What driving in Germany taught me

Having driven incident-free for 10 years on crowded Indian roads, I considered myself a good driver. I was in for a nasty surprise.

In the last few weeks, I took driving lessons here in Germany to secure a German driving license. My Indian license counted for nothing – I had to pass all the tests again. Given my driving experience on challenging and chaotic Indian roads, I expected to breeze past the driving test. Alas, that wasn’t to be.

The key to life preservation on Indian roads is to expect the unexpected. Drivers need to always be alert and expect other drivers to behave in strange ways. Traffic rules in India are, for the most part, guidelines – drivers break them at their will. Therefore, a good driver is one who is prepared for everything.

The German road system is ruthlessly efficient. It is designed for people to commute 60 kilometers from the countryside to the heart of a city within 45 min. Every road is designed to be driven close to its speed limit, while assuming that everybody else follows traffic rules. If a road is marked with a speed limit of 50 km/h, you are expected to clock at least 45 km/h. On a highway marked at 80km/h, driving at 60 km/h is hazardous. A good driver on these roads is quick, decisive and predictable at all times. A driver who expects the unexpected is seen as hesitant, halting and hazardous.

My driving lessons in Germany, made me realized how little I knew about driving outside India. I was conditioned to expect everything on the road and be prepared. The same training that made me an alert and careful driver in India turned me into a hesitant driver who was a potential in Germany. After much patient admonishment from my driving teacher, I barely managed to pass a driving test that most German teenagers regularly ace. It was a humbling experience.

Unknown to us, our expertise and competence are all relevant within a narrow context. We now live in an era where context change is sudden and widespread (welcome to 2020) – one where the ability to reinvent one’s self is indispensable, and the humility that enables it, invaluable.

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