When you come to live in the UK you can drive on your current license for up to one year. If you pass your driving practical and theory test before you've resided here for a full year, you don't have to put a giant "L" on the front and back side of your car for six months indicating that you're a "learner." When you have gray hair and cannot be mistaken for a teenager, it's stands for "loser" in my opinion. We were motivated, therefore to get in gear before the 4th of July. Those who come from the European Union, the Commonwealth or a "Designated Country" (which includes Andorra, Zimbabwe and the Republic of Korea) can simply exchange their current license for a British one without having to go through the time and expense of testing. Sadly, we expats from the U.S. don't enjoy this reciprocal courtesy and must endure the verifiable torture of licensing. Maybe England is still irritated about 1776.
Ask any Brit what it's like to get a driver's license and they will roll their eyes and moan, every one of them. Only about 38% pass the first time and, between driving lessons, test fees and repeat test fees, the average person will spend about $2400 for the privilege to drive in this country. My neighbor took the test three times and failed each time, deciding she will simply never drive even though she has three kids. The up side is she will never own a minivan or be sitting in a school parking lot for the next half of her life.
C interviewed a handful of driving instructors before he found one he liked. Michael was from Egypt, living in England now for 14 years with a couple of kids. He was methodical and relentless, insisting on the repetition of all point checks, proper signaling and hands that almost never left the wheel. Try driving with your hands stuck at 10 and 2, with occasional slides to 12 and 6 when you're turning and you will make a pledge never to move to England. No hand-over-hand, no single hand steering, certainly no steering with your knee while you open a soda.
We took lessons weekly for six weeks. We had to pull over to the curb without touching it. We had to back up into a perpendicular intersection without getting too close to the center line or the curb. We had to parallel park to a position where we could see the tread of the car in front. We had to coordinate signaling and downshifting as we approached and exited a roundabout, which is not unlike patting your head and rubbing your belly at the same time: Right turn signal upon approach, downshift, pass a few exits, make sure no one's in your blind spot as you edge to the outside lane, left turn signal just after passing the exit before the one you intend to take, then accelerate like hell. And get your hands back on the wheel! Michael eventually got to be comfortable enough with our driving competence that he would spend most of the hour talking about Egyptian politics which was, by itself, reason enough for the lesson. Occasionally, he would compliment me by saying I was a "brilliant" driver. "Just drive the way you always do, Karin." he told me the day before my practical exam. "Just without the bad habits."
This whole process wouldn't be so nerve wracking were it not for the fact there are certain sudden death mistakes, meaning if you commit even one, your test is over and you have failed. These are called Serious Faults and Dangerous Faults and you can't argue too much with a dangerous error. But let me tell you, when a serious fault includes failing to signal to a car behind you that you are pulling over to the curb, accidentally mounting the curb, going the tiniest bit over the speed limit, going so slowly as to be considered dangerous or simply racking up enough minor faults that it's considered seious, like not checking your mirors every 4 seconds, it's enough to send you ranting all the way through your lesson, which I did most of the time. Michael failed C on a mock test when he forgot to turn off his indicator light as he was backing up.
But we passed the first time. It's probably the only time in my life I've scored in the top 38th percent of anything. I did get smug after missing only one question on the written exam (a question even Michael couldn't answer) while C missed two. And when I scored a mere four minors on the actual driving portion of the exam I texted C, "Beat that, Baby!" He did. By two.
Now we're good for ten years in the UK and the EU. I have a hologramed, triple-laminated card with a photo-booth mug shot so mean looking it might as well say "Licensed to Kill" (you are not allowed to smile for your license photo). As for the U.S.? Bless Washington State who let me renew my U.S. license on-line without even asking if I could still see out of both eyes. Only down side: I will have to look at my overdue pregnant face and my lying weight for another five years.