Expat's embarrassing encounter with Aussie police on first drive

Kirsten Laiken Brown
·6-min read

Why must the curvatures of aeroplane seats contort the human body in such unnatural ways? It is punishing! I was sure I had arrived in Oz, yet my lower back wasn't. It felt as though a piece of it was still attached to the aeroplane seat.

I knew instantly that I needed to see a chiropractor. My fiancé had arranged to leave me his car so the following day before he departed for work, he tossed me the keys.

police car on the street close up
American expat Kirsten recounts her first day on Aussie roads. Photo: Getty Images.

As he walked down the stairs, I heard the echo of his voice say: “You’ll be right… just drive in the middle of the road!” Then his voice disappeared.

Drive in the middle? Did he just tell me to go right? I thought.

I admit I was nervous to drive but pain will motivate one to do things they normally wouldn't and that day, it happened to me as I mustered up the courage to drive.

As I sat in the driver’s seat, already feeling awkward, all I could think of was the fact I was on the wrong side of the car. I took in a deep breath, wiped a few beads of sweat away from my upper lip and gripped the steering wheel tightly.

“Okay Kirsten, you can do this.”

Almost being flattened by an oncoming bus the day before crossed my mind. A swift yank of my t-shirt by my now-husband's hand had saved my life! Note to self: Don’t look left when traffic is coming in from the right. Everything is opposite.


Okay… Navigation on.

I began to drive. I had never in my life felt so envious of Miss Daisy, but there I was. Staying on the correct side of the road took effort, streets are smaller than in the states and the car continued to drift to the wrong side of the road but with clammy palms, I persevered. I was saved by merely following cars in front of me. The road signs looked different and my eyes bounced around at the new landscape of Australia that was now my new home.

I drove past a digital street sign. It read “Renew your rego?” What is rego? Ohhh registration, I realised. Government signs abbreviate here? That’s casual, I thought.

I drove towards what the navigation referred to as a “roundabout.”

I approached the large circle.

“Take the second exit," the navigation instructed. I looked for a car to follow but I was all alone. Which way do they all drive around the circle? I rhetorically questioned.

Which one is the second exit? I guess if I'm on this road, I'm on the first exit? I gripped the steering wheel tightly. There was no time to waste. In a rash moment, I decided the road to my right would be the second exit. It seemed logical enough.

I turned right. Away I went. I continued driving slowly when I passed a white car with a blue stripe. I didn't catch what it was really, it could have been any company logo or neighbourhood security.

I did, however, happen to catch a look of raised eyebrows and sheer confusion from the female face within it. As her mouth made various O looking shapes, it seemed as though she was mouthing the words, “What are you doing?”

Not sure what that's about, I thought. I continued to drive. I was three minutes from my destination.

I had a routine glance into my rear-view mirror and I saw bright flashing lights.

“Please pull over!” A female voice demanded over a loudspeaker.

Oh my god, I thought. It’s for me.

My eyes darted, scanning the street for a place to park. In a nervous jumble, I decided to make a right and I pulled over where I had spotted a safe place.

I turned off the engine, rolled down the window and pulled out my driver’s license just the same way I would have back home in LA.

Kirsten Laiken Brown and her husband
Kirsten with her Aussie husband. Photo: supplied.

Oh my god, my fiancé is going to kill me. On my first drive out, I was getting a ticket, going to lose my driver's license and the car would be towed. Winning! I thought.

“G'day,” the officer said, flashing me a smile.

Wow, I thought to myself. She smiled and actually said good day? That was quite different to being treated as though I was automatically packing a Glock like it was back home.

“I’ve been pulling ya over for the last two blocks, you didn’t hear me?” she asked. “I am so sorry,” I nervously replied, struggling to get the words out over the knot in my throat. “Canadian?” she asked.

“No American, I just got here yesterday, this is my first drive. I was trying to get to my chiropractor appointment,“ I replied.

“Here’s your license back. This will be a warning. You’ll be right, just drive in the middle of the road,” she said, comforting me.

Why does everyone keep saying this? I thought to myself.

Appreciatively I replied, “Thank you.”

“Would it be possible to follow you back to my place just to be safe?” I asked. “Nah, you’ll be right, just don’t kill anyone,” she advised with a chuckle.

“If I’m asking you to escort me home, it’s because neither myself or others are safe with me on the road!” I quietly said to myself.

She continued, “I’m just taking the piss.”

Now my eyebrows raised. My world went silent… the same type of silent as a live concert losing its sound mid-song. What the what, did she just say to me? I questioned. Did she just say she’s taking my urine––I blinked a few times considering my own thought––and where is she going to take it to? She walked away before I could ask. Probably best, I thought.

I opted out of my chiropractor appointment. Instead, I asked my fiancé to drive me the following day. The officer was correct about two things, actually: I was alright and driving in the middle of the road helped me make it back safely.

Sometimes a little humour and a relaxed Aussie vibe are all you need to stay on track and you’ll be right… oh, and ten private driving lessons to ensure it stays that way. I love my colourful Aussie adventures.

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