Subject: Re: Driving in Europe?

I find, in Paris, one of the greatest spectator sports is watching drivers parallel park. It never ceases to amaze me how drivers manage to park between cars in places where I wouldn't even attempt to try it. Sure, there's a lot of the old bumpity-bump, but there's also a lot of just plain skill. I also have been noticing that some of the newer cars don't have rubber bumpers, but instead have the rubberized painted versions that are going to look awful (I know most of the drivers don't really care.) I always wish I had one of those little Smart cars that almost seem short enough to pull straight into a parking place perpendicularly to the curb. I can't imaging what it would be like if a lot of cars had alarms. The streets would be a cacophony of beeps, whistles and sirens, and worst of all, those alarms that cycle through about ten different noises.

On the subject of roundabouts, I think in Europe they work great. It always seems like no matter how aggressively people drive, they always respect the right of way at roundabouts (all right # the Italians often don't # but they're the craziest drivers I've ever seen.) I grew up in Massachusetts, and rotaries back there were nothing more than a place you had to turn the steering wheel a bit, never giving much thought to other people. Here in California, the land of the four-way stop signs, the pedestrian is king - they don't hide in fear on the sidewalk like they do in Europe. (Except when traffic lights stop working at an intersection # in which case all bets are off # it's a free-for-all. It's like all traffic laws have been suspended along with the power to the traffic lights.)

The scariest for me is the first few days in England, getting used to wrong-side driving. I drive with a vice-like grip on the steering wheel, constantly checking and double-checking in my mind all of my driving decisions. I find my biggest problems happen after a few days, when I've relaxed a bit. That's when I have to be careful about my reflex decisions # which can be awfully mistaken.

No matter where I drive in Europe, though, I quickly learn to ignore the frequent gasps that come from my driving companion.

Al Sonoma, CA, USA