Screwed Up! Fixed It! (With a Side of “Lost in Translation”)

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Passed! Ottawa, March 11, 2015

Passed! Ottawa, March 11, 2015

I… ahem, I screwed up.

I kind of let my driving licence expire.

“Meh, just do the paperwork and renew it!” you may think. Well, I would have done just that if I didn’t have a G2 licence. This class cannot be renewed. You must reapply as a new driver and pass all the required tests (vision, written and road tests) all over again.

But with a bit of luck, I sorted it out.

In 2010, I finally overcame my fears and passed my driving test. Ontario has a rather complicated step-by-step Graduated licensing program, and I got a class G2 licence. This is a proper grown-up licence, you can drive alone and there are no restrictions associated (okay, your blood-alcohol level must be zero), except for the fact that you have five years to take the G2 exit test and obtain a Class G licence. Once you get the G licence, you keep it for life.

Back in 2010, I swore I would take my G test as soon as possible. I’m usually pretty organized and I hate do things last minute. Except that, well, Mark came in between. Five years went by fast. And also I have a driving test phobia.

I took many exams and tests in my life—in junior high, high school, university, in France, China and Canada, from education exams to language assessments, from work-related interviews to my citizenship test. A few weeks ago, I even took the ultimate “test”: a very formal one-on-one interview to get a “top secret” security clearance. And I’m telling you, these guys are not kidding.

Of course, I also failed tests every now and then, but generally speaking, I’m pretty good at them. I’m not even the nervous type—I usually know whether I’m ready or not, and what my chances of success are.

I’m a pragmatic and a good student.

But this sound attitude doesn’t apply to driving tests. I trained in France and failed  not once, but twice. Granted, I was a shitty driver and except for a great ability to negotiate roundabouts (Nantes has dozens of them), I had no clue what I was doing. Failing me was the right thing to do. Honestly, I would have been shocked to be granted a licence.

Yet, failing the rite of passage hurt, even if driving is less important in France than in Canada.

Canada—or more exactly automatic transmission and cities built for drivers—cured my phobia. I took the written knowledge test before I even applied for permanent residence, and then took my G1—I passed and I became a driver-in-training, only allowed behind the wheel with another licenced driver.

I was still terrified to drive until a few years ago, when, magically, it all made sense. Mark was also a good motivation to just do it. When you are stuck at home with a cranky infant and your friend offers to meet at IKEA or McDonald’s, you fucking go.

I now consider myself a good-enough driver. I can get around safely and sometime, if I drive alone with good music, I even enjoy it.

Yet, when I received the “your licence is about to expire, take the test NOW!” notice in the mail in December, I hid it behind my Chinese dictionary. “Well, so be it!” I said. We had other stuff to deal with, namely the daycare bankruptcy disaster, and I couldn’t take any more stress.

“You need a licence, Juliette,” Feng stated.

“I’m sick of taking driving tests!” I shouted back defiantly. “This is ridiculous. I’m going to be 32. I took way too many tests already. I don’t want to go through that again.”

“You need a licence and you need to drive.”

I can’t argue with Chinese wisdom, but I still let the notice behind the dictionary until we came back from South America. Then, still tan and confident from the trip, I logged into the Ministry’s website to book the test. Technically, my licence had expired a couple of days after our return to Canada. But, lo and behold, I discovered there was a grace period to take the test.

I sighed and booked it.

And so, once again, I found myself in the car skillfully parked between two yellow poles, waiting for the examiner at the Walkley DriveTest centre.

“Name?”

“Juliette Éloïse Bossard-Giannesini.”

“You’re French, right?”

“Oui.”

“Tu vas baisser la window, presser sur les brakes et virer la lumière à droite. »

Say again? Oh great. A French-Ontarian examiner. The kind who communicates French, but a flavour of French so far from, ahem, “standard French” that you need an interpreter. It’s a bit like… Scottish English to British, or Cajun English to Americans.

It’s okay. I can do it. I can do it. After all, I am a trained language specialist who can decipher mother-in-law’s English and Mark’s toddler speech.

“Okay, mets sur start, pis vire au coin et va en parallèle.”

He is either asking me to speed up and drive to another universe OR attempt to parallel park behind the block of concrete.

In doubt, I parallel-parked. No issue here. Seriously, I can drive.

Then we went on the road.

“Mon français est pas mal poche tantôt.”

“No, it’s okay,” I replied in English.

