The Immigrant Driver

August 1st, 2010

The first time I rode shotgun in New Zealand, I was terrified.

But you already know this.

I tried to explain to Keith how scary it was on my side. Thisclose to the mailboxes whizzing past. Thisclose to the concrete barrier on the motorway. Thisclose to being paralyzed for life and eating the rest of my meals through a straw.

He said I’d get used to it.

Riding shotgun that is, not eating through a straw.

I kept pleading with him to drive closer to the center of the lane. He assured me he was in the center of the lane; that it just looked off from my side.

So, I got used to it.

Fast-forward three months. The time is now. Keith is talking to me over the phone while driving home from work.

Keith: Oh, ah, I’m getting pulled over.
Eby: What?! …because you’re on the phone!
Keith: Nah, I’ve got you on speaker. I’ll call you back in a sec.

For three minutes, Eby is plagued by horrible images of being deported

Keith: Ok, you’re going to think this is funny. I got pulled over for driving too close to the barrier on the motorway. The cop thought I was driving drunk.


Keith: He made me take a breathalyzer test. I just explained I was new to the country and am trying to get used to driving on the opposite side of the road, from the opposite side of the car.
Eby: Really? Did he say anything else?
Keith: He just, laughed at me. He laughed and told me to have a good night.

Needless to say, I felt more than justified. And Keith was right, it was funny. I can’t help but imagine the cop walking back to his car, shaking his head. Upon getting into his patrol car, his partner would then ask him what the story was.

“Ah, just another immigrant trying to drive. You know how that goes.” (I’ll let you add the Kiwi accent)

And then they would both chuckle together and pull onto the motorway, and flash their lights and honk a bit while passing an unsuspecting Keith, back on the speaker phone with his wife; the immigrant who hardly drives at all.

  • I know what you mean. The first time we drove (okay, the first couple of times we drove), I would gasp out loud, certain that we were going to hit the curb or a person or a tree because we were so close. I eventually just started closing my eyes and praying, ha ha!

  • I should add, I was not DRIVING while closing my eyes and praying ๐Ÿ™‚

  • “Hug the centre line.” That is my mantra when driving in NZ. Interestingly, it also works when switching back to US driving on visits. The centre line is your friend.

  • It took me many years to work up the courage to drive in New Zealand but even now, after nearly 15 years here, I’m still sometimes certain we’ll clip a parked car’s side-view mirror as I sit breathless in the passenger seat.

    Hugging the centre line probably isn’t a very good idea. In New Zealand, the rule is “keep left” or away from the centre line. A better reason to do that is that Kiwi drivers tend to drift over the centre line when going around a curve.

    BTW, I found your blog through that Go! Overseas listโ€”great to find another expat!

  • It really helped me to keep my left hand on the steering wheel in the shape of an L to remember to stay on that side of the road! Of course, there were no police to pull you over in Zambia, and you always knew when you were coming to a police roadblock. ๐Ÿ™‚ Good luck!

  • I will admit that it took me a couple of years to find the courage to drive in NZ. And after living in NZ for eight years, driving on the left still doesn’t feel quite normal. The trick does have something to do with the centre line. But don’t get me started on the Give Way rule or roundabouts. *shudder*

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