07 May 2009

Your motor programs will betray you

This is the most pervasive and irritating thing you'll find. Sometimes the betrayals are simple annoyances, like with wall-mounted light switches. A properly installed UK light switch turns the light on when thrown in the down position, not up like in the US. I'm sure many guys will be familiar with the ability to enter a darkened room and, at just the right moment when you're breezing past the light switch and have just reached an arm's length away, will execute a perfectly timed upward sweep of the arm, catching the switch with the very tips of your fingers and turning on the lights, all without breaking stride. Do that in the UK, and your skillfully executed flick will have absolutely no impact on the room's illumination, leaving you free to trip over the kid's toys and do a faceplant into the cat's litterbox. And you'll do it again and again and again.

However, sometimes the betrayals are downright homicidal. Driving on the other side of the road (Brits hate it when Americans say “the wrong side”) has more subtle ramifications besides shifting with your left hand. Here, making a right turn requires you to look both ways, as that's the direction that crosses a lane of traffic. But you can rest assured that your brain has done it the other way for so long that it's positive that it only needs to look one way, and you're certain to give yourself more than a few pants-wetting experiences by unwittingly cutting across the path on an oncoming car.

The same thing applies to crosswalks; apparently they prove so problematic that many UK cities actually paint the words “Look Left” or “Look Right” directly at you feet on the curb to make sure that you aren't creamed by a black cab. Fortunately, your brain relearns these programs a lot faster than with the light switch.

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