Driving in Halifax: the Time when I became an Asshole

February 11, 2016 Katja Presnal

Driving in Canada

Culture shock behind the wheel

I bought a car. It still has a temporary license taped to the window, and every single bit of my driving and the car screams “I am less than 30 days new here.” Thank God I chose a car that blends in, and NO, I can not say which one, or post a picture or let you know anything about the car, because I need to at least try to keep my identity unrecognizable. Heck, I can’t even post a picture of Halifax streets on this post, because I am afraid someone will recognize the streets I drive in.

At first, I was considering of getting a promotional sticker for my car, now I can’t. Not after I started actually driving the car everyday. Not, because nobody here would ever buy anything from me or want to read my blog, not after seeing me being an asshole in the traffic. And you know me, right???!!! I don’t use the word asshole often here, but “rude” or “not nice” just didn’t cut it, and the synonyms for a-hole aren’t any better, and yes, I looked, because that’s how nice I am normally – I try not to even use the words like asshole when writing. But now when I am one, there is no going back, and there is no word in the thesaurus that could make it better.

Thanks for living in New York!!! Thanks for living in Germany!! Thanks for living in Sweden!!! Now I am an asshole in the traffic in the nicest country in the world. And I even learned to drive from the nicest guy in the world, my dad. I feel like a total screw up.

They say Canadians are nice and it’s an understatement. Canadians sweat maple syrup, that’s how sweet they are. I feel like a frigging asshole here, and I am not an asshole, and it really pisses me off. Now, normally at least when I speak with people here, I can still recover just by saying something nice, right? But in traffic? NOOOO! There is no recovery.

Let me explain. In normal towns, you follow the traffic rules, and then there are assholes who go through when the light is already red, pass you on the left side – only to slow down in the front of you to turn right. Or suddenly break and turn left without a turning signal and nobody knows what they are doing or who they might hit. And don’t let me even get started with the parents at the school pick-up line.

In many towns when you are “nice” in traffic, you are in fact an asshole in traffic, because when you stop nicely for one person — you stall the traffic for five behind you. This is not considered “nice” in many of the places where I have been driving. There are places like Germany, where you literally get ticketed if you use passing lane for just driving along and not passing other cars, or when you try to pass on right. They drive faster than anywhere else, and they can do so, because there are rules that everyone is expected to follow. The Scandinavians love their roundabouts and it’s “fair for all” mentality. People give you half of a second pass to cut in the front of them, but if you miss it, you lose. Driving, even if it is “assholelish” at times, is democratic like everything else – the common sense and the common good is higher than the individual benefit. I felt like the nicest person in traffic in New York and Sweden, and driving was like a self-confidence boost for being the nice person on the block.

Things are not like this in Halifax and I am freaking out!!! In Halifax you drive a major city street and if there are people waiting long enough on the side streets trying to move to the major street, people stop driving and halt the entire traffic so the person from the side street will get through. It doesn’t matter if there are STOP signs, they are NOT meant for nice people who WANT TO let you go first. Same if you are driving on the major four lane city street and trying to turn left — BOTH of the cars on two lanes coming towards you will stop to let you go through. You get into a roundabout and look confused? No worries, they will make a full stop in the traffic for you and let you go where ever you want to. People see a person walking on the street and there is a crosswalk ten meters away? They slow down and almost stop JUST in case the person might want to cross the street.

Often I am like “what??? You are stopping THE ENTIRE traffic for ME? To get into your lane? Are you sure? Because you have twenty people behind you???” And they look at me “yes, you obviously-not-from-here person. We are NICE here, this is what we do.” And I am so confused. I feel like I am an asshole for cutting in the front of twenty cars, but I am also an asshole if I don’t and let them go first, because they were so nice that they offered. Crossing the street by foot is scary too. You literally should just get on the street and start crossing and people will stop for you. If you wait and wait on the side of the street that ALL four lanes are stopped, you are an asshole for not crossing the street soon enough. You should just “get in there” and the cars will stop. Same like as a driver you should be prepared that someone might cross the street so be ready to let them go. Crosswalks? Nah, not that needed, when people are so nice that they let you cross the street wherever you want to!!!

We were told that Halifax schools are all “walkable schools” but we live quite far from the high school, so I drive the kids. I now understand why it is all “walkable” because it probably is sometimes faster just to walk than deal with the traffic. The traffic is so random though. Some mornings it’s completely stalled and then the next morning there is nobody on the streets and I am wondering if we left an hour late or something.

I’m not going to give up though, and one of these days… I will get that promotional sticker in my car and drive proudly. I mean, nicely.

On a side note. I’ve said a few times I feel like living in Halifax is like living in an episode of Portlandia… And I JUST remembered this one…

I rest my case.

Post by Katja Presnal

“My mission is to inspire you to live life to the fullest and find your own “skimbaco,” how you enjoy life where ever you are in the moment. For ideas for travel, home, food and fashion, subscribe to weekly Skimbaco Lifestyle feed on Mondays and I hope you get my newsletter that I send out sometimes on Fridays.” Katja Presnal, editor-in-chief and the owner of Skimbaco Lifestyle.

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Katja Presnal

Katja Presnal shows how to live globally inspired life to the fullest and plan your dream life. Katja owns Presnal5 strategic marketing intelligence agency and wants to help marketing professionals to combine a dream career and dream life via freelance work.Katja is an award-winning marketing strategist, and a well-known speaker. Katja has lived in five different countries, and seven states in the USA. Her three children were all born in different countries within three years. When not working or jet-setting the world, Katja is at home cooking big family dinners.She has been featured in NY Times, Glamour, Redbook, Fodor's, Forbes and Woman's Day magazines among many other national and international publications and written for MTV3 and Lifetime TV networks.

Comments (7)

  1. Katja, I am laughing out loud at this post. I can safely say you have hit on the Maritimer way. I married one of those, and I can assure you, as a Canadian, it is not like that everywhere. I also feel like an a-hole when I go there to visit. Enjoy the moments (even as absurd as they are) its a lovely post. thanks for the newsletter today, haven’t heard from you in a while and encouraged me to come back to your site. :) Cheers!

  2. Naomi

    This made me laugh! I am a total old lady driver, so I am sure I would turn into an asshole quickly, too…

    • Enjoy Life Oils

      Totally – I am like “noooo, don’t force me to go in the front of you! I have a STOP sign! I have to STOP and wait!!” Or the opposite — I try to speed up to “get from people’s way” like my mother would say – it’s the European way of being a polite driver — going so fast that you are not making anyone to make weird stops and the traffic flows nicely. Do not do it here. Rather STOP and make the entire traffic stall, because speeding is devil’s work.

  3. Thank you for my morning laugh Katja! There is definitely an east coast niceness that is above and beyond the normal high level of “niceness” that I think us Canadians share.

    When I visited Newfoundland I had the crosswalk experience – cars stopped way before I would reach a crosswalk because they were anticipating that I was going to be crossing. I was as baffled as you, but so impressed with Canadian-east-coast-mankind :)

    Love, love your Halifax updates my dear!

    • Enjoy Life Oils

      I know, right? You have to be careful here even about thinking of crossing the street :)

  4. Pam

    Do not worry, you’ll get onto the “Canadian way”. Actually, I think you are among the nicest people in all of Canada, come to Ontario, there are plenty of A-holes here.

    • Enjoy Life Oils

      Not worried! Just puzzled how differently things are viewed in different places of the world and how traffic culture can be so different! Already love it here!

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