Have you ever wondered what it would be like driving on the wrong side of the road or have you even tried it during a stay in Great Britain or Australia perhaps? Well, it takes some getting used to and requires a lot of concentration at the beginning. The same is true when you’re a pedestrian and want to cross a road. You look right, left, right, not the other way round like in Germany for example. As a pedestrian you also walk on the left side of the pavement and also stand on the left side of an escalator to make space for people who are in a hurry. Jack has decided to buy a car for Lucy so that she is more mobile when she goes to the supermarket or some interesting places for her. He is aware that it might take some time to prepare her for driving on the other side of the road, but better to teach her with a small car than in his big electrician’s van. Moreover, she could also pick him up at his favourite pub every now and then where he likes to have some beers with his friends at night.
Jack: So, Lucy, what do you think about getting a car for you? Of course, you’d probably need some driving lessons from me to cope with the traffic on the wrong side of the road for you.
Lucy: Sounds good to me, Uncle Jack, even though I’m a bit scared when I think of all the different traffic regulations that you have over here in the UK. In Germany it was no problem. Even my dad said that I’m a pretty good driver. And you know men can be rather biased towards women behind steering wheels.
Jack: Can’t be any more difficult than installing a computer which you did so expertly, although car accidents obviously have much more far-reaching consequences than pressing the wrong key on a computer. But let’s see how you can manage all this.
Lucy: What a surprise that you are so open-minded in this respect, Uncle Jack. Seems that my stay here with you has had a positive influence on you. (Chuckles)
Jack: Well Lucy, I want you to be happy here and find some friends you can spend your free time with. I imagine it would be too stressful for me if I were the only one to accompany you all the time and it would be getting too boring for you anyway. Public transport in our little town isn’t too bad but I wouldn’t want you to go by bus all by yourself when you come home late at night. Moreover, if you used my big van, I definitely wouldn’t be able to sleep at night as long as you’d be on the road with it. Therefore, I suggest that we go to a car dealer in the afternoon and have a look what kind of car could be suitable for us.
Lucy: Oh wow, that sounds wonderful to me. But can you tell me, Uncle Jack, why is it that people drive on the left side of the road in England?
Jack: Well, the reason for that goes way back in history. Most people are right-handed and therefore, the ancient Romans with their chariots being pulled by horses used to drive on the left side. So, when they defended themselves from oncoming enemies, they had their right hands free for battle. Their armies also marched on the left side of the road because they held their weapons in their right hands. Thus, driving on the left became a law for Britain in the 19th century. All this, of course, also applied to the former British colonies. And consequently, Australia and India, for example, still have this today, still being part of the old British Empire.
Lucy: Whew, a lot of history for today, let’s concentrate more on the driving. So, when you drive with your car on the left side, what about priority rules on the road?
Jack: Left turns are very easy because they go with the traffic. But, of course, you need to be cautious when you make a right turn across a lane or two. On the highway, the left lane is the slow lane, so you’ll be passing on the right instead of the left.
Lucy: Driving might be easier as long as the roads are busy and I can see where the vehicles in front of me are going. On the other hand, I might be the first to go at a traffic light. The scariest thing I can think of, however, are roundabouts.
Jack: Just keep in mind that vehicles on the right have right of way and this obviously can also be you. And don’t worry if you have to do another lap or two at first to find the right exit in a roundabout. Just stay calm and relaxed. But we’ll practise all of this when we have a small car for you.
Lucy: What about speed limits here?
Jack: First of all, speed limit signs are in miles per hour even though the UK uses the metric system for almost everything. So if it says 70, that means 70 mph, which is 113 km/h. Like in any other country, you mustn’t drive faster than the speed limit for the type of road and your type of vehicle. As you know, the speed limit is the maximum allowed but you nevertheless have to adapt your speed to traffic and road conditions. There’s normally a speed limit of 30 miles per hour (mph) or 48 kilometers per hour (km/h), unless there are signs showing otherwise. Lower speed limits apply to vans, motorhomes, buses and goods vehicles. But you probably wouldn’t want to try one of these, I assume.
Lucy: Well, definitely not at the moment. Even though, I might decide to become a professional truck driver one day when driving a small car no longer is a challenge for me. (Chuckles) But do you also have zones for certain areas with special speed limits like near schools for example?
