I have an American friend who is trying to come to terms with living in the UK, with all its quaintness and charm. After a number of years of connecting with local families he can now cope with the differences in language and the speed, and spelling, of our ‘humor’. There is one thing, however, that bemuses him and turns him into a nervous wreck, mumbling under his breath whilst checking the internet for flights back home. Car Parks! He just cannot understand why there is so little room between each space. 'How do you park in them?' he will often ask and to be honest I don’t have a complete answer.

I suppose, in truth, lack of space is something we get used to from birth. We are an island nation and, as such, are practically standing shoulder to shoulder, or should that be bumper to bumper. Anyway! He does have a point, after trying to decide who to vote for in the ‘X Factor’ parking is probably one of the most stressful pastimes that we have.

You drive in to the already heaving area outside the supermarket and immediately switch into fighter pilot mode, eyes scanning each lane for either a space or any sign of movement that might indicate someone has had enough and is about to go. More experienced parkers recognise the true signs and look for brake or reversing lights to switch on, or perhaps that short puff of carbon monoxide telling you a car engine has just been ignited. If all this fails you have only two options left.

Firstly, you can pick a lane and sit, holding your ground whilst fending off other would be shoppers, giving them a stern 'I am about to park next, thank you very much' expression. Marking out your territory you position yourself about half way down the section and put your indicator on so as to encourage other drivers to ‘just keep on moving’.

Secondly, you could spy a shopper coming out of the supermarket, heavy laden with bags, and follow them around the car park until they arrive at their vehicle. Then you park across their vehicle so others are made aware of your intentions. This method does have the danger of making you look like a would-be stalker so don’t be surprised if security arrive and start speaking loudly into their radios.
Experience will show you that it is very rarely fruitful to follow a solo guy on his way out of the shop. He will be most likely popping back to the car to either put some bags in the boot or escaping to take a crafty moment to listen to the football on the radio whilst his wife is trying on shrunken jeans in the changing rooms. Either way you will follow him to certain disappointment as he mimes to you 'I AM NOT GOING YET' whilst waving his arms in an attempt at helping his communications.

Parking is also a problem because my wife is always severely disappointed in my choice of space. After driving round for what seems like an eternity she declares 'You just missed one', a comment that is designed to make me stop and try to reverse into shopping trolleys. When we eventually find a space she is joined in her disquiet by our daughters asking why I couldn’t find one nearer to the shops.

My favorite parking episode, however, concerns the day that, to my amazement, we arrived early to a large shopping complex to find the car park practically empty. Not being accustomed to finding ourselves in this position we reverted to type and drove around a couple of times before I decided on a suitable place to rest our vehicle. My wife couldn’t resist a final word as she said 'You passed a better place just over there.'

My America friend assures me that although car parks are different across the pond, wives are exactly the same.