• You’re on the wrong side of the road.
  • Everything’s metric – nobody uses metric.
  • C’mon, quit kidding around, put the steering wheel back where it belongs.
  • You’re stunned at the price of petrol, thinking it’s way too low – until you realize it’s PER LITER (what the hell is a liter, anyway? Oh yeah, it’s what Coca-Cola comes in…)

And I was convinced that driving around the beautiful Irish countryside once again was going to be fraught with problems. I was wrong…

OK, if you’re an American, you’re convinced the rest of the world does everything the way you do (c’mon people, learn to speak English and I won’t have to talk slowly and loudly, like you’re a retarded deaf person). So, when you pick up your rental car at the airport, and get in the driver’s side door, you wonder why there isn’t a big round wheel in front of you. Some joker has stuck it over in the glove compartment, which is going to make getting at the owner’s manual a little difficult, let me tell you.

Fine, so you get out of the PASSENGER door, and walk around to the DRIVER’S side. At 6’4″ tall, I’m used to having to slide the seat back, so it’s not unusual to find that the last person to have driven my rental vehicle was a leprechaun. Knees up around my ears, which, not being a svelte individual, is not entirely comfortable. So, I proceed with ripping out the front seat, tossing it by the roadside, and then re-familiarizing myself with the controls.

OK, there’s the gas, there’s the brake, and there’s the… wait a minute (or is there some metric term for “minute”?)… what’s that extra pedal down there? An extra/backup brake? A super-fast accelerator? No, it’s a clutch, you moron. Remember looking at the rental reservation form online?

Standard shift vehicles €150 per week. Automatic vehicles €10,000 per week – or something like that (and what the hell is an €? That stuff looks more like Monopoly money than Monopoly money. Use $$ like the rest of the world). Whatever the difference was, it was astronomical.  Why such a disparity in cost between a standard and an automatic?

Well, for one thing, anyone under my tender age doesn’t even know what a clutch is used for. I had the luxury (perhaps not the right word) of learning to drive on a standard-shift 1972 Volkswagen bus (not the hippie Woodstock edition, but the sleek, chick-magnet Wolfsburg version). I still recall my dad riding shotgun, telling me to gently ease off the clutch while engaging the accel… thunk! Car dies. Start car. Gently ease off the clutch while engaging the acc… thunk! Repeat as often as necessary to get the idea. And all this while facing uphill, in the left turn lane, with numerous smaller – read “crushable” – vehicles behind me.

I was absolutely convinced that I was in a full-sized school bus, and was going to roll backward – like some Bavarian-made Bigfoot (the mechanical one, not the hairy Sasquatch) – over my fellow drivers. This is exactly why I learned to ride a bicycle on the local school’s empty parking lot on a Saturday afternoon, so I wouldn’t endanger the lives of my fellow two-wheelers until I had mastered the art.

So anyway, I finally get the hang of it, and can now upshift and downshift like Mario Andretti on the Autobahn. But my point is – having veered off from same – that most drivers these days (at least in the US) aren’t schooled on standard shift vehicles. A clutch is one of those cute little bags with which girls accessorize their prom dresses, trying to fit everything that normally wedges into their rucksack purse into an envelope the size of, well, an envelope.

Guys, I don’t really have a suitable counter-reference for a clutch for you, sorry.

I remember when automobiles were offered with either standard or manual in this country (obviously, they are still offered that way outside of our all-powerful domain), as my dad would alternate vehicle to vehicle, buying an automatic transmission in 1965, then switching to standard in 1971 (and yes, he did regularly go that long between vehicle changes – we took the Plymouth Fury III station wagon on waaaaaay too many summer vacations). Oh yeah, back on point.

Unless you go out of your way, you simply can’t learn to drive a vehicle with a clutch in this country, and thus, when you go overseas, you are forced to rent an automatic vehicle. They’ve got you by the short hairs. Or, if you don’t have short hairs, they’ve got you by something that hurts an awful lot when pressure is applied.

So, at least I have the advantage of not being forced into an automatic when driving in Ireland. The only real problem is that – when startled in a roundabout (there will be an entirely separate discussion about roundabouts), you reflexively reach down with your right hand to downshift. This usually results in the opening-of-your-door-and-the-tumbling-out-of-the-car scenario. Once you can get past that, you’re green.

Now, what was I saying? Oh yeah, the Irish countryside not fraught with problems.

Without rambling more exhaustively than I already have, the people in Ireland PAY ATTENTION TO THEIR REAR VIEW MIRRORS (see previous blog entries)!!!

The common speed limit on most not-in-town 2-lane roads in Ireland is100kph. I know, I know. They drive 100 miles an hour over there?!? No, look at the acronym – Kph, not Mph. Kilometers. The whole metric thing again. And because we don’t understand it, we think that’s awful damn fast. It’s actually only 62.1371192 miles per hour. I do that in parking lots.

So, drivers cruise along at a reasonable speed, and most of them adhere to that (yet another future rant will involve drivers who are convinced the speed limit is not the speed they should be driving, but rather a dangerous top end speed which should only be approached if you’re driving your pregnant-water’s-already-broken wife or girlfriend, or wife’s girlfriend, to the hospital).

In Ireland, those drivers who may wish to slow down a bit, take in the countryside, etc., actually pull over to the left of the lane (remember, we’re already over there, so we’re not swerving into oncoming traffic), thus signaling to you that’s it’s OK with them if you pass them. They’re not pissed off at you. They don’t flip you off with whatever the metric version of the finger may be.

It’s basically a vehicular way to say “I understand you may have more urgent business down the road than I do, so I will gladly let you go around me.”

I LOVE Ireland. Not just for that, but that’s one of the reasons.

Now, I’m quite certain that native Irish men and women have established their own blogs to complain about the insipidness of their fellow drivers (probably some blogger is posting his weekly entry on “Right Lane Fast” as I type this), but I just don’t see how it’s possible. It’s not as if I was purposely driving any slower in their country than I do in my own.

Typical Irish Rental Vehicle

And keep in mind that most of their non-“interstate” (they don’t actually have states, so they don’t actually have interstate highways) roads are often just wide enough for two carts with horses to pass each other without ending up in the roadside ditch. It’s just that I noted – without going out of my way to look for it – a more civilized set of automotive manners than I ever run across in this country.

Perhaps it’s simply because they’ve had so many more centuries to develop them than we have here.

DW (grudgingly back in the States)

c'est moi