17 March 2010

Driving Miss Crazy

I got my Washington State Driver's License on the morning of my 16th birthday. My appointment was at 8am and my kind father drove me out to Renton to take the exam. By 10am, license in hand, he was driving me to Holy Names Academy, my all girls Catholic high school. On the way, I suggested it might be easier for me to drop him off at his office in downtown Seattle and then take the car up to Capitol Hill where my school was. I don't think I've heard him laugh that loud since.

Fast forward too many years for me to actually say here. We've been in living in Paris since December 2008. I was able to drive here with my Washington State license up until December 2009. At that magical moment, the deal was over. The French have decided that I can no longer drive unless I take driving lessons and pass their written and road exams. Crazed by the challenge of finding time in my busy schedule to learn French, study the Code de la Route - en Francais! - and then take these pitiful tests, I GOOGLED like mad looking for an out. There was none to be found.

My lovely car sits parked in the garage while I take the Metro and study at the Fehrenbach International Driving School in Suresnes, a suburb of Paris. For 1800 Euros (roughly $2500), I get private lessons in English and a crash course. After spending all day Saturday, Sunday and Tuesday with a tutor, and taking practice tests on the DVD they provided, I tagged along with a group of five students to some other remote suburb to take the written exam.

It's a sweet set up for English-speakers. After all of the paperwork is settled (and believe me, we're in France, so we're talking a lot of paperwork), we are given a device that looks like a remote control and assigned seating. No cheating! The French facilitator reads the questions on the screen in French, along with the possible answers, while the English interpreter, her back to the screen, repeats what she says in English. Each question is accompanied by a movie size photo of the situation we're being asked about. The main actors are the roads (auto routes, major / important roads, substitute roads, access controlled roads, etc.), tunnels, and overpasses, the lines on the roads (dashed, solid, blue, yellow, white, etc.) and the signs or "paneaux" we must interpret. Bit players include people, animals, wind socks, emergency vehicles, etc. The settings vary from city to town to village and from urban to rural.

Forty questions. Can miss only five. I missed seven. ARGH! It is rare for anyone to pass on the first try. I thought I was rare. Turns out I'm common.

My new friends and I stood in the parking lot going over which ones we thought we missed (they don't tell you). It's funny how quickly six strangers can bond over a common experience. One woman from Nigeria passed on her first try. She studied and studied. She read the book over and over. At the school before the test, she was a mess. She said she couldn't sleep. She was hilarious.

I'm hoping to go back and pass it on the second try. I know why I missed five of the seven. It's funny how something I thought was going to be a thorn in my side has turned out to be just another one of life's interesting challenges. And along the way, I've met an eclectic group of people - including my private tutor whose other job is Marc Jacobs' personal chef in Paris - who have made my life richer. LUCKY ME!


  1. Gina - what a life you lead! Remember when you had small children at home and came in to work and asked about my weekend, telling me you were living vicariously? You have some stories to tell! Good luck with your test.
    I miss you - Eileen

  2. I'm sure you'll pass it soon - you always succeed at whatever you put your mind to. And keep focusing on having a life outside work; it's why we work after all.

  3. I go to the driving school, ashamed at myself for being so nervous, did a decent drive and got dropped off in a parking lot where other high school kids were waiting. The Boss left us with the other instructor and told us to wait there. This is what a disciplined driving school Dublin initiates their task.