While working on my Ph.D. in Zurich, Switzerland, I took two months off to do volunteer work. After completing one volunteer assignment in Spain, I was invited to another volunteer assignment in England. One of the volunteers, a German friend of mine, offered to lend me her car in Spain to make the journey. She was on traveling in Italy at the time and didn’t need her car. I drove from Spain through France to Switzerland, where I stayed the night at my own place. From there, I started the journey through Germany, Belgium, and France to the English Channel. The friend’s car I was borrowing wasn’t set up for international travel. The international country sticker, an “E” for

España, had not been affixed to the rear of the vehicle.

As I traveled through Germany, a patrol car noticed that the car was missing the international country sticker and pulled me over into a rest stop along the Autobahn. The officer asked for the car’s registration. The car was registered in Spain, and so the registration was in Spanish. When I handed him the registration, I told him, in German, “It’s all Spanish to me.” In German that’s how you say, “It’s all Greek to me.” The police officer didn’t find my joke funny, but his partner standing behind him smiled a wide grin and tried to suppress a chuckle. We found the missing country sticker in the back of the vehicle, and I vowed to affix it to the back of the vehicle where it was required, and they let me go.

I was an American with a Swiss driver’s license on my way to England, stopped in Germany while driving a French-made car registered in Spain to a German living in Italy.

Eventually when I made it to the northern coast of France in Calais I was faced with two alternatives for crossing the English Channel. (The Channel Tunnel did not yet exist.) Both options cost the same. I could take a boat, which would take 90 minutes, or I could take a hovercraft which was only just over 30 minutes. It wasn’t a hard decision. I drove the car onto the hovercraft, which was like entering the mouth of a beached whale, and I parked. The car wheel was chained to the floor, and I was directed to the seating area. The attendant finished the safety briefing, “and we wish you a good flight.” The jet engine started up, and the creature rose up above the beach, turned, and waded into the water, held up by a cushion of air.

The hovercraft attendant told us, “and we wish you a good flight.”

When we arrived on the English side of the Channel in Dover, I drove out of the “whale” on the right hand side of the road and then followed the traffic sign to cross over to the left hand side of the road. This is how they transitioned us to the correct side of the road for driving in England.

Driving a right-handed car on the left side of the road was kind of fun. It was the roundabouts—the traffic circles—that could get really confusing. The way I approached driving on the other side of the road was that I programmed myself, “Whichever way your instinct tells you to turn or to look, just do the opposite.” That worked out great the first day and even the second day of driving in England. But as I get used to driving on the left side of the road, I didn’t count on the opposite behavior starting to become my instinct. And if your mental rule is to do the opposite of your instinct, you can see how this approach didn’t last long. I eventually gave in and embraced the right-brained, left-sided instinct for the remaining three weeks of my time in England.