Being British in Florida 2

Now obviously I’m going to be employing some broad brush generalisations along the way with this small series, and they’re generally for comedic effect.

Today’s musings have come about through my observations around the experience of driving in the Orlando and Tampa area, but I think there’s something rather common about relearning how to drive that may chime with people who have driven on both sides of the Atlantic.

The biggest difference seems to be in each country’s general preference for how their cars manage gears. In Britain, the overwhelming majority of drivers learn in a manual geared vehicle and stick with it from then on. If you drive anything else in Britain, there’s often real puzzlement as to why, and an implied accusation that you can’t be very good at driving if you have to rely on an automatic gearbox.

By contrast, here in the US the overwhelming preference is for using an automatic, and manual gearboxes ( “driving stick”) are viewed with deep suspicion, though no one seems to be able quite to articulate why.

The difference as a driver is that when you drive manually you are making the conscious effort to make your car move. The car will not generally move unless you tell it to, and you don’t need to stand on the brake unless you are already moving. Switch the engine on,  select first gear and balance clutch and accelerator until you put your foot down to move away.

In contrast, the effort in an automatic is in stopping it from moving. Your conscious decisions are about stopping the car moving off (switch car on, put foot on brake as you select drive or reverse and take off handbrake, then lift foot off brake to start moving)

Now, speaking slightly tongue in cheek, I’d contend that this tells us something interesting about British and US drivers. The British are choosing to commit to an action (often being that of driving dangerously fast in narrow streets), while US drivers are trying to guage whether they should stop as they are already in motion, which probably also accounts for this turning right at a red nonsense which is just wrong.

Maybe its a legacy of all that horse riding into the gold rush. Haven’t got time to stop and assess what’s going on, just dive in and work out what needs fixing later, there’s money to be made.

As a British driver retraining myself on US roads, I can only describe the experience as being simultaneously stressful and chilled out compared to driving back home.

In London, driving is like warfare, everyone aggressively focused on the target. Here in Orlando you all seem either rather laid back, or totally out of control as if your horse(power) has surged for the finish line.

It probably shouldn’t amuse me.

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