So You Think You Can Drive?

by Asako Maruoka /
Asako Maruoka's picture
Mar 14, 2012 / 0 comments

As an overconfident, straight out of college, expat teacher at my first job in the UK, I was handed the keys to the school’s van and told to pick up eight students at Heathrow. While walking across the parking lot a comment was added: “By the way, can you drive a stick shift on the left hand side of the road? If not, we can find an economy car hire and this situation can be avoided.  With the first day on the job plastic confidence, I responded ‘sure I can drive a left handed stick’.


While pulling out and reaching my first roundabout, the screeching, grinding and horn honking conjured visions from a scene in Funny Girl where Fanny Brice was asked if she could roller-skate. While floundering on stage and creating mayhem, her boss shouted, “I thought you said you could skate?” Fanny responded, “I didn’t know I couldn’t!” Driving in the UK is a wake-up call for most. I realised this was going to be a challenging part of the new job. The school was located in the sticks, and if I was going to get to London, I had better get this driving thing under control. At the first orientation, we new teachers were told we had to immediately register to take a driving licence test. In order to rent a car, we had to have this test booked. We were then told that ‘when we fail’, we must turn right around and book another test. No American had passed the test in the history of the school, so to be legal on our American license, we needed to have a testing date to show potential policemen when we were stopped, not if. Great.


Some teachers rented cars and took expensive private driving lessons, yet, no one passed, so that idea seemed futile. I decided to take a new and different route. I talked to everyone who had taken the test and asked why they had failed. Some said they failed because of the ‘look-signal-manoeuvre’ rule. It seems that on expressways in the US, we Americans signal when the idea pops in our head that we want to change lanes. In the UK, signalling to change lanes means you intend to change lanes in three seconds. Many a wake has been left behind an American driver who was totally unaware of the screeching breaks behind them. Another said they failed because they were too cautious. Too cautious? How could someone be ‘too cautious’? With further prodding, I realised that this person approached a roundabout and just sat till the road was clear. They had never learned ‘the dance’ of timing that allows one to enter with calm agility. We Americans like the clarity of a stop sign.


I compiled a list of all the reasons people failed, studied that, and became the first teacher to pass the test at the school. My document became a staple of the orientation, which has resulted in many licensed drivers and I think, many saved lives.



Diane Pfister is a duel citizen of the USA and UK, who has spent the last thirty years travelling, writing and painting her way across Europe and the United States. Diane welcomes responses to both her art and her writings.