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Driving when you don't speak the language

Driving when you don't speak the language

Old Feb 27th, 2005, 01:22 PM
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Join Date: Feb 2005
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Driving when you don't speak the language

Anyone experienced problems when driving in countries when you don't speak the language? I will be spending 2 weeks traveling between France, Germany, and Switzerland. I speak a little French, but no German and I worry about driving in Germany? Any comments or thoughts?
melstravel is offline  
Old Feb 27th, 2005, 01:35 PM
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You'll have no problems if you understand the simple Euro highway signage.
On die Autobahnen, watch your side and rear view mirrors constantly and never spend time in the passing lanes.
If you see an Eastern European license plate, be prepared to stand on the brakes 'cuz they may pull into your lane without looking despite a 100 mph speed differential.
mikemo is offline  
Old Feb 27th, 2005, 02:12 PM
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Maybe print out and keep this handy for your navigator - -

Best wishes,

rex is offline  
Old Feb 27th, 2005, 02:42 PM
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We were driving around Kiel, Germany looking for the Colorline Ferry, so we could get over to Norway. My husband stopped at a gas station, stopped people on the street, and even rolled down his window at a stop light and asked directions from two men in a truck that were stopped next to us. People just started at us with blank faces. No one spoke English. My son and I were laughing so hard while my husband was getting more and more frustrated, but what else could you do? I asked my husband what he expected. What if someone stopped us at a stop sign in Indiana and started speaking German to us? Eventually we did find the ferry by just driving around and looking for signs, but with only seconds to spares.

Suggestion: Just make sure you know where you’re going before you leave.
Marlie is offline  
Old Feb 27th, 2005, 02:58 PM
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Hi mel, the first time we went to Italy my husband drove in Italy (including Milan, Rome and Naples) for two months.
Believe it or not, it went fine. Well except of course for the time he went down the wrong way on a one way street in Milan for example but that is another story for another day.

His Italian was not good. Although three years of Latin certainly helped.

You will be fine. The only thing I always suggest is do not rent the car the day you arrive in Europe. You will have jet lag. Wait until the next day. By then you will have had decent food (hopefully!), fresh air and a good nights sleep.

Also, if you haven't thought of it, do get the International Driver's License. You can get this at an AAA office, even if you are not a member of AAA.

And when you pick up the car check it out to make sure there is not any damage. Some people I know actually photograph the car as proof before they drive off.

And have the rental agency person go over all the controls with you. This will help you feel more relaxed.

And have a wonderful trip!
LoveItaly is offline  
Old Feb 27th, 2005, 02:59 PM
Join Date: Mar 2004
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FWIW, all our cabdrivers here in New York drive even when they don't speak the language.
ezlivin is offline  
Old Feb 27th, 2005, 06:13 PM
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Not speaking the language is not really an issue.

Just two tips -

Make sure you understand how everything on the car works before you leave the rental office. Be especially sure to get info on gas tanks/selection (in europe they still have some leaded gas - and if you try to put it in a car requiring unleaded the hose thing can get stuck).

And get some really good maps - major road maps and street by street city maps of wherever you will be. (It amazes me the number of people who set off driving without a clue where they're going - and then are surprised when they get lost!)
nytraveler is offline  
Old Feb 28th, 2005, 08:19 AM
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Also make sure you know how to pay the highway tolls before you go if possible. We were a little confused on how to use our credit card for the Autostrade in Italy last summer but it finally worked out after a slight delay.
cooltones57 is offline  
Old Feb 28th, 2005, 08:25 AM
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Turn on the GPS. Select "English." Bahn frei!
Robespierre is offline  
Old Feb 28th, 2005, 08:38 AM
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You may want to study up on international road signs (the European way of dealing with people who don't speak the language).
AisleSeat is offline  
Old Feb 28th, 2005, 08:50 AM
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And remember that Ausfahrt means exit...
beachbum is offline  
Old Feb 28th, 2005, 08:51 AM
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I once offered my laminated Paris map to a friend headed to Paris who was worried sick she wouldn't be able to find her way. She looked at the map and said, "this won't do me any good. I don't read French." Huh? If you're looking for a street called Leaumoniapretique, and see one on the map with those same letters, can't you figure out that's probably the street you're looking for even when you can't imagine what it means?

Driving is not that different. You are looking for place names and follow the signs. If you were in some foreign country and saw an octagonal sign at an intersection that said "PFIX" on it, you'd probably be able to guess that pfix means "stop". Review signs before you go, but it really isn't difficult.
Patrick is offline  
Old Feb 28th, 2005, 09:04 AM
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I gather you are traveling alone which will make it a little more difficult, but I'm sure you will do fine. I am the navigator for my husband when we drive in Europe and we get along fine.

As others have suggested, familiarize yourself with the signage. Often I've noticed that the next town is the one noted on road signs, rather than the next largest city for example, so it's good to know the names of the towns on the way to your destination.

We have found that drivers on the highway in both Italy and France were polite and if you signal for a lane change they will let you in. No one drives in the fast lane except to pass.

Good maps are essential. Familiarizing yourself with your car and what gasoline to use also good advice. You might want to check out gas stations and how they work before you leave. I'm sorry I don't have a web site to suggest for this.

Also, I have always thought that renting your car in advance from the US (if that's where you're from) is always less expensive than renting in Europe after you arrive. Correct me if I'm wrong.
Giovanna is offline  
Old Feb 28th, 2005, 09:27 AM
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Yes, renting the car from the US is less expensive then making the reservations in Europe (or least Italy). We found that out the hard way one time.
LoveItaly is offline  
Old Feb 28th, 2005, 11:51 AM
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I'm an American who lives in Germany. Take it from me - definitely travel the posted speed limit. I was under the misconception that it was only a recommended speed limit of 130 km/h. There are undercover polizei who will slap huge fines on you and make you pay on the spot for going over the limit. The two undercovers who pulled me over on the Autobahn were both in older BMWs. Also, beware of bridges. They are often down to 100 km/h. Other than that, not difficult to drive here. If you get off on the side roads, beware of speed cameras.
srice_53098 is offline  
Old Feb 28th, 2005, 11:59 AM
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There's a great little book called Signposts: German, that is exclusively devoted to reading signs, road and otherwise. It talks about the abbreviations, colloquialsms, and all kinds of other useful things. I wish they had one in Italian.
capxxx is offline  
Old Feb 28th, 2005, 12:13 PM
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Just sold my modified '88 BMW M6 - 170 mph - nearly 275 kph. Die Bimmers will hammer you.
Seriously, if you drive in a disciplined manner, you'll have no problems.
mikemo is offline  
Old Feb 28th, 2005, 12:39 PM
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Srice - I hear that. I just got a speeding ticket in the mail that I got somewhere near Heidelberg in December. So, they don't always pull you over, but that ticket WILL find you!
celticdreams is offline  
Old Feb 28th, 2005, 01:31 PM
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Let me just stress one thing again for driving in Germany:
Whenever you´re not overtaking some other car or aren´t considerably faster than all the others, MOVE OVER!

It´s illegal for other drivers to overtake you on the right hand lane. So they´ll have to wait for you to get out of the way and yes, they´ll get annoyed... ;-)
Kascha912 is offline  
Old Feb 28th, 2005, 01:59 PM
Join Date: May 2004
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If you don't speak the language, it is probably better to stop talking to yourself and concentrate on your driving.
vedette is offline  

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