I lost part of a wing mirror the other day. The peril of narrow London streets and other careless drivers. I didn’t even realise it had been damaged until the next day. How stupid? And then my attempt to protect the electrics from the exigencies of our variable April weather (see above) caused some hilarity at the garage. ‘Well done. Only just a tad pointless given wing mirrors are designed to fill with water and drain. You need to make a weep hole in the plastic’ which rather defeated my attempts to create a temporary fix. It just showed me – again – that I make assumptions and invariably they are wrong.
Another lesson relearnt from the humble wing mirror.
Much like when I hired a car in the Algarve circa 1993.
We had a day out in a local town along the coast. Day two and I’d really not got comfortable with the left hand drive thing. I continued to open the door when changing gear for instance.
And so it came to pass that we turned down a narrow street and I sort of forgot the bulk of the car was on my right rather than as is customary in the UK, on my left.
If you’ve whacked a wing mirror you’ll know what ‘Bang!’ is like. It sort of combines the explosiveness of the mortar shell with the surprise of the cold shower.
I did the decent thing. I stopped. A furious faced man appeared from a nearby cafe gesticulating in Portuguese. He may have been speaking Portuguese but initially at least I think he was incoherent in several languages.
I tried to pacify him, accepting my responsibility, trying to be especially British – all a bit mad dogs, Englishmen and too much sun, that sort of thing.
He appeared to have no English and my Portuguese hadn’t reached menu levels at that point So I dug into my wallet and proffered some notes. Liras I suppose back then. As more were pealed off the bundle, so did his temper decrease and his ability at English increase. Finally he nodded and about turned and headed for the cafe.
I sighed at having avoided some sort of international incident and fracas and drove away very slowly.
The next day, with the car not totally fit – lacking a wing mirror; mine had gone too – I went to the car hire outlet in Carvoeiro where we were staying. ‘I had a bit of an accident, I’m afraid,’ I began.
The man assured me that was no problem. We inspected the damage. They’d swap the car. ‘Did you talk to the other driver? Was it his fault?’
I admitted (a) it was mine (b) he’d come out of the cafe and berated me and (c) I had paid him off.
Had he threatened me?
Not per se. He was upset but at no stage physically threatening other than possibly to himself in that he looked capable of heart failure.
Did you take his details? Number plate? How did you know he was the driver/owner?
As the questions piled up, I realised my mistake. It was rather forcibly pointed out to me when the man asked me what I would have done in the UK had a similar incident occurred.
‘Mr Le Pard. We may be a foreign country to you but we are both part of the EU and have the rule of law (okay so I was tempted to point out that the Salazar and Caetano dictatorship wasn’t that long ago, but that would have been churlish of me). Why did you think it right to behave as if this was some sort of third world nation?’
Arrogance; an instinctive Britishness that meant I still thought ‘all foreigners began at Calais’ even as I espoused a more international viewpoint; fear of the unknown. That was the day I told myself to ask ‘what would I do at home?’ if in doubt as to the way to behave in unfamiliar situations. It doesn’t mean that is the way to behave but it does at least set a standard, create a template for how I react to other people and from which I can try and resolve whatever the issues are.
It is very easy to feel out of place and foolish. And usually it is because I make assumptions. Or I don’t ask questions? Or both.
One day, maybe, I’ll learn