An American Driving License – an extract from ‘Farther from the Sun’.

I decided I’d go and get an American driving licence in case we decided to hire a car to travel across the States at the end our time in Los Angeles. My English licence was valid but it caused a few problems when we were stopped and it might not be any use for hiring a car. I’d noticed a licensing centre on my way home and decided to go in to check out what I had to do.

When I dropped by to enquire it seemed that they’d do it there and then. In England there was a three month waiting list.

I joined the line. The first part was a multi-choice written section. It asked all sorts of strange questions about road signs that I’d never seen, highway code that I never knew existed, and insurance details that I had no idea about. It was all American and different to England. You had to get 70 right out of a hundred on this test. I knew some and had a guess at the rest and scored 65. When my test score had been assessed and I had been told I had failed a very pleasant lady went through my wrong answers and pointed out where I’d gone wrong.

“What’ll I do now?”

“You can go away and learn up on it and come back another day or you can join the line and do it again. You’ll have to take another paper though.”

I was enjoying myself. I decided to do it again.

I lined up and took a different paper. Most of the questions were the same as on the first one though, and the lady had told me the right answers. This time I got 92 and was deemed an advance driver. Not bad in quarter of an hour – from failure to advance status in one fell swoop!

I was directed to the eyesight test, which I passed, and then outside for the practical road test. It was the same format. You had to get 70 out of 100. Every mistake you made the examiner deducted points. He was a sombre looking gentleman who didn’t say much, apart from giving me instructions on where to go and what to do, looked thoroughly bored and sat there with a clipboard on which he kept ticking boxes.

We went out on the road and came back. I’d scored 68 and was a failure. I was a little miffed because I considered myself a pretty good driver and hadn’t made too many mistakes that I knew of.

Once again I was led through the sheet. He seemed really friendly now that he’d failed me and apologetically informed me that he’d had to knock points off every time I looked over the wrong shoulder. He looked bemused and asked me about the peculiar hand signals I had been doing? I explained that they were the English ones. He laughed and showed me the American versions.

“So what’ll I do now?”

“You can come back another day or join that other line and take it again with another examiner.”

That’s what I did. I took it again. This time I was equipped with the right hand signals and knew which way to look. I achieved a score in the 90s and was deemed an advance driver! I like this American way! Instant learning! Instant gratification! No hanging about! You can go from complete failure to the pinnacle of success in two easy moves! It’s the American Dream in working practice (or is it?).

I went in with my slip of paper to say what a genius I was, had my photo taken and left with a new gleaming plastic license. From beginning to end it took an hour and a half. No messing! From failure to super-driver in quick succession! That’s the American way!

I’d only dropped in to enquire!



I believe we all change the world. The sum total of all our minds is the current zeitgeist.


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