So my wife and I have jobs, a place to live and a car. The next thing on our To-Do list is getting a drivers’ license. Shouldn’t be too tricky, right? In the States, if you’re licensed to drive in one state, it’s usually valid through reciprocity in another. Similarly, under the Geneva Convention (I feel like a spy or diplomat every time I get to say “Geneva Convention” and actually mean it), residents from signatory countries can apply and receive a drivers’ license. A road test isn’t required (which they may want to rethink when you’re moving from a country that drives on the right to one that drives on the left), but a written exam is. I spoke to some expats who said it was easy, don’t worry about it (keep in mind they were from the UK, where most of our local driving laws were first created). I asked my wife, who had taken it a year earlier and passed, about the exam. She said there were a number of questions involving 2-ton trucks. I was beginning to think she might have had the wrong exam, until I discovered the exam here certifies individuals to drive everything from a small car to, you guessed it, a 2-ton truck.
My wife found a study guide and told me to focus on the sections covering road signs and hazardous materials placards for trucks. Due to my work in healthcare, and my over 20 years driving experience I felt confident I knew road signs and the hazardous materials placards pretty well. No need to spend too much energy there.
The next day we go to the DMV and register for the exam. The DMV is your stereotypical DMV. Plain, non-descript building, government employees barely smiling telling you to take a number or fill out a form. I take a number, get a form, and begin the process of obtaining a foreign drivers’ license. The form asks for my passport and work permit info. I look around for a second. Passport? Work permit?? I’m at the DMV, not Immigration. I didn’t bring those documents, I brought my Connecticut drivers’ license. Doesn’t the DMV want to know I can drive, not if I have a job and if I’m in the country legally?? I look over at my wife sitting next to me.
Few things about me and my wife. She’s organized. Me?…well I’m a little bit less so. When we first met she had tax returns dating back to the early ‘90’s, no joke (UPDATE: My wife recently read this line and assured me her returns only went back to the early 2000’s…you say tomato I say, WTF). I don’t even know where my tax return is from 2012 (full disclosure, I don’t know where 2013 or 2014 is either, but since we got married in 2013 and filed jointly, I’m confident she has them somewhere). Point is, I need my passport & work permit, which are home someplace.
I ask my wife if she knows where my passport and work permit are. “You didn’t bring them?” she asks. “It’s the DMV for crying out loud, no, I didn’t bring them!” I say to myself, quietly, on the inside. “Do you know where you left them?” I was really hoping she wasn’t going to ask me that question. Keep in mind, I’ve been in the country for less than a week, I figure they couldn’t have gotten far. My wife tells me she’ll run home, find the paperwork and run it back to me. Hopefully she can get back before they call my number.
20 minutes goes by. 25 minutes…We only live 10 minutes away, what’s taking so long? Eventually my number is called and I’m standing in front of a woman asking for my passport and work permit. I tell the woman I didn’t bring them, but I have a valid drivers’ license from Connecticut. She tells me to go get them, return and take a new number. Ugg, I’ve already been here an hour (which I know is light speed in the DMV world). I grab another number figuring it’ll be an hour before I’m called up, my wife will be here by then. 2 minutes later, “225A!” I look down at my ticket, you gotta be kidding me. I look out the window, no sign of my wife. I start walking, very slowly, to the window. I get to the window and turn to see my wife coming through the door, passport and work permit in hand. I hand everything over and am told I need to return tomorrow for the exam.
The next day I am escorted into a small room with computer monitors. A DMV official asks to see my passport–can you believe I almost didn’t bring it figuring they’d already seen it once, but my wife thought better. There’s 5 other people taking the exam, we spread out in front of the computers. The woman next to me is an expat from the UK. Her daughter is in university in the UK and her son works in London. She and her husband have relocated since all the kids are out of the home. She’s working at a small clinic here on island and isn’t really sure why we need to take this test. I know all this because as the proctor is giving us instructions she hasn’t shut up. She keeps talking to me like there’s nobody else in the room and as if we don’t really need to hear this guy’s instructions.
Anyway, we begin taking the test. The test is timed and consists of 40 questions. An 80% is required to pass. You can skip 6 questions but any skipped come back around at the end. The computer will track your right and wrong answers giving you a running tally at the bottom of the screen; 9 or more wrong answers and you fail. I get the first few questions correct. “Excuse me!” the expat from the UK yells out to the proctor. “I’m not going to be driving trucks!” The proctor explains that here you will be licensed to so they test on 2-ton trucks. She looks over my way, “Are you driving 2-ton trucks? I won’t be. Why do we need to know this?” she asks. “Because we’re in a stinking foreign country with different rules than your own and that’s the way it is! Now take your test and stop disturbing me!” I say to her, quietly, on the inside. On the outside I looked over, kind of half-smiled and say, “huh, weird.”
Question 4 I get wrong, (something about road signs or hazardous materials truck placards.) Then another wrong question, then another. By the time I get to question 20, I’ve got 4 wrong. I start panicking a little. I’m not going back to my colleagues and telling them I failed my driving test, I work on an ambulance, driving is half the job. The expat gets up, I figure she’s getting a cup of water or something. “I got a 90%, that wasn’t too bad!” Seriously lady? I start skipping the questions I’m not sure of, hoping to improve my odds. Another wrong answer, then another. I’m up to question 36, I’ve got 6 questions wrong, and I’ve skipped 6, meaning I have 10 questions to go. I can only get 2 more wrong… I answer a few more correctly, then I get one wrong. 7 wrong, 3 questions left. I get the next question right. The second to last question involves something about the proper way to pass a horse trotting in the left hand lane, I got it wrong, and you would too. 8 wrong, last question. I don’t remember the question but I do remember having no idea what the answer was. When in doubt, pick C. The test shuts off. A screen pops up, “PASSED.” I got an 80%. The proctor makes some joke about cutting it close. Whatever dude, what do they call people who get C’s in medical school? That’s right, “Doctor.”
I have to go back out, fill out another form, get another number, pay for my license, and have my picture taken. A few minutes later, I’m licensed to drive.