January 4, 2008

Possibly almost licensed

Having passed the notoriously difficult written portion of the test for my French driver’s license a few weeks ago and spent several further hours behind the wheel with an instructor from the driving school by my side, I was finally able to take my road test this morning. It was nerve-wracking, as I’d anticipated. I was mentally prepared for either of two outcomes: I pass and get my license, or I fail, take more lessons, and try the test again in a few weeks. Of course I hoped very much to pass, but given how unusual (from my perspective) the French traffic laws and expected driver behavior are, I accepted the possibility that I wouldn’t please the inspector on my first try. What I was completely unprepared for was what actually happened. I finished the course—having performed, I felt, generally quite well (though with a couple of minor flubs)—only to have the inspector tell me that she’d send me the results of my exam by mail.

What…seriously? After all this anticipation and anxiety, I don’t even get a thumbs-up or thumbs-down at the end? Amazing but true. I have to wait for an envelope in my mailbox (supposedly as early as Monday) with the good or bad news. Geez.

I think I passed. I was feeling good vibes from the inspector (95% of the time, anyway) and from my instructor—who sat in the backseat the whole time, ostensibly to translate, though in fact she barely said two words throughout the whole test. (Luckily, I have mastered the French expressions for “turn right,” “turn left,” “go straight,” and “park here,” which comprised the bulk of the instructions given during the exam.) But I don’t really know; the things I perceived as “oh-by-the-way-look-out-for-this” kinds of reminders may have been intended as “you-idiot-anyone-who-misses-this-obvious-thing-fails-instantly.” I guess I’ll find out in a few days.

Update (January 5, 2008): I passed!

6 Responses to “Possibly almost licensed”

  1. Glenn Fleishman said:

    I say this without any trace of bigotry, having visited France three times, but the French appear to me to be terrible drivers. Not as bad as the Italians. Not as bad as the Swiss guy I was driving with who was passing on a blind curve, talking over his shoulder to me, about to enter a tunnel (all turned out fine). But not great drivers. In the U.S., there is a generally competent level of driving even as there are plenty of outriders who drive poorly. And I want to impose a mandatory driver retesting (road only) for people every few years, damn the course.

    But still!

    Anyway, it’s very French that they would mail you the results, instead of just, you know, telling you, and then sending you something formal.

    My favorite experience driving in France (as a passenger) was in a Lexus SUV driven by a friend (who works for a Lexus reseller) with a GPS that said in a sultry female French voice, “tournez a gauche…maitenant.”

  2. Glenn Fleishman said:

    I meant to write “damn the cost,” but “damn the course” works, too.

  3. sims said:

    In a certain Mediterranean country, a few months ago, that silence you experienced might have been the pregnant pause before handing over an envelope which would ensure that one passed.

    Failure to recognize the meaning of that silence might have been taken as refusing to pass an envelope (the test also). But… the bad inspectors have been slapped and now life shall go on in a very correct manner 😉

    People here do not drive exclusively on the right or left, the drive in the shade.

  4. MHA said:

    Glenn, my TomTom can be set to speak French, and its sultry female voice often tempts me to leave it that way. 🙂

    So, Joe, what are some of the odd driving behaviour differences you’ve noticed? I didn’t really have any trouble driving in France last spring.

  5. Joe Kissell said:

    MHA: I barely know where to begin. Well, first of all, there’s the whole priorité à droite rule, which means that people will randomly come zipping in front of you from your right assuming they have the right of way (which they do, legally), even in situations where, in the U.S., we’d take for granted that they’d have a Stop or Yield sign. That’s a biggie. Left turns are different, in that if two cars meet at an intersection, both wanting to turn left, each must turn behind the other (rather than in front), unless special signage indicates otherwise. There’s a whole set of rules (written and unwritten) for how to behave in traffic circles, which are everywhere. Turn signals are not used to indicate that you’d like to turn up ahead at some point if that’s OK with the drivers behind you, but rather that you are in the process of turning (or changing lanes) at that very moment. There are strict and complex rules for when you may, must, or must not use various combinations of low beams, high beams, and front and rear fog lights. And so on… I’d driven in France a couple of times before taking the driving class without incident, but actually getting my license here has been a real eye-opener.