Driving in another country is such a big deal it should be a skill listed on job resumes/CV’s . It requires focus, coordination, spatial sense, quick thinking, and a whole lot of no nonsense grit. The “give way” driving that most non-western countries apply to their roadways causes all sorts of issues for expats.
I think of “the hand” signal we acquired upon moving to Malaysia. I don’t have to tell any foreigner reading this that “the hand” wasn’t covered in any of my Driver’s Ed classes nor can you find it in writing in any manuals on driving. But can you get through a crowded roundabout without it? No. No you can’t. Picture it with me. It’s been a slow, loud, 10 minutes in traffic. You’ve creeped up, managing not to bump anyone with your manual drive and now it’s your turn to find your “lane” and ease into that great circle of crazy. There is no room. Of course there’s not. Your blinker is on, but that’s child’s play and hoping it will be heeded is futile. You’re new and you’re not comfortable enough yet with the, “just get your nose in there” approach (give it time, darling, you’ll get there) so what do you do? Enter, “the hand.” Roll your window down and look that car straight through the windshield and hold up your hand. Don’t be mamby pamby about it. Be firm. Palm up, no flimsy wrist. The other driver has to stop. But don’t take even a second to revel in your roundabout navigation success. You only have a moment and then the other driver won’t take you or your hand seriously. You enter the traffic circle and glory in your achievement…but of course, only for a few moments. As you know you’re gonna have to exit the roundabout in a few yards and you might as well just leave that window rolled down, hand ready to signal.
Can’t you just feel the anxiety?
We could all fill books with enough anecdotes about skills to get us through traffic in foreign lands. But I’ve found that when driving anywhere, particularly anywhere new, there’s a mindset that can help overcome the stress of driving (or at the very least, help you deal without medication).
“The building has not moved.”
When you find yourself braving your way through large trucks, busses with passengers falling off the side, motorcycles for days, potholes, skyscrapers, highways with no signs and sometimes even livestock carts- all on roads that make you think road/city planners MUST have been insane or non-existent, remember that wherever it is you are headed IT IS NOT GOING ANYWHERE.
Meeting a friend at a mall you’ve never been to? They definitely won’t be moving the mall just to trick you after your hectic drive.
Trying to find that government office downtown? It’s not going anywhere. They like it where it is.
A restaurant that your coworker insists is the best but you’ve gotta find it? Relax. You’ll get there. Eventually.
They aren’t moving the building as a joke while you’re trying to get there. They’re just not. Of all the crazy moves a new place could throw out at you, adding stress to your drive by not being there when you finally get there isn’t one of them.
Don’t worry. Even if you get lost, or slowed by traffic, or immobilized in a roundabout, or have to explain in tears to your husband over the phone how your Garmin suddenly jumped out of the window after the twelfth wrong turn smashing it to its deserved death…whatever the obstacles thrown your way, when you DO get there, “there” will still be there. And that’s reason enough to crank up the AC and the music, dangle your arm out at times if necessary, put your nose in, or just sit and sit and sit and stress a little less about the incredible task of driving in a foreign country.
How about you? Have you learned how to drive in your current country or do you rely on public transportation? What kind of obstacles did you face while learning how to get around? Any tips on how to handle stress while trying to navigate your way around unfamiliar places?