Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Road rage III

Big news: I passed the written portion of the French driving exam! Champagne!!! I’m so relieved to be done; it was very anxiety-inducing, and who needs that? Not me; I have a toddler and a business and that’s all the anxiety I need, thank you very much.

Oh, but wait—the written exam is not an end in itself, but rather, a means to an end (quite possibly my own). Thus, for the past month, I have been putting my officially solid grasp of driving theory into practice behind the wheel of my very own test car, a Citroën C3, which I have so far not crashed and have only stalled 50 times or so.

Now, as I have mentioned before, despite my owning a California driver’s license, there are basically two factors that have deterred my ever bothering to attain a French one: 1.) the stick shift 2.) la priorité à droite (priority to the right). Why? Read on.

The stick shift

Remember that scene from Big, where Tom Hanks keeps putting his hand in the air during a board meeting and saying, “I don’t get it”? That’s like me with the whole clutch thing. Try as they might, no one has ever managed to get that particular notion through my otherwise fairly well-screwed-on head. The bicycle gear metaphor is no use. YouTube videos of mechanics presenting a real clutch are no use, either (they actually make things worse by adding all kinds of insane vocabulary—flywheel? Pressure plate? Whaaa?). I don’t get it. I also don’t get why everyone keeps going on about how automatic is so boooring, while manual is so exciting! Personally, I think the “excitement” factor is simply adrenaline rushing into the bloodstream at the possibility of imminent death.

La priorité à droite

I’ve been bitching and moaning for eons about France’s priorité à droite. But now, having finally experienced its heinousness from the driver’s seat, I realize I haven’t been bitching or moaning nearly loudly enough. Just look:

I actually made this. It’s a slow day, OK?

See the orange car arriving from the right? Logic would say that he should stop instead of just careening onto the main road. That may be, but this is driving in Europe, land of roundabouts and sidewalk parking; logic has no place here. Because he is arriving from the right, the orange guy can just GO. No pause, no yield, no stop; nothing. Just go. The blue guy, on the other hand, who was driving along on the main road minding his own business, has to slam on the brakes and let that jerk gentleman on the right get through. Imagine the consequences if the blue guy’s view of the intersection were to be obstructed by foliage or who knows what. Just put up a damn stop sign, people! Stupefying.

Do you know what la priorité a droite really is? Think about it. The cars driving on the bigger, wider, faster, obviously superior road have to yield to the cars arriving from the smaller, narrower, slower, obviously crappier road ... why, it’s a microcosm of Socialism! Making life difficult for the big guys so that the little guys, however undeserving, can get ahead. It’s like formalized cutting in line. No wonder it doesn’t exist in the US.

Other than that, my lessons are going fairly well. So far, I’ve driven with two instructors: the first one is an economics fan who talks a kilometer a minute (does that expression even exist?) and is convinced that France’s economy is going to implode at any moment, that Russia, China and the US are headed for war with one another, and that those paranoid survivalists whom everyone takes for crazy are actually the only ones with any sense; the second one is a laid-back musician-looking type with a diamond-studded double piercing who keeps telling me that I seem tense.

I am supposed to take the practical portion of the driving exam after 20 hours of lessons, which seems pretty optimistic considering I still don’t actually understand what I’m doing. But no matter! I don’t have to understand something to do it right. Take parallel parking. I went to “the Google,” typed in “parallel parking,” and came across a perfectly wonderful explanation of how to do it. No theory, no opinions, just clear, concise steps to follow. As the author says, “You do not need to practice, you just need to fucking follow the directions.” Very refreshing. Now if only that kind of pragmatism could get me through the exam!