Monday, July 11, 2016

Going back to school...

Where have we been all these months?   I returned to school.  I had no time for silly things like sleep, food, drink, or blog posts.

We realized I needed to become a student again when we agreed to return to the US for a few late summer weeks this year to help my father organize some of my late mother's things.  Being our usual selves, we set about to plan, plan, plan ahead.  In this case, we started planning nearly a year ahead and our plans would cover some of the complexities of family life and include an opportunity to attend a wedding in the US.  There was, however, a slight wrinkle to be ironed out.

The way I understand French law if you are a permanent resident my US issued driver's license is no longer valid in France after 12 months of living here.  This wasn't originally a problem as we'd made a conscious decision to lead a Car Free Life.  The problem was my American driver's license was set to expire and we'd want to rent a car to drive to my father's house in the US.

It seemed like such simple thing.  Jude suggestion was let's get our French driver's license, shall we?We'd be able to use it around the world, the license is good forever, and, besides, the French drive on the right side of the road, just like certain English speaking countries (but by no means all - some English speaking countries drive on what's clearly the Wrong Side of the Road).  The whole thing should be easy and quick.  How hard could it be, right?

Dear Google - "How to get French Driver's License"

OK.  Lesson #OhSomeLargeNumber - As is always the case, things are a little different in France.  They seem to be shunting all prospective drivers toward les Auto Ecoles.  I wondered why.

Couldn't I just do this myself?  Simply get a booklet or something?  Do a little light reading.  Take a few practice tests somewhere.  Go down to, well, wherever the h*ll one goes to take such things and pass the test.  Dance on over the the check-out window and pay a few fees, wait a few weeks, et voila! un permis de conduire.  Right?

Huh.  Look at this.  They're shunting everyone through these silly auto ecoles because it's the only path on offer.  Well, alrighty then.  Let's see what this might cost... and... KERPOW! Sticker shock.  It's expensive.  2000Euros just to take a silly driving exam?  You've got to be kidding.

By this point I very much regretted not having lived in a State that had a reciprocity agreement with France.  If we had one, all I'd need to do is translate the US driver's license and present a few papers to la Prefecture de Police and walk away with a license to blast les routes et les autoroutes de la France.  During our month in Portugal I learned the entire country runs on this principle regardless of which American state you're from.  As I waded into the traditional French System, many were the days I agitated to move to a more civilized, reasonable country.

Back to Square One.  More Basic Research... and... ugh.  They don't have DMVs as I would know it.  Everything points to la prefecture de Police.  That's where you go to take the written portion of the driver's exam.  Further, and this being France where EVERYTHING is ALWAYS different, to take the driving portion of the test, you need a special car where a driving monitor or inspector can take control of the vehicle.  What??  Are they freak'n in-Gawd-D*mned-sane?  Why would they require that?

Such a slippery slope, all this.  Yes.  We do things rather differently here in France.  Yes.  I'm having to learn quickly how the system works so I can set my expectations correctly.  Yes.  It's our choice to be here.  But, really, is all this Monkey Motion necessary just to get a driver's permit?  Well, you know the obvious answer, right?  The answer is Oui, monsieur, c'est vraiment necessaire.

Only much later do I learn that the French and German driver's licensing systems are amongst the most rigorous in the world.  Of course they are.  We'd have it no other way.  Nope.  Anything that would make the acquisition of a Sacred Divine Driving License easy can not be allowed.  Non!  Non!!  Non!!!  But I repeat myself.

Time to Ask for Native French Guidance, me-thought.

Perchance we put the question to our apartment's proprietaire and she pointed me to a school just down the street.  She'd never taken a course there, but she said they'd been in business for a long time.  Taking her advice I dropped by one morning and asked a few questions and got the *schpeel* on what's what.

Being an Old Man and holder of a many years old driver's license I qualified for the Short Course.  This included a booklet (what I'd expected) that described le code de la route, three months of on-line practice test taking (a nice modernizing convenience), in-class practice tests (for those who really needed it I imagined), a written test with the dreaded Prefecture de Police (with costs folded into the price of the school's program for Old Men and Holders of Many Years Old Driver's Licenses), two hours behind the wheel in one of those silly leetle dual control cars, and a final driving exam with an inspector.

I very much needed a valid driver's license and had no opportunity to return to the US to renew my old one.  I was stuck.  My best option seemed to be to act like a grownup and to Gird My Loins to Dive Into The Deep Deep Very Deep End of things and hope for the best.

Thus began a very long 5 months where my lovely wife Judith experienced everything I experienced.  Where she watched me struggle, bitch, moan, complain, and lose far too many hours of sleep.  Where Jude could do little more than support me as best she could as I passed unprepared through the Gates of French System Hell.

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