Friday, 23 April 2010

UNSPEAKABLY NORSK THING - DRIVING ROUNDABOUTS

Now, I’m approaching this with caution. You simply cannot imagine the number of conversations I have had in this country about roundabouts. The conversations divide into three distinct categories, all of which get people hot under the collar in moments.

1. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe roundabouts are more-or-less new to Americans, so they are quite amazed when they first encounter one. However, they tackle them with aplomb, and very quickly catch on to the rules of how to get round the things. But then the confusion starts because everything they learnt to do at a roundabout is not adhered to by other roundabout users. What the cotton-pickin’ heck is goin’ on, they all holler.

2. Winking. Now I know most people call this ‘indicating’ when in a car, but I wink. Being a Brit, I wink a great deal...always at every junction, and absolutely ALWAYS at a roundabout. You have to...it says so in the Highway Code. I am programmed to wink. It’s in my genes. I think it is not only useful but polite...other people need to know where you are intending to go.

So, I was STARTLED the first time I drove around a roundabout in Norway winking madly, and nobody winked back. Not even the slightest little flash. There was I, winking and flashing, and twinkling away like a gaudy Christmas decoration, and everyone else on there wasn’t even showing the slightest tweak of a side-light. I felt like an absolute show-off, intent upon attracting attention, when all I wanted was to turn right. I went puce with embarrassment. How on earth was I meant to know which way everyone was going? Was I meant to be psychic? Was I meant to be able to guess? Was there some other secret sign that would show which way people were intending to go that nobody had yet mentioned? Perhaps I was meant to catch the eye of every driver and try to guess in which direction his gaze lay, but what with the weather and the light, this method didn’t seem terribly satisfactory. Someone once told me that drivers are, after all, meant to wink at a Norwegian roundabout...it’s just that they often don’t, so I have become quite an accomplished roundabout-directional-guesser. It’s a special sort of Norwegian art form. It's enormously tempting, when someone sails onto the roundabout without winking to yell, 'Hey, Buster...give us a clue? Are you driving that thing or just sitting in it while it goes forward?' I've struggled to prevent myself from doing this.

What’s more, I am now completely used to driving like this, to the point that when our indicators flaked out on the car, nobody was worried. In Scotland I would never have dared leave the house without them, but here, it was the norm to forget to wink. I might try it at home, just to see how many drivers I can get to blast me on their horns...I guarantee it will be every driver on that roundabout because lack of winking is something that makes Brits jump up and down in apoplectic rage. Dare me? Just once?

3. What has been going on at that Telly-tubby Roundabout? Ever since we have lived in Norway, a huge roundabout on the way into Stavanger has been the subject of one of the most long-term road projects I have ever witnessed. It is an eternal scene of dug-up tarmac, temporary lanes and cones. It has been named the Telly-tubby roundabout by a number of BBC viewers as it looks like something out of that particular children’s programme...it is round (obviously...duh) with slopes that would be quite nice to roll down if you didn’t land in the traffic. It has an overhead cycle/walkway and a variety of interesting, artistic, technical and somewhat diverting features. To everyone’s surprise, it does not, despite being a cross-road to several metropolii, including Bergen and Kristiansand, have any more lanes than it had when the project first started out. If anyone would like to explain the logic of this, I’m all ears.

I must add that we Brits have similar road-works frustrations on a daily basis to the point that the digging-up of roads is verging on becoming an election issue...but then again, there are so many irritations that this is fairly low down the list of idiotic and enormous frustrations the UK population is currently facing.

But to return to roundabouts for a moment, I have noticed even within Scotland there are regional variations in roundabout behaviour. If I drove round a Glasgow roundabout at the speed with which I am meant to attack an Aberdeen one (at least according to local custom) I would attract no end of tooting and rude gesturing. In Glasgow, one is almost expected to smile and wave in a friendly manner to everyone else on there, unless of course you are dumb enough not to wink, and then a fight starts.

I guess the moral of all this is that a roundabout should be approached with caution in every city and nation, at least until you have sussed out exactly what is expected of you by the locals.

3 comments:

  1. ... and in Dundee they call them just plain old circles! Maybe they should have been twinned with Stavanger since they share about the same number of them too!

    I'm thinking that a book should be published for people who move around the world with a dictionary for all the words that have the same meaning.. winking indeed!

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  2. American here. . . I was thinking "Winking? Winking? Seems a bit subtle--how's anyone supposed to see that?" Winking being something one does with one's eyes, you see. I was picturing you heading into the roundabout, eye twitching madly, highly annoyed because no one else was also twitching. . .

    Then I finally tumbled that you meant signaling! With your turn signals! (yes? Did I get it?)

    I hate roundabouts, traffic circles, whatever you call them. They have them back east, and they are creeping in out here in the west. Give me a good old 4-way stop, or some "yield" signs, any day.

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  3. Pamela...good idea about the book. But what's wrong with winking? It's what you do with your winkers, of course.
    American...sorry to cause such confusion. Yes...you guys call it signalling. Perhaps if I actually winked, I might get a reaction, at least!

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