A Driver’s License Story

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Driving Around Niagara, January 2010

Driving Around Niagara, January 2010

I feel super good today. I finally overcame one of my biggest fears: driving. I passed my driver’s license!

It all started exactly ten years ago in France. I had signed up for the new “learner permit program”: the idea was to learn with an instructor (mandatory in France) before passing the road test at 18 years old (the minimum age for taking it).  After many months of sitting in a class learning theory, I passed the dreaded written test. At first, I was very excited by the idea of driving. I didn’t mind cars. It was all a matter of practice, I thought.

I can’t pinpoint the exact moment when I became terrified of driving. I was doing fine at first. Steering the wheel, pushing the clutch, first gear, second gear — there are no automatic cars in France, the standard is manual transmission. I started driving around the city with the instructor. He was a fairly old guy, who loved cars and hated people who didn’t fall in love with the Freudian stick shift: “can you feel how smooth it is?” No, I couldn’t. I didn’t care either. To me, driving was getting from point A to point B safely.

I never seemed to understand where I was going. Either I was too focused on the clutch, either I was just dumb. My instructor opted for the second choice. “Turn right here. NO NO NOOOO Not here!” Half of the time, I didn’t even understand what I was doing wrong. I was relieved when stopping at an intersection behind another car — at least, I wouldn’t have to go first and possibly take the wrong way. I just had to follow. It also gave me a previous extra few second to not stall.

My city had the most roundabouts in France. French just love roundabouts: big, small, decorated with a fountain in the middle — we spent hours theorizing on how to drive on them (cars to your left have the right-of-way etc.).

Eventually, I had to go for my road test along with three other students. We felt like lambs to the slaughter. Both of the other students failed right away. When my turn came, I started the car fine, drove for a few minutes and almost felt confident. But a few seconds later, the examiner braked suddenly and yelled “look at what you are doing!” I parked safely on the side of the street, puzzled. “What did I do?” “The roundabout, the roundabout!” I looked behind me. I didn’t see any roundabout, just a four-way intersection on which I had stopped, signalled, yielded etc.  Turned out that at the middle of the intersection, there was a tiny dot painted: a new roundabout in construction. I had failed my test.

I had to wait 6 months to take another road test — by no mean a mandatory waiting period but the result of a backlog. Road tests in France and notoriously difficult and expensive and taking a driver license is very expensive: around 1 400 €.  Then, the examiner went on strike. Another few months wait.

Eventually I got a test date right before my written exam, valid for three years, expired. In between, I had been to Australia and New Zealand, where I had driven a bit on empty roads. It was bound to happen: when I took my road test, at the first intersection, the examiner asked me to turn right. I signalled, or at least I thought I did. Because my latest experience driving had been in Australia, where you drive on the left side on the road, I turned on the wipers instead of the signal (commands are on the opposite side). I laughed nervously and realized my mistake right away. Too late: I had failed again and my written test had expired. I had to start all over from the beginning again.

I never did. I moved to Canada, and decided to take my driver license there. Ontario has a graduated licensing system: first you take your G1 and you must drive accompanied by a licensed driver and must not drive on freeways. Then you take your G2, the probationary licence where all major restrictions are lifted. Finally, you take your G license.

Taking the written test was unceremonious, unlike in France. You just have to show up at the Ministry of Transportation — no need to make an appointment or to take classes. Just borrow the Driver Handbook at the library, study, pay $10 and take the test. I passed right away. I explained my French driving stories and for $125 I was given a G1 license on the spot.

Sure, I couldn’t drive alone or on freeways, but I was happy with that. I was too scared of driving anyway. I used my licence mostly as a piece of ID. I thought it could stay like that forever… until I received a letter this summer. My G1 was only valid for 5 years, I had to pass the G2 test or I’d lose my G1. Damn it.

Shortly after, the examiners went on strike. I freaked out — it felt like a déjà-vu. I decided I had been scared for long enough. The strike ended abruptly after Christmas. I booked a road test and arranged to take 5 hours practice lessons with an instructor. He was very patient and seemed relaxed with me. He corrected a few things here and there but told me I should pass no problem. Really?

I spent time driving around with Feng. I practiced parallel parking and driving in the snow. To me own surprise, I could actually drive. Suddenly, road rules made sense. I wasn’t scared anymore. I knew where and when to look, which streets to turn in and what do to.

I showed up at my test nervous and scared. My hands were shaking. The examiner got in the car, made me do a three-point-turn and parallel parking. I did just fine. We took a short drive around the Ministry. As soon as I parked, he handed me my papers back and told me I had passed. As simple as that.

I walked into the Ministry, was congratulated, had my picture taken again, got a temporary license and was told I’d receive my full licence within three weeks.

I feel great. Not just for passing the test but for feeling confident to drive for the first time in my life. And mostly for overcoming a ten years old stupid fear.

Have you ever felt like that?


About Author

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


  1. Yay! Congratulations Zhu! Your driving experience in France encompasses so many problems with France: bureaucracy, strikes, waiting, waiting, waiting…

    So happy you are driving with no problems. It is intimidating. These machines are thousands of pounds, and every moment is a potential catastrophe. People tend to forget how dangerous cars are because driving becomes such a habit..
    .-= Seb´s last blog ..Star Gun. =-.

  2. Good Job! and congratulations! after a while you’ll be more comfortable, just takes practice. Get your skills up and we can drag race (don’t worry,my kids are in safety seats!)
    Well Done!

