I’ve spent the last few weeks tootling round various parts of Britain and Europe, and, as always, it takes me a couple of days to acclimatize to local driving norms. I quickly appreciate being on a country lane and able to see the country, as opposed to admiring rural America’s unending procession of bend signs, pedestrian-approaching signs, stop signs, stop-sign-ahead signs, stop-sign-ahead-signs-ahead signs, pedestrian-approaching-a-stop-sign signs, designated-scenic-view-ahead signs, parking-restrictions-at-the-designated-scenic-view signs, etc. It takes me a little longer to get used to the idea that I’m free to pass other cars pretty much whenever I want to, as opposed to settling in behind Granny for the rest of the day as the unbroken yellow lines stretch lazily down broad, straight, empty rural blacktop, across the horizon and into infinity. Want to pass on a blind bend in beautiful County Down or the Dordogne? Hey, it’s your call. Your judgment. Fancy that.
Italian tanks may have five gears for reverse and only one for forward, but in a Fiat the size of your cupholder it’s a different story. The French may plant trees on the Champs-élysées because the Germans like to march in the shade, but they’ll still pass you at 120 on the Grande Corniche. When you’ve done your last surrender-monkey crack, that cloud in your windshield is a dinged deux chevaux leaving your fully loaded SUV for dust. Continentals would never for a moment tolerate the restrictive driving conditions of the United States, and they don’t understand why Americans do. Mon dieu, is not America the land of the car chase?
Gitcha motor running
Head out on the highway
Looking for adventure . . .
Actually, America is the land of the car-chase movie. Off-screen, it’s a more sedate affair. Gitcha motor running, head out on the highway, shift down to third gear as there’s a stop-sign-ahead sign ahead. At dinner, I listened to a Frenchman and an Italian while away the entrée chortling at how docile and compliant Americans are. Americans would counter that they’re the only country with a Second Amendment. But Continentals don’t see a gun rack in your pickup as any consolation for not being able to pass for the next 28 miles.