Olu Ash: Shut up and Drive

I would like to start this weeks’ post with a little song I like to call my national anthem.


“Oh Canada, our home and native land. True patriot love, with all thy sons command…”

You know the rest – or at least you should! Today makes the second time you should have heard it as the men’s olympic hockey team took gold over the Swiss in a 3-0 victory. Our women’s hockey team also took gold against, our southern neighbours, the United States in a 3-2 victory just days before. Being Canadian, everyone else in the world believes that I play or played hockey and that I should somehow, be immune and enjoy cold weather.  Those are misconceived notions that I will live the rest of my life having to disprove. A little tidbit about todays’ early morning gold medal game: the city of Toronto council voted and approved bars to start serving alcohol at 7am in the order for spectators to enjoy the monumental hockey game. Molson Canadian and Labatt Blue beers for breakfast? Don’t you wish you were from Toronto?

Downtown Toronto, ON after the Gold medal game
Okay, enough gloating and boasting. Let’s look at a few differences in regards to driving overseas and driving back home.  For starters, as mentioned in previous posts, driving a manual car in as opposed to driving an automatic will be an adjustment for many.  Prior to my first contract in Spain, my agent advised me in the months leading up to my departure to practice and at least get comfortable with the basics.  Needless to say, I was TURRIBLE. [Insert Charles Barkley voice.] Getting from stationary to first gear was the most difficult change of gears because it required the most precision, a delicate touch and a keen sense of balance between clutch and gas.  If you do not complete a smooth exchange of releasing the clutch and applying gas, you’ll do what I did repeatedly: stall out!  Even worse than stalling out from being parked is stalling out on a inclined road…with angry drivers behind you…hooking their horns and perhaps screaming curse words in their native tongue at you.
*Deep Sigh*
It happens to the best of us.  Last year in the small town of Càceres, Spain, I would go out in the late night to hone my skills. There weren’t many vehicles on the road at that time so it was then where I was able to build my confidence and apply it to day time driving without any pressure. A few times of getting comfortable with the clutch, getting from 1st to 2nd gear on a hill and parallel parking – I think it’s safe to say I’m somewhat of a pro these days.
Next on my rant is topic of size! If you think back to any old European film clips you may have caught growing up, I’m quite sure you remember seeing vary narrow lanes and/or vehicles that resembled more of a go-kart rather than a Ford Focus.
Evreux, France
Many roads like this would be an assumed 1-way street in most North American cities, but here this is a 2 lane road with bilateral traffic.  The sole reason why streets like these can allow for the 2-way traffic is thanks largely in part to the vast number of compact and economy sized vehicles.  Below I have gathered a collage of a few smart-car-esque sized cars throughout the city.
With the average price of gas in France being €1.52 per liter, you can see why such smaller vehicles are more common than typical large sedans or SUVs found stateside.  I see a lot of people walking throughout the town (especially the elderly) and many others using other means of transportation such as scooters and motorcycles.
Last but not least, let’s discuss location and placement.  At many street lights in my town of  Evreux, street lights are not suspended high above but are placed at eye level on electricity poles. I understand the logic but when you’re the first car at the intersection and you’re looking up for a green light and the lane beside you begins moving, well you guessed it. You’ll hear the sounds of horns behind you and you’ll catch a few hostile gestures if you peek in the rear view mirror. You will receive this kind of treatment when 1) driving slow in a unfamiliar city such as Paris and 2) doing so while trying to locate street names.  For the most part, many street signs are not as they are back home and you will not find them attached to a pole. What you will find are signs with street names plastered onto buildings that happen to be on that particular street. Once again, I can kind of understand the logic but I would simply prefer things to be like they are back home in North America. But that’s wishful thinking and that’s what makes the experience of working overseas such a memorable one. Stepping out of your comfort zone, adapting to a new lifestyle, engaging in a new culture is all apart of the it – you just didn’t see it written in the contract. U.N.E.N.O.
Until the next my fellow readers,
Thank you for the support thus far.  Feedback is always welcome. Please leave any comments or questions below or feel free to contact me at oluash@gmail.com


Olu Ash
Overseas with a Carry-On
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