Our French driver’s licence issues have taken front and center stage as our one year anniversary of our arrival in France is nearly here. That means that there has been a significant fire placed under our respective asses in recent weeks. This fire is not only hot, it is also painful. Since we really needed to pass these licence tests we ended up signing up for driving classes with “the sure thing” who is also known as Monsieur F. He’s the guy that owns the only English-language driving school in all of France and he is making a mint off of desperate ex-pats like us.
In order to get a French license you have to pass both a written test which is called the “code” and a driving test with a French DMV employee in a car. The last time I took a driving or road rules test I was 16 and even back then, I don’t remember breaking a sweat. I may be too old to remember this things, but I’m sticking with my current version of reality which is that the US tests weren’t that hard. Let’s just say that I was imagining that the French tests would be about the same difficulty as the US tests. Imagining this would not be the first mistake I’ve made in this country.
Our driving prep started in December when Monsieur F. came down to Fontainebleau to teach the 4 Vermonters the driving code. Prior to his arrival he had sent us the French driving code book translated into English, which I proceeded not to read prior to our first class. About 15 minutes into the class, I knew I was in serious trouble since on our first practice test of 40 questions I got 12 wrong. To pass this test, you need to get less than 5 wrong. This was not a straightforward test, as I thought it would be, it was a multiple choice test which could have more than one correct answer, but all the correct answers must be chosen to get credit for the answer. I knew right away I was in some serious caca.
Monsieur F. proved to be not only a brilliant entrepreneur specializing in the desperate American demographic, but also completely off his rocker. He personality was like the combination of your worst high school math teacher with a thick French accent and your friend’s great-uncle telling repetitive bad jokes during a holiday dinner. One of his favorite jokes/repetitive phrases was to say something like, “If you don’t stop when the railroad lights are blinking, you will see God in a pyjama. Bye-bye Lily!” At first I laughed, because the joke was so absurd, then I nearly cried because I heard a variation of that joke about 100 more times.
There was one fleeting moment at the beginning of all this that I thought I might try to take the test in French to avoid having to travel to Paris for the English translated test, but that plan quickly bit the dust as I realized that I could barely pass the test in English, let alone in French.
The first day Monsieur F. came to our house he stayed for 9 hours teaching us driving code. Just when I thought my head would explode I realized that we had barely made a dent in the amount of knowledge it takes to pass the test. I’ll fast forward through the details of two more nine-hour days of driving code, the seemingly endless hours of practice tests and the unending string of bad jokes to tell you about test day.
We were supposed to be in Paris at 8am for a last-minute test prep at the driving school before driving to the testing location to sit for the test. My friend was kind enough to offer to take our kids at 7am so that we could attempt to make it up to the driving school on time. Against all warnings, we decided to drive into Paris since we had two different locations to go to in a short amount of time. This proved to be one of the worst ideas we’ve had in a long time. After sitting in two hours of gridlock to get to the driving school, we abandoned that plan and decided to drive directly to the test site since we knew that we would never make it on time otherwise. The test was scheduled to start at 10am and at 10:01am our car rolled into the parking lot. Thankfully, nothing in France starts on time. By the time we arrived, I was a doubtful, hyperventilating mess. Sitting in three hours of Paris gridlock can unravel even the best test taker, so I tried to take some calming breaths and focus on the driving code.
When the lights went down in the room to signal the start of the test, I thought I was going to combust. There was so much French driving code jammed into my head at that point, I wasn’t sure I could get it out successfully. But when the lights went up to signal the end of the test, I was relieved because not only had we made it to the test, but it was finally over.
I know you’re wondering what my test result was…………..I PASSED (and so did Tim)!
Now we just have to take the driving test. Bye-bye Lily.
I did take a picture of the sunrise over gridlock on the test day, but I decided that I’d rather share this one instead. This is the Chateau Fontainebleau in the morning.