  3. Interesting… I never knew of these things called G1 and G2.

    My story of learning to drive was certainly a joke. I learned with an instructor, and passed the test. But I didn’t own a car, and never got to drive for quite some time. By the time I booked my first car – there was a 6-month waiting period – I decided that I had to ‘re-learn’. Guess what, I used the company car to practice.

    Interestingly, I was not the only person to do so. A couple of my co-workers also practiced with company car. It was in bad condition!
    .-= Khengsiong´s last blog ..Giant’s No Plastic Bag Day =-.

  4. @silverneurotic – I understand how you feel! That said, it’s good to know how to drive in N. America.

    @Monique – Probably! It will definitely be handy in some situations, even though I still bus a lot.

    @Bill Miller – It’s kind of cool, indeed 🙂

    @Seb – That’s exactly how I feel about cars! I find it strange that most people don’t seem to give any second thoughts to driving.

    @Rich B – Can’t wait to race with you on black ice in a blizzard 😉

    @Khengsiong – 😆 I can just imagine the company’s car 😆 This is a good way to practice though. I find it good that you seeked more practice before driving again, it is the smart thing to do IMO.

  5. Congrats! I passed my driving license in Spain on 2002 but it was so hard for me that I don’t feel like making the test again although I know I will have if I move to Canada.

    I’ve driven a lot in Spain but not in Ireland (I don’t get used to change the gear with the left hand!) but I like road trips!

    Congrats again!
    .-= Cornflakegirl´s last blog ..4 =-.

  6. Congratulations!

    When are you planning to travel through America (I mean, from Canada all the way down to Chile!!) Ha ha… Have you see the film called “The Motorcycle Diaries”? Maybe you can get some encouragement from the film! Who knows? It’s so handy if you know English, French and Spanish in America. Feels like you can talk to almost everyone there already!!!

    Doors of Salisbury / 索尔兹伯里之门 / Pintu Salisbury / ソールズベリーのドア

    Thank you. You have interesting themes too. I like your “10 in 10” series!

    Big Ben’s little brother / 大本钟的弟弟 / Adik Big Ben / ビッグ・ベンさんの弟さん

    Ha ha… Of course, France is our closest neighbour. We have to be nice to each other! Ha ha…
    Both countries used to fight a lot in the past, as you already know!
    But our relationship only got better after the Entente-cordiale.
    The funny thing is Little Ben was given before the agreement!
    .-= London Caller´s last blog ..Big Ben’s little brother / 大本钟的弟弟 / Adik Big Ben / ビッグ・ベンさんの弟さん =-.

  7. Congratulations. I know exactly how you feel-the elation and relief-at passing your test. I actually did it in France and in French with my horrible French. Of course, I have been driving since I was 16 so I was comfortable with driving, but what a stressful time that was.

  8. yay yay yay zhu! three cheers.
    i had the opposite problem. my instructor said i was too confident. i loved driving. i love the freedom of going anywhere. mostly, as a teenager, i wanted out of the house.
    i’m more afraid of other drivers.
    .-= Seraphine´s last blog ..This is Stupid =-.

  9. Congrats! I have never understood why it is such an ordeal to get your driver’s license in France, being used to the relatively easy American way.

    Now I’ll just have to remember to stay off the roads around Ottawa!
    .-= Soleil´s last blog ..Epic Week =-.

  10. @Nigel Babu – Yes, I still need some confidence, and for that I need practice… it’s a bit of a vicious circle. Is the exam difficult in India?

    @Cornflakegirl – I know it’s weird, but I actually find driving on the left side easier. It came to be quite naturally in OZ and NZ.

    @Agnes – Thank you!

    @London Caller – 😆 I don’t know, when I travel I like taking the bus or the train. Plus, it’s not really practical to take a car out of the country most of the time.

    @Lizz – I can relate! But if you have access to okay public transportation, it should be okay.

    @Linda – Wow, I admire you! Passing a driving test in France is very very difficult (not to mention expensive). And French aren’t even good drivers after all that fuss!

    @Seraphine – To me, freedom equaled taking the train or the bus. I don’t think I will ever see a car as freedom… it’s cultural I think.

    @beaverboosh – And also an amphibian car I guess 😆

    @expatraveler – Yes, it’s a good thing done 🙂

    @Soleil – 😆 I’m not even that dangerous! 😆 French are crazy with their license. First, it’s insanely expensive. Second, the test is ridiculously difficult. And they use manual cars – if you ask to learn to drive on an auto, it’s written on your license that you can never drive a manual car. So stupid.

  11. It feels like a vicious circle, but you can just drive around the neighborhood for a few days.

    In India the exam is not so tough, first you take a theory test which is like 10 or 15 questions, all multiple choice. If a person glances through the book they give, its very easy. They’ll give a learner’s license which allows me to drive on the road with someone else (similar to G1).

    Then, after a month you get a date for the road test. Then, its as simple as to go and “drive the H” and do a road test (take the car through all gears except reverse on the road).

    Easy 😛
    .-= Nigel Babu´s last blog ..Ubuntu User Day =-.

  12. Sounds like you have a real ordeal. I wonder how much your French driving instructors manner was responsible for your fear. Sound slike he was far from helpful. An instructor should instill confidence in his/her students as well as teaching them how to drive on the roads.

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