Some life experiences are endured precisely for laughs at dinner parties. One’s first lost tooth or learning the truth about Santa. Learning to drive is one of these unforgettable moments. I still remember my first experience behind the wheel. At the ripe age of 13, I remember learning how to accelerate on open gravel while my mother screams to keep my hands at 10 and 2. Although mine was not as hysterical as my brother’s experience, it is engraved in my hippocampus.


            Being the American that I am, I learned on an automatic. Never thought much of it, as many of my classmates learned on the same sort of cars. When my friend mentioned her learning on a stick shift, I learned there is something beyond the confines of my normative 2002 Toyota Camry.


When my best friend drove me around on said jerky car, it seemed out of the ordinary, pre- technological, old- fashioned. Due to my naïve American mentality, I questioned her parents’ decisions. Why would one buy a stick shift if it is outdated, if it is more difficult, strenuous, and required constant activity? It dawned on me she did not have the choice due in fact that manuals are cheap.


The second time I encountered a manual car was during my four-month study abroad in Tahiti, French Polynesia. My French friends asked me if I knew how to drive. I considered myself a seasoned driver- driving through the frozen tundra Iowa winters yield; I could handle the heat of Tahiti. I quickly found, I could not drive manual. I did not know what the third pedal could possibly be for. My right foot only drives, not my left.


As I did all things in Tahiti, I concluded this cultural oddity to be “Because its Tahiti”. Tahiti is on the other side of the world, it required imports, and it often was behind on technological advances, because, well, it is Tahiti.


The problem with my conclusion is that this manual occurrence is not only found in Tahiti, found in most countries. From Oslo to Dubai to Reunion, manual is the majority of automobiles. Americans are in the minority, contrary to my previous belief.


I found myself in a similar situation once again, but this time in Reunion. This time, my response was, “Yes, I drive, but with an automatic.” My French friend laughed in my face. “Automatic is not driving- manual is driving. Automatic is for lazy people.” I might be offended by his remarks, as such an adjective is rarely associated with my name, but when his response is in the majority, I figured something must be up.


            Recently I received the question “Why are Americans developing self-driving cars- cars (where the driver’s exclusive responsibility is to turn the car on and sit inside). “Isn’t the point of driving to enjoy the action-- of driving? Is it not appealing to Americans?”


            In my response, “For Americans, driving is a trivial act. It is a nuisance- only used to move oneself to and fro.” Perhaps if they lived in a location where it takes 15-45 minutes on average to drive to work, they might realize why Americans prefer to use precious time to be productive.


            On the contrary, they have a point. I have only begun to question the reasoning behind American technological advances. There seems to be something spectacular and enriching about driving with a manual on the road. I deduce it is a similar feeling most drag racers feel when driving over 100 miles per hour on open concrete.


            A personal viewpoint, I enjoy buses and trains. It allows me the opportunity to see details of countryside, oceans, and people watching which I do not normally take note of when attempting not to hit anything with my ton of steel. I appreciate listening to music and taking pictures. While I can do this when driving, car accident statistics advise me otherwise.


Therein lays the intricacies of my ponderings- if not the enjoyment of transportation, what of the contrary? The strain transportation elicits for the rest of the 21st century population. Kansas City, Missouri is one of the best examples of the effects of technological advances, city expansionism. Transportation variety becomes more and more necessary in wide geographic urbanization as walking continues to be recognized as primitive and most importantly, slow. In locations where walking is out of the question, where buses and trains are nonexistent, cars are the only source of convenient personal shipment. Therefore, those utilizing a car as their only source of transportation may not regard a car to such high sentiment as someone with the choice to use a car, bus, or train. When choices are nonexistent, transportation enjoyment is excluded from the equation.


I cannot blame my mother for teaching me the ways of automatic vehicles. In the variety of automobile choices, automatic presented the cheapest and quickest means to teach a young lady. American economics in other words taught us the best bang for our buck, time and energy included. 


But does it bode well for the American stereotype? Americans, the lazy, loud bunch they really are. Or does the manual vs. automatic debate represent more than the extra pedal may lead us to believe.


Any developer or advertiser will tell you, an invention is only as good as the desire of its clientele. American vehicle developers tell us more about American mentalities if we watch close enough at their commercials. Although each commercial exhibits someone driving through the winding roads of the countryside, a self-driving automatic car reveals one of the most important American values: time. Self-driving vehicles are only a response of the American demand to be on time. Work ethic and efficiency is only a bi-product of the preservation of daylight.


On the other side of the Atlantic, my French friend’s question, “Does the art of driving not appeal to Americans?” represents an imperative French value, the art of action. The French’s preference of a two-hour lunch break and perfection of some of the finest cuisine in the world reflects their appreciation of quality. Time is nothing unless spent wisely. Any action is only wrong if there is no purpose behind said action.


It is no surprise my French friend told me, “I drive my car because I don’t like the bus.”  This sentence would never come out of an American’s mouth. Something like, “I take my car because it is quicker than the bus” would however. Therefore noting the difference in mentality of transportation. An American decides to take a car due to efficiency while the French drive a car out of personal preference.


In attempting to be objective in deciphering whether Americans are lazy in preference to drive automatic, I conclude Americans are not lazy, but rather the opposite. Americans only wish to utilize their time efficiently in hopes to make it to work on time. Due to their mentality, driving is an inconvenience. While, the French continue to regard something as mundane as driving an action of art- a movement to be enjoyed.


I may suggest more countries offer automatic options and wish I learned how to drive manual first. It sure would make my life a little easier, but what is the point of traveling if there is no opportunity to explore cultural eccentrics. Values are at the heart of all aspects of a society, even its transportation systems. Maybe I will give a moped chance… just maybe. 

Published by MacKenzie Bills