Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Look Both Ways

I have had a driving license for a full three years now and done nothing with it until recently. First, there was the long process of getting my paperwork done to insure me onto a car. Then came the small matter of finding someone with the time to take me for a drive now and again. Despite many offers of help, these never materialised with any kind of regularity.

At the start of this year, we decided to buy a bashed up Fiat from Mr Zeus's pal Z2. It came with the added bonus of being ready dented from previous accidents, but despite that it was a nice little car and perfect for me to drive and park - park being the key word here as there is no parking space at all in Athens. Everyone owns about 20 cars and would park them one on top of the other if they could, not to mention the idiots who buy gigantic 4x4s to drive in the city. Seriously? Did you not look at how narrow Athenian roads are before you bought that vehicle with the sole purpose of advertising your social status to the neighbours? Never mind that you put yourself into debt to do it.

Anyway, one fine day I was sitting at home and thought "I have insurance. I have a license. I have a car. Just how frickin' terrible can it be?" And so I began driving on my own. I've been sticking to my own neighbourhood so far where I know the roads and roundabouts. This is good because my biggest problem with driving here, apart from having obtained a license to drive on the left, is the roundabouts. Athens is full of them and there is no hard and fast rule about how to navigate them. Each one is laid out unpredictably, like some sort of Russian Roulette of the Roads.

In the UK, you are taught to give right of way to anyone coming in from the right and once you're on the roundabout you don't stop unless you get into an accident because once you're on, right of way is all yours. In Greece, take your pick. You never know from one roundabout to the next who has right of way and who should have stopped, or if you should stop mid-flow as you very often see on roundabouts. The only way to approach them is to just do it and hope you don't kill or be killed.

So far though the driving has not turned out to be all too bad. It takes much more concentration since you cannot rely on anyone obeying Stop and No Entry signs, and you still check both ways even on a one way street because this is Greece baby! Going both ways was practically invented here ya get what I mean?

I actually prefer driving on my own. Z2 has so far been my most regular driving companion and as much as I appreciate his help, he has the unfortunate habit of getting terrified while I'm driving. He's not to blame. It stems from him taking out another friend the first day she got (or rather bought - you can do that here) her license and her promptly crashing the car. It took some convincing to get him to agree to take me driving in the first place.

Also, like most experienced drivers, he tends to underestimate my need for Instructions for Idiots 1o1, the result being me misunderstanding his directions and screams of terror emenating from his lungs.

By far the most useful driving skill which I have yet to master is the mind/horn connection. Whenever I witness bad driving, instead of my hand flying to the horn in outrage, I sit there looking horrified and think "But I had right of way there!" Thinking that and looking pissed is going to get you nowhere whereas a lightening fast reflex action will announce your disastisfaction.



EllasDevil said...

Greetings from a fellow Athens driver.

So let's start with the technicalities... when you're on a roundabout, you have to give way to other drivers who want to get on the roundabout so that does involve stopping. All I'll say is just keep your eyes open for the stop sign as they usually indicate who has the priority.

LOL @ "but I had right of way". That's not the way... its horn horn horn all the way baby. Next lesson will be the "getting in the center lane when turning left rather than going in the left lane so you can overtake the line of waiting cars and then quickly cut in front when the lines change! :-)

Fugative said...

This one in particular boils my blood. It isn't however uniquely Greek bafoonary, the French do it as well, nuff said. So what happens is that those coming onto the roundabout have RoW despite the fact that those wishing to exit, and thus making room for more to enter, have to stop to allow them on, result; gridlock! But this being Greece is not a good enough reason to sit back and allow someone to get off so you can get on NO this is a que for you to push a little harder, swear a little more in order to seize the junction up so tight that a little man from the ministry has to come out with a can of a WD40 to free up the situation.

Saying that some have STOP signs at the entrances but I think they have the opacity turned down to save energy.

Emma said...

and I thought it was bad here in Cyprus! I was a bit nervous when we first got here last year but it's not that bad, either that or I'm now used to it.

It's much more similar to driving in the UK than Greece I imagine just with less indicating and giving way!