I grew up in Berlin, Germany, a huge city with lots of impatient and aggressive drivers. They don’t forgive you for any mistake. The streets are full and crowded, so don’t ever dare drive too slowly. Berlin drivers will let you know that you are too slow by honking their horns relentlessly.
I drove cars in different parts of Europe, several big cities, and in rural areas. Every country has its own way to deal with traffic problems in Europe. But I thought it was really fun to get used to the Maine way of driving.
First of all: Pedestrians always have the right of way. I am not used to that at all. In Berlin pedestrians are a nuisance who get, in worst-case scenarios, ignored. Here you have to stop for them whenever you see one attempting to cross the street.
One day I was waiting for a friend on a pretty busy street. Almost every car stopped because they thought I wanted to cross the street. I constantly had to wave my arm and signal them to pass. It was quite disturbing.
During the first couple of years I had a really hard time even noticing pedestrians when they were on the sidewalk. I was just too used to ignoring them unless they would jump in front of my car. I got a little better at this, but there is still this little voice in my head telling me that this just feels wrong. After all, I am a Berliner.
School busses frightened me my first year. These big, yellow, old-fashioned vehicles stop at places that aren’t identified as bus stops at all. As soon as they stop, lots of lights are flashing and stop signs suddenly show on the busses’ side. Cars on both sides of the street have to stop, as well, in order to protect the kids who are getting on and off the bus. As long as the bus is blinking like a Christmas tree, no car is supposed to pass it.
I didn’t have trouble stopping when a school bus was in front of me. But when one was on the other side of the street, I didn’t notice them. I just wasn’t used to looking out for them if they were on the other side of the street.
I also had to get used to the number of stop signs used to control traffic. Wherever there are no crossing lights, there are stop signs. Even at parking lots there are a zillion stop signs that make you stop every ten inches even though there are no pedestrians or other cars in sight. That means in cities, if you are not driving on a main street, you are in a constant stop and go mode, quite unnerving when you are in a hurry.
But I can’t complain. Mainers are pretty laid back and friendly drivers. You will never have trouble getting let into traffic, and they are extremely helpful if they see another driver in distress.
I like driving here. Driving is really relaxing in Maine. I can’t say the same about Germany.