Tuesday, February 21, 2006

This is the country that produced Michael Schumacher

Ladies and gentleman, Smarty.

Today I took a little "Claire Time." Actually my roots were starting to show so I made a much need trip to the hair dresser this morning. My hair dresser is fabulous. And he is 30 minutes away in Oldenburg. So, I had to get up at 7:00 a.m. so that I was awake for my 9:00 a.m. appointment. As I was driving on the highway, I was reminded of the insanity that is the German Autobahn (highway).

Germans are allowed to get their driver's license when they are 18. Before that you either have a bike, a Vespa, or you walk. Getting a driver's license is also no small matter. You have to take hours of driving lessons (which are not cheap!) and then pass a written and driving test. The whole thing can wind up taking up a lot of time and money. Given all this information, you would assume that Germans are better drivers than those in the U.S. You would assume wrong.

As a whole, Germans do not seem to have sense of entitlement like Americans do. However, a German's sense of entitlement is taken out on the highway. "This is my space and I am going somewhere important and I have to be there NOW." This morning two "incidents" are classic example of this German mentality.

There is an important road sign to be aware of. It is a white diamond with a smaller yellow diamond. This sign means that you are on a road that has the right-of-way. When driving in a city/town the standard speed limit is 30 mph. I usually go a little slower because . . . well you never know. I was traveling at about 28 mph on a street where I had the right-of-way (like I said, always look for the yellow diamond). I was going a bit slower because most Germans pull up to the intersections at about 40 mph and you never know what they are going to do. 99% of the time they stop in the nic of time but with engine roaring and nose almost into the intersection. Today, one big jerk turned on in front of me taking the right-of-way. I had to break hard.

This happens to me ALL THE DAMN TIME. Once it happened and I showed the guy a not so nice finger. The German was with me and scolded me! "You could get a ticket for that." "Me!! I was not the ass hole who stole the right-of-way!" In fact my driving has been criticized on several occasions. One guy came up to my window to tell me to turn on my headlights, even though IT WAS NOON ON A SUNNY DAY. In Germany the person on the right has the right-of-way (unless you see the yellow diamond). But I am beginning to think that the person who has the right-of-way is the person who takes it.

Then I got on the interstate this morning. Everything seemed to be completely normal. I was singing very loudly to Marvin Gaye and Tammy Terrell, when I noticed that a car was merging onto the highway via an on-ramp. I checked my speed. I was doing about 70 mph. Take a look at Smarty. She does not like to go much faster than that. I did not want to break so I looked in my review mirror and noticed a car, but it was further back. So, I switched to the left lane. MISTAKE.

The car behind me was going a LOT faster than I had judged. In fact when he saw me get over, he got over behind me and flashed his head lights at me, which is German car talk for, "Get the hell out of my way. You are too slow!" Unfortunately, it was too late to switch back into the right hand lane. The car merging was a old green Opel Corsa, which probably has an engine even smaller that Smarty. Switch over would have meant breaking hard, which Smarty also does not like. So the car behind me crawlerightupbehindmycarandwasthisclose. I could see the guy picking his nose. Once I passed the Corsa, I switched. The car, a big, brand new BMW passed me, and the man was shaking his fist at me!

Now it is true that there is no speed limit on the autobahn but I think making way for merging traffic is more important. I was also a little peeved because why should I have to break hard. Because my car is smaller and a little slower? You have the brand new BMW with the better breaks, you can break.

I have more driving commentary (getting my German license and passing), but if I told you it all know, I would have nothing to complain about later.

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