At some point last year, I had a momentary lapse of sanity, and thought that it would be a good idea to pick up the car I would use for a road trip down the coast of France and Italy, from a rental company in downtown Marseille. "Pfft. Ive driven in downtown Toronto tons of times, it can't be any worse than that."
I'll be blunt. Compared to downtown Marseille in rush hour, the worst part of Toronto feels like an open runway. Driving is my thing, so I adapted quickly, but I was floored with the millimetric proximity between vehicles that European drivers are comfortable with. Also, by vehicles I mean; cars, bicycles, scooters, pedestrians, dogs, flower vans, street vendors, restaurants, and lamp posts. It didn't matter- if there is a thing, you simply drive around it. Or over it. Or through it after honking politely.
In Canada, if someone slows down and drives slightly out of their lane, all traffic comes to a dealt halt, officials are called in to to assess the problem, and everyone has to slow down to get a look. If there is a stick in the road, and a single pylon is marking its position, we say, "well gosh I guess the road is closed." We stop, do a three point turn and take a 46 minute detour. Obviously this is hyperbole, but in all seriousness, our roads feel MASSIVE compared to pretty much everything I've driven on in Europe. And what blows me away, is that many of us here STILL can't navigate our cars through a simple intersection without running over a curb and hitting a family of 4.
Every other person in my car, said on numerous occasions, "I could never do this." They held their breath as I navigated through hairpin turns in the hills north of Nice, they gasped, when mopeds would zip up beside us in grid lock traffic, and they shook their heads in disbelief as I clumsily parallel parked our car backwards up a blind hill in Ventimiglia. I was in my element. I loved every minute of it. I loved how everyone around me seemed so competent. There was mutual understanding of how narrow backroads worked. Who had the right of way, and when to pause in a corner so the oncoming car had enough space. These things required all my attention, but for the other driver- who was backing up a steep switchback to the nearest passing point- it was all common place. The daily commute.
In Canada, almost everyday, I'm stuck behind someone in a mini-van, who is utterly PETRIFIED of going faster than 80km/h and puts two tires onto the shoulder every time a car comes the other way. These people are everywhere, and they wouldn't last one second on a road in Italy. The rental car I chose for this trip was a low powered diesel Golf. It honestly didn't matter. The roads themselves were too lovely for me to care about having a faster car. Near where I live in Ontario, there are a couple good corners and I need to drive on the highway for 34 minutes to get to them. That's about it.
After I returned to Canada, everything on the roads felt so unnecessarily huge, and straight, and boring. I realized that we are missing something over here. We are missing a passion for driving, and a skill set that most people in Europe might not even realize they have. We have no need here to have engaging cars, because there is nothing to engage with. On my morning commute to work which is about 29 minutes, there are 5 turns. Count em. 5. And three of those are intersections. After driving in the hills above Monaco, this sucks the life from me.
The VW Golf I drove, was under-powered, had almost no steering feedback, and the ride was underdamped for all the weight we loaded in it, but it still remains one of my favourite driving experiences. Now I know that not ALL of the roads in Europe are picturesque mountain passes, but don't take for granted the fact that you can DRIVE to one of these roads if you live on that continent. Meanwhile I'll be here. Stuck behind a hideous Dodge Caravan in a snowstorm.