Friday, June 1, 2012

The car's the star

As taken by Louis

ASK THE soon-to-be four year old about his trip highlights and barely a few days in I know what they’ll feature. The car. Or, to be precise, “the Vol-vo car” as he calls it. And who could blame him. Not only is the car a joy - even for a passenger a four-hour stint zips by - but a session on the open road affords the perfect opportunity to cross several stereotypes off the master checklist.

First up has to be conformity, from the number of fellow Vol-vo drivers out there, to their absolute dedication to conform to what is expected of them on the roads. Chiefly, sticking to the speed limit. Even when it’s set at an absurdly low 80km/hr on a deserted road north that passes through never-ending forests. And never over-taking, not even when crawling after a log carrier for kilometer after kilometer after kilometer.

Brushing 110km/hr on the motorway (speed limit 100km/hr) west out of Gothenburg instantly earned us the raised eyebrows and a glare from a motorbike-riding policeman, who just happened to pull up along side us.

Then there’s the nagging voice of Vol-vo, which butts in to interrupt your driving reveries if your attention so much as falters for a second. Cross the dotted white lines between lanes without indicating and it will beep: “Don’t do that, don’t do that, don’t that”. Get too close to the car in front and the engine will slow down for you, and as for swerving, momentarily, into the hard shoulder: an image of a coffee cup flashes up on the dashboard, warning: “Driver alert, take a break.” If only it could brew up a cup on the spot.

Ultimately the lack of speeding underlines Swedes’ rationality: it’s bonkers to risk one’s life for the sake of arriving somewhere five minutes earlier. Or not at all, if all goes wrong. But mankind isn’t designed to be rational, especially not when cosseted inside the comforting frame of a Vol-vo car.

Not that Louis is fussed about national stereotypes. He mainly likes the electric windows, and the button on the key that lifts the boot automatically. Not forgetting “speaky lady”, the authoritative voice of the in-built GPS that must have saved countless marriages the world over by taking the rap for dodgy directions. I guess kids just defer to authority, much like the Swedes, or so it seems. 

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