April 25, 2022

How I've got my driver's license at 42

If you know me a bit, you know I always wanted to drive. When I've turned 18 years old, I must admit, I did not have that dream, but it creeped on me little by little over the years. 

First, it was never a need to have a car and subsequently a driver's license, because we always lived in big cities where we had public transport or taxies. Granted, I did spent a lot of time in public transport, but I always found something to do, it was my time to read a book, listen to my favorite show, people watch, embroider... it was a time I will miss while driving.

Still, we came here almost ten years ago, and I've always complained about the trains from Arlon to Luxembourg and how unreliable they were and when things started to get a bit better (they introduced the online tickets and the automatic machines at the train station), I've got my driver's license.

At this age, it is not so much as a need, but a dare: can I still do it? The answer is YES! Here is how I've done it.

It was a process. As you may or may not know, when I first arrived to this area I have never taken a class in French, I've never spoken French. I somehow had a B1 level in French because I speak Romanian and understand French quite well, but speaking was a different story. I did two summer schools in French when we arrived, but I've mainly learned how to spell words and construct phrases. Then I did the master's at and had to write and present and discuss in French. It was challenging at first, but it helped me to get a voice and get the courage to speak. Then I started working with French speaking people, and asked to speak in French as much as possible. And that is the level I'm in it now. But learning for a driver's license is a different kind of French. I can't tell you how frustrated I was when I went for the theory classes and knew the answer, but was unable to formulate it...

So theory classes. In Belgium they are not mandatory unless you fail the theory test twice. I was so sure that my level of language was not the right one I never even searched the Internet to see how you get a license in Belgium. I knew the system in Romania and in Ireland, in fact I almost passed the exam in Romania and I had a temporary driver's license in Ireland, but did not bother with the Belgian one.

I've started researching driving licenses in Belgium in October and found out there are two ways of doing it. Similar to Romania, enrolling in a driving school with an instructor or "manière libre" you pass the theory test and get a paper from the commune that you will drive in your own car with a designated full license driver, 1000 hours, the Irish way. I've enrolled in the theory classes (100 euros) because I knew I will never drive or learn to drive with my husband and because I thought it is the Romanian way, you do theory classes, then you do practice hours with an instructor. Only after the week of theory classes, I found out that in fact they were not mandatory. But it got me in the mood to learn the theory and found a very nice instructor (Elise from ProConduite). 

I've scheduled the theory test and started learning. I don't know exactly what I've learned, but failed the test the first time. In Belgium you have 50 multiple choice questions and to pass you need to answer to 41 of them. There are questions of 1 point and there are 3 questions of three points per test. During the test if it calculates at any point that you will fail it, it stops. So for my first attempt I got to question 20 and it stopped. I must have gotten two of the three points questions wrong or I don't know. Frustrated and only after 10 minutes of testing I went out. My husband did not even have the time to arrive back at the house and he came back to pick me up. In Arlon the testing center is in the meddle of nowhere, with no busses or any public transport, in zone artisanale de Weyler.

26th of January 2022

For the second time I went online and bought a subscription to I've learned with pen and paper, because I'm old school. My method was to write all the wrong answers on paper and explain to myself why I've answered incorrectly. The second time came in a very bad time, Ilinca was home because the creche had close at the cause of covid, so my husband had to stay with her in the car to wait for me. I was sure I will fail it again, but I didn't. When I've passed the 20th question I took it as a small victory and kept answering to see how far I will get this time. I don't know when I've reached the 50th question and knew I got it. I came out of the testing center and screamed so loud. To me passing the test in French was a victory in its own.

Then I've enrolled in a driving school. I was lucky to do the hours during my lunch break, the instructor was so patient and calm and it really showed that she wanted me to get the license. She found out what I kept doing wrong and pressed me to get it right, I still don't keep my hands on the wheel on the right places, though :) To give you an example, during the exam you are required to get to the motorway in between the two  Arlon exists. So you enter the motorway on one and exit on the other, the direction is chosen by the examinator. My instructor put on the schedule a day when I had two classes, so four hours, so we could drive to Bastogne, to change the scenery and learn better to drive in an unfamiliar location, but also to drive on the motorway. Was she required to do that? Don't think so. She was just doing her job the best. 

On the day of the test, I had a class with my instructor in the morning and then the test at 3 p.m.. In the morning it was terrible, I could not turn the car, I could not park in an empty parking, I drove to close to the edge of the street. I went home, cried my head out and thought of rescheduling. But my husband said that except for the time, I had nothing to loose and on top I will see how it's done and get experience for next time.

The exam. I was a nervous wreck, but when I got to the wheel I've somehow calmed down. Then the examinator came and asked me how I've arranged my seat, what I see on the mirrors and how to turn the lights on. I have to say at this point I did the school on an automatic car, because that is what we own, so even though I drove on it for two months, I did not know how to turn the lights on. Not signaling left-right, the lights. The examinator helped me on this one and then we started driving. In Belgium during the test you have your instructor on your right and the examinator on the back seat. You have to drive for 45 minutes and in this time you will have to make two maneuvers (parking or turning or driving backwards). From the beginning the examinator tells you what are your maneuvers, I had a créneau and driving backwards for 45 meters. A créneau is an S parking or lateral parking, it is the most encountered parking in this area, not only in Arlon, but also in Luxembourg and in France. Anywhere you have to park on the street chances are you will do a créneau. 

During the classes I did hundreds of créneaus but never got it the right way for my instructor, but as she said, during the exam you can get a B (bon) good or an AM (ameliore) to improve. If at the maneuvers you get a B and an AM, you pass. Safe to say, I don't know how, I got a B in both of my maneuvers. My only mistake was at the very end, when we had returned to the testing center and I had to enter the parking, I did not give the right of passage to someone coming from my right. I had a couple of cars behind me, I saw the construction machinery coming, but it was driving very slow. So in a split second, I've decided to go in front of it, but I don't feel I put anyone in danger. When I finally parked the car, my instructor's face was white. But the examinator said that she saw me looking in the mirrors, seeing the cars behind me, seeing that the construction machinery was a slow driving one, he did not even had to hit the brakes to let me pass and decided to give me my license. 

30th of March 2022

I can't describe my joy, I can't even get my mind around it now. It was luck. In a similar situation, almost 15 years ago, in Romania, an examinator asked for bribe. That is why I waited until I was 42 years old to get my driver's license, in French. 

To me this in an incredible fact, I feel I should be congratulated and have my own allegoric cart in the St. Patrick's Parade, but my friends either thought I already got it, or did not think it was such a big deal...but it is. During my first attempt at the theory test, I had a panic attack in the middle of it and had to answer a few questions without breath and with my jaw clenched thinking I would collapse at any minute. On my first practice class I wanted to stop the car and just run screaming. On my last class I felt so ashamed I wanted to dig a whole in the ground and just stay there. My instructor will say (because she said it) that from the first class I was her best student, I always thought I did not get it and will never do. The traumas that I've suffered in the Romanian primary school system are still there with me and will be there with me forever no mater how may hours of therapy I do and how many coping mechanisms I learn. 

But the liberating feeling I can only enjoy by myself. Advices? I have none. Just go, just do it. Age is just .... well you know better than I do.

See you on the road!

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