Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Road rage II

As some of you may recall, I swore up and down that I would avoid getting behind the wheel in France, both for my safety as well as everyone else’s. But that was before I had a baby, who is growing at lightning speed and will be in driving school himself before I know it, which would be super embarrassing. Actually, the truth is that he goes to day care twice a week now, and the place is almost 20 minutes away by foot. This isn’t a problem when the sun is out; it’s a lovely walk, and hey—I’m sporty. But when the nice weather heads south and we’re stuck with the nasty, those 20 minutes feel a lot like 40 (you try pushing a stroller while holding an umbrella). So enough of that. Plus, we’re suburbanites now. I have clients to meet. Babykins has little friends to visit. The car was bound to become an issue sooner or later.

So I bit the proverbial bullet and signed up for driver’s ed—for the second time in my life. The first time, I was 15 years old and I think it cost my parents something like $300. This time, I’m much, much older and it cost—I kid you not—six times more (and my parents aren’t paying). I think this kind of blatant extortion heavy-handed pricing would spark a revolution in the US, but as I don’t live there anymore, and my Californian license is worth exactly rien to the French, my options were either to go (back) to driving school or find alternative means of mother-and-baby locomotion. There are a few, but they all seem inordinately cumbersome and/or life-threatening:

The bike: dangerous
The caboose: stupid-looking and dangerous
The rickshaw: unwieldy, stupid-looking, and dangerous

None of these being an acceptable alternative to the car (bonus: we already have one), I accepted the price tag, expensed it (obviously), and moved on to worrying about what I had just committed myself to. Because even after years of experiencing the French highway as a terrified passenger, it still strikes me as complex, overly aggressive and fraught with seemingly arbitrary, totally un-American rules like sidewalk parking and la priorité à droite. Perhaps worst of all (for me), automatic shift is as rare in France as it is ubiquitous in the US. But what do you do, go buy a fake permit online? Hey wait—

In France, as in the US, one can obtain a driver’s license (legally) only after passing a written test, followed by a practical test. But here, the written test is electronic. It’s based on a series of screen shots intended to simulate various situations one might encounter while driving, each accompanied by a multiple choice question. Preparation for the written test consists in taking practice test after practice test after practice test until one has pretty much memorized every possible question that could ever come up on the real test. For example:

How many points is this guy worth?

I can hardly wait for the practical part.