Driving: Life in the fast lane

There’s something few consider before moving to another country: driving or, more specifically, how important one’s mortality is versus one’s desire to (literally) hit the road. I speak from personal experience, having lived in the Greek capital of Athens for 5 years, although my observations could equally apply to many Eastern European countries, South America, Asia and Africa where, for the unsuspecting expat, driving can seem bonkers!

When I first observed driving nuances in Greece, I drank in a kaleidoscope of dangerous overtaking, near hits and misses, speeding, tailgating, relentless high beam flashing, redundant seatbelts, chronic helmet avoidance, lane blocking, auspicious indicator usage and what appeared to be a general on-road selfishness soundtracked by eternally blasting car horns.

In no particular order, I deduced that all of this occurred to:

  1. Break all held land-speed records;
  2. Rise to the challenge of the clinically insane;
  3. Endanger the lives of others;
  4. Eat auntie’s tiropita (cheese pie) sooner rather than later; and /or
  5. Co-ordinate dangerous moves with the untimely approach of watermelon trucks.

It came as no surprise to learn that Greece has one of the highest rates of road-related fatalities in Europe and from the dubious safety of the passenger seat, I was convinced that I could never get behind the wheel of a vehicle in Athens without first undergoing a frontal lobotomy. I much preferred to play the role of humble passenger with a predisposition for imbedding fingernails into dashboard upholstery. There was nothing wrong with that. It put me in the enviable position of being able to absorb what was going on around me as I flew past wig shops, one dimensional wheel-flattened cats and a baby store curiously named ‘Mister Baby’.

But in time I was either brave or mad enough to challenge my driving fears head on (for want of a better expression). Within minutes of jumping behind the wheel of a car, I skidded off the road in an attempt to avoid crater-sized potholes at a speed of 100 kilometres per hour, joining all the other kids in our funny little game. I then narrowly missed a motorbike in my blind spot, to which its female passenger responded with an open palm thrust in my direction, a gesture known as moudza, which effectively means ‘*something off’, (* that ‘something’ being not very nice).

However, in a short space of time, I got the hang of things. And as nuts as it sounds, the kamikaze driving and flagrant contempt for the law felt strangely liberating. Now that I’ve learned a thing or two, I hereby bequeath Lana’s Top 5 Driving Tips in Places Where They Drive Crazily:

  1. Sufficiently cultivate your psychic faculties before hitting the road, as there’s no other way of pre-empting the bizarre road tricks of others. I mean it. Driving could occupy an entire volume within ‘Tales of the Unexpected’.
  2. Study chaos theory while remaining quietly confident that there’s a good chance you’ll get from A to B alive.
  3. Try not to become distracted by other motorists pausing to urinate on the side of the road.
  4. Remember that driving within lanes is entirely optional, so feel free to drive over lines, as though following breadcrumbs through a forest, thus taking up two lanes rather than settling for one – one’s far too boring!
  5. Rest safe in the knowledge that the obligatory ducking and weaving somehow works. Traffic ebbs and flows, cars move out of the way, or leave you for dust. Driving almost anywhere is inexplicably effective.

Lana Penrose is a bestselling author twice published by Penguin/Viking. Her memoir is called 'To Hellas & Back'. 'Kickstart My Heart' chronicles separation and divorce en route to new love and is something like Bridget Jones staggering through life with an axe through her head. Visit www.lanapenrose.com.au for more details.

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