Driving is an act quite possibly a matter of life and death in Poland. Am I exaggerating? The roads here are bendy, uneven, and every now and again you might be surprised with a hole in the road which is alligned just right for your wheel. There is no doubt that Polish drivers are highly skilled, but with their skill comes confidence, or worse: overconfidence.
Driving in England
In England, especially in London, drivers are tamed like sedated animals in a zoo. We follow the rules like good little children, not because we want to be obedient, but rather because of our points system. Each time I’m caught speeding in England – it doesn’t really matter how fast – I get 3 points on my licence. You might think that’s not so bad, but my drivers licence allows me to have a maximum of 12 points. Once I hit 12, I lose my licence. That means if I get caught speeding 4 times, I lose my licence.
But that’s not all, in Poland your points are fully cleared and forgotten after a year, whereas in England they stay on your licence for 5 long years. If you think that’s bad, let me tell you about excited young teenagers who pass their stressful driving tests. In the first 2 years, if they get just 6 points on their licence, that’s it, they lose their licence. If they get caught speeding twice, just twice, it’s back to standing at bus stops in the cold November rain – and probably single again!
As a driver, you might notice from time to time some white stripes across the road. Well, they are called zebra crossings and YOU ARE SUPPOSED TO STOP! In England we stop at zebra crossings when we are the slightest bit suspicious that a pedestrian might be turning towards it. Here, in Poland, the drivers see that as a signal to push down the gas. So if you ever want to get somewhere in good time here, take a route with plenty of zebra crossing and you’ll get there in a flash. Since I’ve been here for almost 10 years, I’ve been going through this horrible transition where I don’t know whether or not to stop or go, so I just sort of pump my brakes and then accelerate again and go even faster. Basically, a zebra crossing in Poland is a place where pedestrians HAVE TO cross, but CAN’T!
Walking Across the Street
In England you can just walk across the street. That might not sound like a big deal, but now I recognise that it was a privilege from my nostalgic past. In Poland, as a pedestrian, I can only cross at traffic lights or zebra crossings. However, when there is a river of cars continuously flowing past, I have no choice but to wait at the zebra crossing until I get the oppurtunity to dash across praying for dear life. Traffic lights on the other hand frustrate me even more. If you’re English and reading, picture this: I’m on my own and standing at a red light with no other cars around, not even the sound of cars in the farthest distance, and I’m still standing, standing, standing…
I’m sorry but what the hell?! I’m literally terrified of crossing an empty road because of the bright red man which takes forever to turn green. I just know that if I just use my common sense – no cars around – I could just stroll across, so that’s what I do, and that’s when 2 big men jump out of the bushes dressed in some kind of authoritative uniform and give me a fine for jay-walking. In England you can literally cross the road anywhere at any moment in front of any policeman without a warning.
A few years ago, in Poland, I lost my driving licence. I just lost it somewhere. Here? There? Who knows where? So here’s what I did: I turned on my computer, got up the internet, spent 10 minutes applying for a new driving licence, and in less than 2 weeks a brand new driving licence was sent straight to my address in Poland. Done. The bureaucracy in Poland is very different. I’m not going to say anything about it because you all know what it’s like, but you most probably wish you didn’t.
Although the bureaucracy in Poland is nothing to be desired, Poland certainly wins this battle: what is certainly wonderful about Poland is that you can actually have this conversation:
Do you mind if I drink and you drive this time?
But you drank last time!
I don’t remember that?
You don’t remember anything from that night!
In England, the one who drove to the party is most likely the one who has to drive back. It’s all down to who is insured on the car. In Poland, the car itself is insured, whereas in England, the driver and car are insured together. If you want to have another driver insured on your car, you have to ring up your insurance company and pay for it – you have to arrange the date of it in advance. Try doing that at 10pm in the middle of a party.
On the other hand, one drink? You mean I can’t even have one drink? In England we are allowed to have up to 0.8 in our blood. So most English people are happy to see their friends at the weekend, have a pint of beer while watching a good game of footy, and then safely driving home. Here when I invite friends over and they stay for a good few hours, they won’t even drink a small bottle. They’ll be driving later, much later, but they still say, “no thanks, I’m driving.”
One thing I never did much when driving in England was look at the road signs, because there weren’t many. Here you have sign after sign… sign after sign! You have so many road signs, that the metal could be used to make enough tanks to make Poland’s military the most equipped in the world. The organisation of roads and driving puzzles me every day. In England we just simply drive straight all the way. If we have to turn, then we give way. Otherwise, going straight, we always have the right of way until we get to some traffic lights or roundabout. Here in Poland I have to give way to the road/car on my right. Sometimes I would be happily driving straight, and then suddenly stop in the middle of the road because a car on the right is approaching from a smaller sideroad. Sometimes I panic becuase I don’t know whether or not I saw that little yellow diamond sign and I hesitate on giving way or just charging through.
What’s it like for you driving on the other side of the road?
Switching from driving on the left side of the road to the right wasn’t a problem at all. In fact, it took me less than 5 minutes to adapt. It’s the organization – or lack thereof – which makes my driving experience a thrilling nightmare. This is the junction I daringly have to face everyday on my way to and back from work. If you can understand this, then I suggest learning Chinese as a new challenge for you.
I could actually go on and on about my horrors of driving in Poland, but if there is something positive I can say, it’s that the green scenery in the countryside is wonderfully relaxing, so relaxing that I feel calm and peaceful, falling into a blissful trance and forgetting about all my problems, all my worries, all my stress. And then BANG! A hole on the road…
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