the curb. I over compensate the road position and now I really am on the wrong ‘wrong’ side of the road. We’re ok, the other car didn’t hit us. Next a couple of sets of traffic lights, no probs, then into the Zugerland car park. Crap. Too far away from the ticket machine but not far enough to open the door to get it. Wind the window down, seat belt off, lean out the window and yep, got the ticket. Barrier opens, stall car, forgot to change gear down when I stopped for the ticket. Start car and find a parking space, crap on wrong side of car park lane, s’ok we’ve got a space and we’ve arrived. *breathe*
I never thought driving on the right (wrong) would throw me quite as much as it has. We went for a walk around the mall to recover before doing the recycling and heading back. Steve makes me drive again. Not too bad this time. Still don’t remember the handbrake button, foot brake combo, but we’re off. “The wheels Sarah. Watch the wheels.” Pants have hit the curb again. Back to the roundabout, remember how to change gear, manage not to stall. Again a plaintive cry from Steve, “Sarah, the wheels.” Honestly, I can hear the resignation in his voice, but if he says it one more time he’ll have more than the bloody alloys to worry about.
I make it home, I even manage to reverse the Q3 into our space, which appears to have shrunk. The engine goes quiet. All is quiet. Steve turns and looks at me, “you’ll be alright while I’m away won’t you?!?” The doubt and fear is palpable.
Helping you connect with young people
Photography by Oliver Jordan.
a crafty club
Adventures in family life