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

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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