In 2004 I spent five weeks driving across America. I don’t remember struggling with the ‘wrong’ side of the road other than at roundabouts, of which there were, mercifully, only two. Once home I pulled onto the right-hand side exactly one time, which scared me enough that it hasn’t happened since. The one thing that broke and never came back, though, was instinctively knowing which side of the motorway I should be on. Not, like, which slip road do I use, but whether it’s the left or right lane that’s for standard, non-overtaking, driving. I regularly have flashes of ‘hang on, should I be here?’, and need a moment to figure it out. I haven’t yet got it wrong – subconscious seems to know what it’s doing – but the certainty has gone.
It’s exactly like how I instinctively know left and right, but east and west need cognition. The default motorway lane switched from instinctive to cognitive, and hasn’t changed in four years.
I bring this up because last weekend I used a foreign keyboard for two solid days. Along with various cool cyrillic characters, it switched the @ and “. I had to type a lot of @s, and this entire week I’ve had the same cognitive pause with every email address. Normally I’d think it temporary, but it feels identical to the motorway thing. Damn it. That could get annoying.