He was a friendly guy though, and a block later, we were bonding over comments about the weather. I just had to rephrase his driving instructions in English, but he didn’t seem to mind. Meanwhile, I was focused on the road but driving felt easy and natural.

Really, I can drive.

Twenty minutes later, we came back to the test centre.

“Okay, c’est beau.”

I passed. Phew. Would have been embarrassing not to.

Good for another five years… or maybe this time I can take the G test and be done with it once and for all.

Oh, the last thing the examiner told me in French?

“You have a really weird accent, I didn’t understand everything you said!”

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About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.

24 Comments

  1. I am glad for you !

    I hate driving, I’m not a good driver and I have not taken classes yet I got my full license on first try. I think that the exam might be much harder in France … yet there is still a lot of bad/aggressive drivers on the roads!

  2. Great job, Juliette! Congratulations!
    The last sentence made me smile and (finally) understand why I sometimes have trouble to communicate with French Quebecois-speakers here!! We do sound different to them as they do to us! 🙂

  3. I love that you were told your French-French was weird! I always get told my English-English is weird! I haven’t driven in almost three years now. Not through choice, I assure you, but because I haven’t the money. I cannot wait to be able to drive!

    • Do you have a Canadian licence or a British one?

      I love British English, and I have no problem understanding it (Scottish is a different story…) because I have several British friends in Canada, and I do read many authors from the UK.

      • Martin Penwald on

        I was told that english driving license is not recognized in Ontario because English drive in the wrong side of the road. And habitually, only the ability to drive cars can open an equivalency, not motorbikes, trucks or buses.
        However, there is an equivalency between provinces, except that the names are not the sames (it is numbers in Québec and in Alberta, looks like it is letters in Ontario).

        One of my colleagues is scottish, and I find him easier to understand than the locals. He pronounces the words with the same kind of intonation than a netherlander.

        • For me, Scottish is Irvine Welsh and Trainspotting, and the slang is just… lovely yet indecipherable!

          Interesting about the licence. I drove in Australia and New Zealand (we rented/bought a car) and no one ever wondered how comfortable we were driving on the left side. Hint: we were not. It takes a couple of hours to get used to it, at least!

  4. Chiruza Canadiense on

    There you go, girl ! I’m so happy for you ! One has to confront one’s fears, right ?

    Listen, can I ask you one off-topic little question ? Would you please explain to me what a secu­rity clear­ance is ?

    I’ve heard about it and I understand it’s requested for working with the Canadian government, right ?

    But….what is a secu­rity clear­ance exactly ? How do you obtain it ? And who are “the guys” you’re talking about ? Government agents, the police…?

    • A security clearance (cote de sécurité) is a bit like a police check. It’s gold in Ottawa, because most positions or roles related to the government require one BUT you can’t apply for one yourself, your employer must ask for it on your behalf (okay, I’ve heard that sometime, you can apply without an employee sponsoring you but it takes ages).

      I got the most basic one (quick check, takes a few weeks) when I was teaching French because I had to come in person in government buildings. Now, the top secret clearance is another story, the process took over a year and it included a very in-depth review of… everything, my life, friends, family, etc. And an interview with government officers. You must be a Canadian citizen for this one, and you need a long history in Canada (ten years I believe, I just made the cutoff).

      For the more basic clearance, just being a permanent resident is enough… I was new-ish in Canada when I got my first one. Bit more info here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Security_clearance#Canada

      Let me know if I answered your question!

      See, this was part of the crazy busy schedule I’ve had since we got back. 🙁 Hence no time to… Twitter, shop and all!

      • Chiruza Canadiense on

        I just read your reply….thanks so much for your explanation ! Now I sort of get this topic….am I crazy if I told you I’d like to get a basic security clearance upon arrival as a permanent resident ?? Don’t know why, but I feel it’s another errand I must run in order to settle right in Canada….

        So can you ask to get a security clearance without an employer asking for it on your behalf and just because….you feel like having one ? Or you must have a reason to even be able to ask for it ?

        So there are two types of it ? The “basic” one and the “top secret” one ? Or there’s a third type ?

        So if you pass the security clearance….what do they give you as a proof of it ? Is it a piece of paper like in Argentina, stating that you don’t have a criminal record ?

