As lots of you already know, I got my first car a couple of weeks ago. Yep, first EVER car and, as with so many other things in life, I ended up making it even more complicated/scary/exciting by doing it in France. (It also happened through a kind of exchange involving 3 people, two cars and three countries, with none of the car owners actually living in the country where the car was registered, but with a bit of effort on everyone's parts, that ended up working out just fine, so thank you to those involved!) Anyway, the car has now arrived and, after 4 trips to the garage and 6 hours at the prefecture, is now officially mine.
I passed my driving test a couple of years ago in the UK. After that, I drove my mum's car a few times on quiet country roads, moved to Italy, where even being in the passenger seat is terrifying, and then came to France, so I was a little bit apprehensive about actually gettting in my little Clio and driving, especially on the wrong side of the road while sitting on the wrong side of the car. In fact though, I think that my lack of driving experience has actually been a benefit here: I'm used to having to think about where things are rather than doing it automatically, so it's fine. I thought it might be weird that, while you move the gear stick with the other hand, the gears are actually in the same position, so you pull the stick towards you to get first, but actually that seems to make sense when you actually do it. The other thing I like about the gears is that reverse is to the left of first gear and to get it, you have to go into neutral and pull up a button on the gear stick, so you definitely know when your car is about to go backwards. As someone who has always had an irrational fear of going for fifth and somehow finding myself heading backwards down the motorway ( I know this could never happen, but it doesn't stop me being scared of it), I really appreciate that button. If anybody ever drives a Renault in France, this may turn out to be useful information, as my friends recently bought a Twingo and it took them a while in a multistorey carpark to work out how to find reverse.
I have had a couple of scary split seconds coming out of junctions and aiming for the left hand side of the road, but only on quiet streets with nobody around, which I think is where this is more likely to be a problem, because there are no signs or other traffic to remind you. I hope so at least ... The hardest thing for me has actually been adapting to speeds in kilometres per hour. In town, the norm is 45 but sometimes it's 30 and I always forget that actually 30 km/h is really, really slow. It also makes it harder to know what gear to be in, as the rules I learned from my instructor don't work, and although obviously you're supposed to listen to the engine, I do use the rules to predict what I'm going to want to do next.
So far, my driving has been limited to very early morning practice drives, a couple of trips to work, some visits to the garage and an embarrassing moment with an old man helping me to reverse into a space in the underground carpark at Carrefour with lots of people looking on, but in fact I don't really need the car for short local journeys. What I'm really excited about is being able to go on trips out into the countryside, to the beach and to the mountains. Just a bit more practice and a lot more confidence needed before then...