Two years ago when Andrew and I first moved here, I wrote a blog about why I would not be driving in Belgium. At the time, I thought that once I got used to it here, maybe I would change my mind and, I’m happy to report – I haven’t.
My parents inspired that original post by asking why I didn’t drive, if not in Brussels, then at least in my small town. I tried to explain that small towns in Belgium aren’t like small towns in Canada, which are often miles from anywhere and have populations of less than a hundred. My Belgian town is smack dab in the middle of two very large cities with combined populations in the millions. The people from those two cities drive through my town every day on their way to work and back again, and I’m in their way.
Mom and Dad were rudely awakened from their dreams of my quaint, pastoral village when they visited us here last spring. The first morning when they were awakened by the sound of the Grand Prix outside their window, they were shocked.
As we drove them all over Western Europe, they stayed securely ensconced in the back seat of our large, safe Volvo. They were horrified by the tiny Smart cars we passed on the highways at speeds that would land a small town Canadian in jail faster than you can say “license and registration please…”
On a couple of occasions, I kindly offered the front seat to my Dad, who is known to have his own Mario Andretti-like tendencies. He turned a little white and mumbled something about how, as official navigator, I should remain in the front seat – at all times. My Mom’s best defence was couple of anti-nausea pills that induced a day long nap. She enjoyed looking at my photos from the safety of her own home, to see where exactly she went on her European vacation.
Despite my parents’ terror on all European roads, I have visited many places in Europe that I would consider driving if we happened to live there. The speed and volume of traffic seems the same most everywhere on the continent, but the difference seems to be the attitude of the drivers.
Here in Belgium, drivers are aggressive – scarily so. Once behind the wheel it is every man for themselves. My friends with Belgian partners remark how their mild-mannered mates become frothing madmen as soon as they slip behind the wheel with one hand hovering over the horn, ready to honk at the slightest hesitation by another driver.
Every move you make on Belgian roads is like a giant game of Chicken – changing lanes; entering from the right; even trying to grab a parking space – If you hesitate for a second, the opportunity is lost.
Oh and those silly white lines they paint on the road here… the ones that in most countries delineate lanes? Pay them no mind in Belgium. If you really want to turn left at the light and both turning lanes are full, just squeeze your car in and make a new lane, or two.
And those other white lines on the road – crosswalks or zebra crossings that in most countries pedestrians can walk on safely to cross the street? Don’t try that in Belgium. I’ve been nearly killed on them twice and the driver merely looked at me as if to say “how dare you cross my road.” No wonder people in Belgium J-walk constantly… at least then you don’t expect cars to stop for you.
My biggest fear of driving on Belgian roads however, is turning into a Belgian driver myself. I see it happening already in my normally mild-mannered husband. As he slips behind the wheel of our Volvo, his hand poised over the horn, I know he is just itching to drive through a cross-walk and create his own lane.
I’ll stick to navigating. Could somebody pass the anti-nausea pills…?