Liv Hambrett

Germany + Australia + Culture + Motherhood + Home


On Driving

There are certain things that comprise a functioning adult life, and these things differ depending on where you come from and where you live. Most of my functioning adult skills transferred relatively easily when I moved to Germany. Indeed, given I had just finished studying when I moved out of home and into an apartment on the other side of the world, many of my functioning adult skills actually developed in Germany – like, for example, cooking to survive, learning just how cheap a bottle of wine can get before it is undrinkable, controlling dust bunnies, knowing when to admit defeat and take a taxi to the nearest hospital.

There was one functioning adult skill I didn’t immediately transfer, and that was driving. In Münster, I didn’t have a car, and we lived a 10 minute walk from the city centre, and had a supermarket across the road. Like any normal Sydney-sider, blinded by clean, punctual buses, I caught the bus to work and thoroughly enjoyed it. (This was thoroughly unlike any good Münsteraner; they are welded to their bikes. They shower with them, and take them to bed, where I am convinced they spoon lovingly until the alarm rings and the bike can ferry them to work, independent of torrential rain or unprecedented snow.) In Weiden, while again, we lived 5 minutes from a supermarket, and ten minutes from the city centre, and a bus ferried me directly to where I taught, I did have access to a car. And we took many, many road trips during which I absolutely could have taken the wheel and asserted myself on the stress-free Autobahn. But, you know, the car was manual and I didn’t particularly want to learn manual AND learn a new set of road rules on the other side of the road, and anyway, I think my licence had expired. Schade.

A week before die Lüdde was born, having renewed my Australian licence (for a paltry 6 months) the summer prior, in order to legally drive a rental car up the coast, I faced the expiration of my Aussie licence with no view to renew it in sight, and thus the closing of the window in which I could transfer my Aussie licence across to a German one. So, it was time to bite the bullet and get my German licence. Thrillingly, we discovered New South Wales, my state, was on some sort of holy list which meant I didn’t have to take a driving test, or lessons, in order to get a German licence. I simply had to get my eyes checked, my licence officially translated (you can imagine the scope of that job … Name/Name, Address/Adresse …) and hand across some money. And there it was; a German licence for life. Handed over to someone who had never driven on a German street, and had spent the last decade of her life driving on the other side of the car, and on the other side of the road.

I had also, prior to getting my German licence, lost a sizeable excuse; we had traded our manual in for an auto. Now I had both a licence and access to an automatic car. But then Die Lüdde arrived, I was too tired, too worried about practicing with her in the car, and besides, we live within walking distance of her doctor and mine, the shops, the bank, a million bakeries. And she hated the car seat, but loved napping in the pram! So! No need to drive! What about an emergency, I hear you ask. What if we needed to get to hospital? We live above a taxi rank. Easy going. When I went back to teaching part time, my classes were either within walking distances or right outside bus stops with direct buses from door to door. I tell you, midsized-city living in Germany is the dream.

So another year and a half passed. I hit five years of living in Germany, having never had to drive. I loved it. I love it. Whereas in Australia, I drove an unbelievable amount of kilometres a week, getting to and from uni, work, friends, tennis, dinners, movies, gigs, family, in Kiel absolutely everything I want to do, I can walk to. Living in Sydney generally means factoring in hours of traffic, ridiculous amounts of money on tolls, and accepting that commutes eat away at your mornings and evenings until there is little of them left. Living here, when it comes to the time and money spent on being in a car, could not be more different. And despite absolutely loving driving (windows open, radio up, foot down) and deriving a weird amount of pleasure from being really aggressive on the roads, I do not miss the stress of it. I like how my current lifestyle negates dependence on a car.

The truth of it is, however, I was putting off driving because I was scared. Yes I don’t have to drive, but I also didn’t want to. It seems silly. People get into cars on the wrong side, and drive on the wrong side of the road, all the time. SG does it without a second’s thought in Oz. And there are gutsier, scarier things I have done in my life, than drive on the other side of the road. But there was something about getting in the car, that I found oddly terrifying. I had visions of casually sailing onto the left hand side of the road, into oncoming traffic. Or panicking at a set of lights and reverting to instinct, sailing once more, into oncoming traffic. And for the life of me, I do not get the rechts vor links rule.

Like many things I don’t do because I am afraid, not driving niggled a little. And it began to niggle a little more as life here went on. There was the element of doing it to prove to myself that I could; the element of removing the scariness of a daily act I had, in another life, barely given another thought to, that was as normal as making a cup of tea; the fact that I wanted die Lüdde to safely and confidently assume that Mummy could drive a car just like Papa; and the knowledge that, as life goes on here, as a new baby joins the team and I get older and ideally more capable, being afraid of driving (and all that fear potentially symbolised) was something, like speaking to strangers in a foreign tongue, I had to overcome. Was something I had to be able to do, and do with confidence.