        So sorry, way too many questions…I should probably read about it instead of asking you so much hahaha

        You’ve been very busy since you got back ! I see that now ! Searching for Mark’s new daycare, the driving test, getting the security clearance…wow ! Life is busy in there as well, huh ? 🙂

        • There is no way you’ll be able to get a clearance before coming to Canada, you need a Canadian address, a SIN card, a Canadian bank account, etc. If you need one (and you may not, this is very much an Ottawa thing because of the federal gov’ presence here), the employer will ask for it on your behalf. The basic one is the most common.

          You won’t get a “proof” or anything, sometime you sign a piece of paper (I think I made a copy of my basic one once) but it’s held at a ministry and employers can check the database.

          • Chiruza Canadiense on

            I actually meant to get one when landing as a permanent resident ! Check out what I wrote: “am I crazy if I told you I’d like to get a basic secu­rity clear­ance upon arrival as a per­manent res­i­dent ?? ”

            I wanna get a clearance even if an employer doesn’t request for it ! That’s why I asked you if you knew whether you must have a rea­son to even be able to ask for it. I think it’s good to have it, just in case ! 🙂

          • I heard you 🙂 But I think you mettre la charrue avant les boeufs here 🙂 (check it out, French idiom)

            You cannot get a clearance if you don’t need one, i.e. if no one asks for it on your behalf.

  5. Martin Penwald on

    I miss the 2 first time I’ve tried to have my driving licence in France because of stress. But even with the stress, I manage to succeed all the driving tests I had since (8 I guess). I even pass a red light the last time …

    • Meh, it wasn’t red I’m sure, just… you know, not green yet 😆

      I think getting a licence in France is borderline impossible. My brother failed as well and he is a good driver, much better than I was. Poor kid…

  6. Martin Penwald on

    By the way, automatic gearboxes should be banned. It is awful to drive a thing with that. Especially on slippery road. The automatic gear shift modify the traction response of the vehicule, and it can result on an unplanned loss of adherence. I can’t drive an automatic on ice.

    • You know what, I kind of get it. I mean, for city driving, automatic transmission is awesome. But last year when we were in France I drove a manual for the first time ever since I was 20 and a shitty driver, and it was… enjoyable. Especially on the petites départementales.

  7. So how do french like when learners practice their incompletely learned skill with them? I once tried my broken version twice with different french tourists in Delhi and I was trying to get their take on my favorite pronunciation of “R” 🙂 It was fun for but I wonder what they thought?

    And congratulations for the driving test. Another information bite from Canada, thanks a lot.

    • Most French (in Québec or in French) really appreciate when foreigners speak French, or at least attempt to. Some people will switch to English for various reasons, sometime because they want to practice their English, sometime because they think it makes communicating easier. Don’t take it personally.

      French (from France) are VERY picky about grammar and proper use of French, they love to correct each other. It’s kind of a national sport. Hell, people correct my French when I come back to France, because I picked up some weird slang or English-sounding expressions 😆 They don’t care that much about pronunciation though, as long as they can understand you.

      Speaking French with the French communities in Canada is generally very appreciated too, no matter your proficiency level!

  8. Congrats! (again :D)
    Oh I hated passing my driving license. I’ve been driving for more than 10 years and I’m holding on to it… But I only drive twice a year, to go on vacation, as I don’t own neither need a car in Lyon. And I’m fine with it!!!! The only thing I really like when taking the car is putting my music on and watch for the countryside. So… I’ll be the passenger, thank you! 😀

  9. Congrats ! For my second test I had the same examinator and he told me : “ok tu as aussi bien conduit que la 1ère fois, cette fois je te donne ton permis”. Je n’ai jamais compris ce que ça voulait dire !!!

  10. Somehow I find this hilarious, and I was laughing in bed at 4 AM after reading this since I am still jet-lagged.

    Anyway, believe it or not I don;t have a driving license. I learned how to drive back when I was 17, when I was in Guam. But somehow, I never took the test, I just got the permit. And then we went back to the Philippines a year later, and since traffic in Manila was bad, it was quite pointless to drive, and way better to take public transit. I lived in Buffalo for 7 years without a car, and now I am in Berlin where having a car is much more of a headache than traveling by public transit.

    I love the way how you put comic spins on things, and even the most mundane events like taking a driving test becomes funny due to your wonderful sense of humor!

    • I probably wouldn’t have tried again to get a licence in France, public transportation is usually easier in Europe. But in North America, you do need to be behind the wheel once in a while. Must have been tough for you in Buffalo!

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