Jack: Yes, of course, we also have this. There are 20 mph zones in built-up areas near schools or 50 mph limits on a road with sharp bends instead of 60mph. The minimum penalty for speeding is a fine of 100 GBP and 3 penalty points will be added to your driving license. You can also be banned from driving if you are convicted of a driving offence or get 12 or more penalty points within 3 years. And remember if you get into real trouble, like an accident, the emergency number in the UK is 999.
Lucy: What about drink-driving?
Jack: We have strict alcohol limits for drivers. But these are different for each driver, of course. So, you can’t say exactly how many drinks this equals. It depends on whether you are male or female, whether you’ve eaten something before and also on your metabolism. Don’t drink and drive, Lucy, otherwise take a taxi. Better safe than sorry.
Lucy: I’m not planning to do so. But let’s go now, Uncle Jack. I think I will learn more when we hit the road together one day. When Lucy and Jack finally arrive at the car dealer’s, a young salesman approaches them and offers his help. His name is Harry and he very rarely has such young and attractive customers like Lucy.
Harry: Is there anything I can help you with, young lady and you, Sir? Let me introduce myself. My name is Harry Winston, not Harry Windsor from the royal family, by the way, but please call me Harry. How are you today?
Lucy: Very good thanks and you?
Jack: Well, young man, pleased to meet you. My niece and I are looking for a small car for her. Lucy is from Germany and needs to get used to driving over here. So, I was actually thinking of a used car but still in good condition like this one over here.
Harry: Oh, what a pleasure to meet you, Lucy from Germany. How long are you planning to stay with your uncle and where are you from in Germany? I, myself have never been there, but it must be a great country from what I’ve heard.
Lucy: Oh yes, it is. Well, I’m planning to stay here for a year and support my uncle during this time with his work. He’s an electrician, you must know, a very good one. He’s trying to teach me the most important things at the moment.
Jack: Excuse me, I don’t want to disturb the two of you, but I still have an appointment later in the evening. So, I would suggest that we have a look at what you can offer us, Harry.
Harry: Oh yes, of course, Sir. We offer cars for every purse and purpose. Why don’t you tell me some more details about what kind of car you have in mind. I’m sorry, Lucy, I’m sure, we can continue our interesting talk a little later.
Jack: As I mentioned before, we’re looking for a small used car which is in good condition and easy to handle for my niece.
Harry: Oh, come on over here, Lucy, we’ve got something very stylish here for you. Come on, let’s sit inside to explain you some details. Oh no, as the driver you have to get in on the right side of the car. That’s where the steering wheel is. Here is the passenger seat. This is a Japanese model, very reliable and easy to handle, doesn’t use much petrol and the mileage isn’t too high either.
Lucy: Oh yes, it’s beautiful and it has such a lovely colour. But what does it cost?
Jack: Well, probably not too much, considering its pinkish colour. This is just a colour for girls. Can you imagine me driving around in such a car? I’m a man after all and I also want to drive it. Moreover, when Lucy goes back to Germany, I will keep the car. My friends would be ridiculing me if I turned up in such a car. No way, young man. Besides it has manual transmission. I think it’s a bit too much to ask from Lucy driving on the left side of the road, sitting on the right side of the car and switching gears manually.
Harry: Oh yes, sorry, I should have thought of that myself. But you could also repaint it at a later stage because the colour would really be perfect for Lucy. Look how well it matches the colour of her sweater today. I understand, however, your objection to the manual transmission. So, let’s have a look at one with automatic transmission.
Lucy: What exactly is the difference between manual and automatic transmission?
Harry: In manual transmission you use a clutch to change the gears. An automatic car adjusts the gears automatically depending on the engine speed. That means you have greater control with manual transmission because in an automatic car, the car decides when to change gears. This, however, is easier and more convenient to drive. You don’t need so much concentration for changing the gears for which you use your hands and two feet. In automatic transmission cars like this one, the gears change automatically and the left foot is free while you’re driving. On the one hand, manual cars are cheaper than the same car with automatic transmission because repair and maintenance costs are higher for automatic cars. They’re also cheaper to insure for that reason. On the other hand, automatics put less strain on engine and drivetrain components than an improperly-driven manual and so maintenance costs over the life of the car could also be less.