So, I am back on the roads, guys. I have mounted a few kerbs, because I feel way too close to oncoming traffic, sitting on the left-hand side of the car. And SG has to say ‘rechts vor links’ every three minutes when we’re in residential neighbourhoods, because it is a ridiculous rule that means I have to come to a complete standstill to let a potentially stationary or extremely slow moving car pull out in front of me, as opposed to waiting until I have passed and the road is clear, before pulling out themselves. And I check for cyclists every 20 second because I am terrified of hitting one and they come out of nowhere. And I don’t want to drive on my own for a while. But I am driving; on the other side of the car, on the other side of the road, and quite often on a kerb – but driving nevertheless.



  1. Sonja

    25 March, 2016 at 2:55 pm

    Good for you! I just came back from a vacation in Australia, and I rented a car, as I usually do, and the first 30 minutes of it I kept muttering to myself “you are too old for this shit now, you can’t do it anymore” – as I usually do… 😉 But apparently, I survived. The funny thing is, every time I drive on the wrong side of the road, I think I will forget which side of the road to drive on and drive into oncoming traffic and die, but I guess I am so concentrated on avoiding the dying part that I never forget which side to stay on – but funnily enough, I always forget the two minor things that are the most annoying: You would think you would automatically look towards the middle of the car for the rear view mirror, but no, I will automatically look to the right. All the time. And above all: The amount of times I use the wipers when I mean to use the indicator (and vice versa) is ridiculous – and that keeps happening for another couple of days once I am back home…

  2. Sabina

    25 March, 2016 at 3:00 pm

    Yes, it is dangerous and it can happen even after months that one ends up on the wrong side of the road. So, take care!

    1. Liv

      26 March, 2016 at 8:48 pm

      I say out loud, every five minutes, ‘aaaand I am driving on the RIGHT hand side of the road’ and narrate my turns, ‘turning onto the RIGHT hand side of the road’. Drilling it in!

      1. silke

        30 March, 2016 at 6:23 pm

        Good on you! Hope you feel extraordinarily proud, as you should! : )

        A (German) friend of mine used to live in England and found driving on the left side intimidating and stressful, but after a while came up with an Eselsbrücke: simply pay attention to keep the center line to your driver’s side when you turn around a corner. Maybe this helps for you as well!

  3. Joanne Hambrett

    25 March, 2016 at 3:27 pm

    Good luck Liv.
    I take my hat off to you!

  4. aliceje

    25 March, 2016 at 8:01 pm

    I was exactly the same. I never drove that much in the UK and put it off for ages when I moved to Germany. With the public transport being amazing, there was never any need to drive, even though we have a car I just never used it. And yeah, I was scared. I didn’t have the confidence. But last year I realised that it is only going to get worse over time, so I bit the bullet and took some refresher driving lessons and explained to the instructor that I don’t know what half of the signs are. I still get nervous about driving and don’t love it, but I feel much more confident now.

    Stupidly though we’re planning a trip down under so I’ll have to get used to driving on the left again…

    1. Liv

      26 March, 2016 at 8:47 pm

      I think that is also part of it for me – I know that the longer I leave it, the more I will build it up and the worse I will actually get. So I think I am more driving to keep my eye in, than anything.

  5. Christina

    25 March, 2016 at 8:31 pm

    Moin! Well, that’s an interestingly grim view on that whole “rechts vor links” thing. Admittedly, it does require a somewhat increased level of awareness but the less you think about it, the easier it gets 🙂 Try to see the good side to it: imagine you’d have to deal with all-way-stop signs instead. You know, the ones americans love so much. Beats us by ridiculuousness, if you ask me. Cheers from eastern Kiel, Christina

  6. Brigitte

    26 March, 2016 at 12:07 pm

    rechts vor links ist eine bescheuerte Regel. Ich verstehe sie auch nicht wirklich!

    1. Liv

      26 March, 2016 at 8:41 pm

      Es macht wirklich gar kein Sinn, oder?!

  7. andrea

    31 March, 2016 at 11:00 pm

    It’s taken me 32 years and a set of German in-laws to sign up at the Fahrschule. They seriously care more about me driving than I do.

    1. Liv

      1 April, 2016 at 11:45 am

      I think my in-laws do too, to be honest, and expected it to revolutionise my life. Whiiiich, it is yet to do.

      1. andrea

        1 April, 2016 at 7:27 pm

        I can’t see how it will change mine. I’m moving to Germany in August, which is why I signed up now, because I’d much rather learn to drive in my mother tongue (Spanish) than in German. We’re gonna be living in a city with good public transport, so I really don’t see the point. Oh well.

  8. Sven Weichbrodt

    4 April, 2016 at 11:57 pm

    My German born parents spent half their year in Western Australia and half their year in Preetz. Dad found that the best way to deal with the confusion of left versus right was just to drive in the middle of the road……;)

What do you think?