Spiegelei

The Swiss signage for a priority road is a diamond with a thick white border and canary yellow center. When the kids were little, they’d see one and shout, “Spiegelei!”—fried egg in German. Collect the most fried eggs on the drive from A to B, and you win!

Spiegelei!”

I first learned to drive at the age of fourteen. Living in the country—we’d moved to Oregon after my dad retired from the air force—meant I qualified for a learner’s permit. Pass a written test, and I could drive in the company of a licensed adult. My brother was off at college, my sister never around, and Mom and Dad tired of being my driving buddy; soon, I journeyed solo. When I turned sixteen, I could have taken the full drivers exam, but driving course classmates told intimidating stories about malicious examiners. I dawdled. The summer before I left for college, though, Dad was doing insurance paperwork and asked for my license number. I brought him my expired permit, and he paled.

I funked my first driving test by failing to stop at train rails embedded in the street, remnants of an industrial spur that’d been abandoned circa WWII—or was that WWI? To either side of the pavement, not even gravel remained of the old spur. “If I’d stopped,” I argued with the examiner, “the driver behind us might have plowed right into my backend.” The same man failed my second attempt. We were stopped at a traffic light when an ambulance approached. Left of me was a traffic island; right of me, a column of cars. The examiner said I hadn’t “pulled over to allow the ambulance room to pass.” Seriously? On my third attempt, my nerves spiked higher than a cat’s back: I didn’t want the same examiner. I got lucky, even receiving praise for my driving skills. But oh, how my family teased me.

In 1990, I moved to Switzerland. Since I had a valid US license, the canton of Aargau issued me an Ausweis. Legal to drive, I hopped into our Opel, and off I went. Markus and I never went over any rules of the road or signage possibly alien to me, including the European concept of priority roads.

Five years later, we lived on the Île-de-France and Normandy border west of Paris. At a T-intersection one day, a driver turning left cut across my lane. I slammed on my brakes. Luckily, no kids were with me. I complained to Markus about the weird intersection, drivers frequently honking at me there. He paled and said, “Take me to it.”

A fried egg and its vital cousin.

Well, I learned about the fried egg and its vital cousin with the bold black line, informing me when I did or didn’t have priority. All those drivers honking at me? They’d been on the priority road and I should have céder le passage.

Rights of way might not always appear logical. It’s best to understand the signage.