Lucy: Oh, what an expert you are, Harry. I’m so impressed. But it’s really hard to make a decision.
Jack: Well Lucy, I suggest that we come back for a test drive with this car. Then you can see how you can manage all this. I’m sure this young gentleman will accompany us on the test drive and give you some useful instruction.
Harry: Oh yes, of course I would. It would be a pleasure to do this for such a lovely young lady like you, Lucy. I’d really be looking forward to seeing you again Lucy. Here is my business card. You can call me any time. I’d also be happy to show you some interesting sights here in our little town. Just give me a ring.
Lucy: Oh, I would love that too. Thank you so much, Harry.
Harry: It was a pleasure meeting you, Lucy and you, Sir. I look forward to seeing both of you again. And I promise I will give you a special discount.
Jack: I will definitely come back to that. Thanks for your help, but I have to rush now to make my appointment. See you.
Possessive »s« without the noun, for places in spoken English
In spoken English, when we talk about places which are familiar to the speaker and the listener, we can omit the noun after the possessive »s«:
- I was at the hairdresser’s yesterday. (instead of hairdresser’s salon)
- Why do you spend so much time at the doctor’s? (short for doctor’s office or surgery)
- We had to take our dog to the vet’s twice last week. (vet’s clinic)
- Let’s meet at the car dealer’s. (car dealer’s showroom)
- We went to Peter’s after the theatre. (Peter’s apartment/house)
In written English, however, you should always write the noun.
»Like« vs. »As«
Like + noun/pronoun, its meaning is ‘similar to, the same as’
- He looks like his father. (similar to his father) Er sieht aus wie sein Vater.
- Don’t behave like a fool! Benimm dich nicht wie ein Narr!
- It smells like pancakes here. Es riecht nach/wie Pfannkuchen hier.
- American football is like rugby. American Football ist so (ähnlich) wie Rugby.
Like + noun/pronoun to introduce examples
- When I went to school, I preferred subjects like English and French. Als ich zur Schule ging, habe ich Fächer wie (zum Beispiel) Englisch und Französisch bevorzugt.
- Italy is famous for foods like pasta and pizza. Italien ist berühmt für Gerichte wie (zum Beispiel) Nudeln und Pizza.
As + noun/noun phrase, its meaning is ‘in the role/function of’ It connects parts of sentences, a combination of a noun and a verb (it’s a conjunction).
- I work as a secretary. (I work in the role or function of a secretary)
- As a vegetarian I don’t eat meat.
- You shouldn’t use plates as ashtrays.
As + subject + verb (clause) (= wie)
- People speak English in the UK as they do in Australia. (‘as they do in Australia’ is a complete sentence or clause)
- As I mentioned some time ago, we’re looking for a used car.
As with the meaning of because (weil)
- I’ll go to bed very early today, as I’m very tired.
- I’m not going out tonight, as it’s very late already.
As …. as, when comparing two things
- Your job is as good as mine. (genauso …. wie)
- Their house is the same as ours.
- (aber: my job is better than yours = besser als)
Sometimes the meaning of the sentence changes depending on what word you choose. Compare the difference
- As your doctor, I strongly recommend that you stay at home for a few days. (means I am your doctor) = Als Ihr Arzt empfehle ich Ihnen dringend, ein paar Tage zu Hause zu bleiben.
- Like your doctor, I recommend that you stay at home for a few days. (means I am not your doctor but I have the same opinion) = Wie Ihr Arzt empfehle ich Ihnen, ein paar Tage zu Hause zu bleiben.
Like, as if and as though (wie, als ob) They can all be used to make comparisons without any difference in meaning.
- You look like/as if/ as though you could use a cup of coffee. Du siehst aus als könntest du eine Tasse Kaffee vertragen.
- It looks like/as if/as though we’re in for some more snow today. Es sieht so aus, als ob uns heute noch mehr Schnee erwartet.
So much for today. In our next issue, we will see what other cars might be an option for Lucy and Jack. Perhaps some newer technologies as well. So, stay tuned!