Immigrants Making Progress

A charming newcomer, whom I will call Kay, has asked me about various things that she doesn’t understand. A previous blog post has already discussed the bewilderment she experienced in being told she had to be credentialized—a word that does not exist in the dictionary.

Two women riding a scooter
Ladies on Scooter, Bangalore, India from Jay Bergerson via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

This week we shared driving stories and accident experiences.  She formerly rode a motor scooter but found that they are rarely used here.  Even if they were, she is nervous about driving again because she once got her headscarf caught up in the wheel and fell off the scooter.

Now she is learning to drive a car because public transportation is simply inadequate for her and her family’s needs. She asked me how I developed my driving skills and if I ever get nervous in traffic.  I reassured her that, yes I was sometimes nervous in traffic, and in fact I had re-learned to drive a couple of times.

I first learned to drive in the UK as a teenager, and then took lessons again when I arrived in Canada. I needed to learn how to drive on the other side of the road and to memorize the Canadian driving manual.  Many years later, after a serious accident had made me anxious about driving, I took lessons again, this time with a focus on freeway driving.

Woman holding car key
from Asid Saeem via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Kay has already passed the written test and memorized the manual, but the practical aspects of driving are still overwhelming.  Her question was “How do you learn to drive when there is nowhere safe to practise?” My recommendation was for her to find a place that is quiet, like a suburban shopping mall parking lot, or an industrial area on a Sunday, in order to master the mechanical process of driving.  After that, I suggested, she could practise entering the freeway and the other more worrying aspects of driving in traffic.

Cars merging into traffic
Traffic Jam (via

As I think about there being “nowhere safe,” though, I realize how aggressive and impatient we must seem to people who come from places that have less, or less frantic, traffic. They see us dashing about in our cars, changing lanes for no apparent reason and often without signalling. The need to speed up on the on-ramp to reach highway speeds in a matter of seconds seems unnecessarily impatient. And even when we do that, there is no guarantee that a space will open up to let us in.

It is the dog-eat-dog world of selfishness that doesn’t come easily to everyone. (Ayn Rand has a lot to answer for.) We don’t all feel as though we need to overtake everyone or get anywhere as fast as possible, but the highway makes us all more assertive.

Once, when I was driving with a friend in Calgary, she told me that I had left too much of a gap between my car and the car in front. I said I was comfortable where I was. She replied “But, someone will sneak into that space!” and I said I was OK with that. I don’t mind if someone wants to move in front of me.

My new immigrant friend and I are both too laid back and accommodating for aggressive highway driving, but we can both learn to fit in and stay out of trouble. That doesn’t mean we don’t have strength or purpose. It just means we value peace of mind as much as we value progress.





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