If you live in Germany for longer then six months, you have to get the local drivers license. Which on the surface seems like easy-peasy. When I moved from Oregon to California, I made an appointment, took a written test, waited for my mail.

Not so much here in the land of careful and clear procedures for everything.

Some states in the US have a one-to-one swap with Germany. Some require taking the written test and calling it good. Some, as in most, have nothing and so we have to do the written and the driving test.

Which again, seem’s relatively easy-peasy, right?


First you have to get registered with a driving school which then becomes your official interface with the bureaucracy, which is actually more to say they collect the money, schedule your appointments, sell you the curriculum, and toss in a few lessons to prep you for the driving test.  They are paid well for this work.

Also, you have to go get your driver’s license translated. For a couple hundred euro. I don’t know about your state but the State of California isn’t very complicated: DL #, address we don’t live at any longer, color of my eyes, and yes I’d like to be a donor if it comes to that.

Also, you have to go take some first aid class for four hours so you are prepared to render critical first aid in the event of an emergency. Now, there’s no certification for actually learning anything, no test. Just some piece of paper that says you’ve sat in a chair for four hours. Even when it was only three because the teacher talked fast and knew why we were there. All I have to say is that if you keel over and are in need of mouth to mouth resuscitation while standing next to me, is, um, just don’t do that. I’m not really going to be all that helpful. But I’ll be great with the bleeding part.

I should warn you to not  get too excited about the artery compression I can offer you. Legally,  the first thing I should do at the scene of an accident is to make it safe by running up the road roughly 100 meters – or 200 if I am in the country – and setting up some freaking reflective triangle and then running back. By which time you’ll probably have bled out. Furthermore, being an American, I’m not highly skilled at estimating distance in meters so there’s that too.

The driving school offered us a internet based training software for the rules of the road, which was great. I had an app for that and ran test quiz after test quiz when I’d really rather be playing Flight Control or Parking Dash (yes, I have no shame, don’t judge my games). It turns out, if the first aid class and this app are reliable examples of the whole system, that German Education is very Sorcratic. I ask you questions and you guess the answer. If you are wrong, I ding you penalty points. Very affirming.

The written test covers a range of subjects from Who has right of way? to Don’t do drugs to What’s this sign? to Please don’t run down children and old people. Also, Don’t honk your horn, waste the environment, or tow your car if it has a catalac converter because the gas left in the cc will break it.  I didn’t know that about catalytic converters, but apparently its important to know before driving on the German road system. Here is one of our most favorite questions, see if you can pass this test:

“Driving at night to the next discotheque by car, a group of young men and women wants to keep spirits high during the journey. They thus sign exuberantly, laugh and turn up the volume on the car radio. How should the driver of the car react in such a situation?

“a) Join in to avoid being a spoilsport

“b) Further heat up the high spirits of the group by driving risky manoeuvres*

“c) The driver responsible for safety must distance himself from the group in such a case and ask his passengers not to divert his attention.”

First of all, what decade was this question written in? Second of all, why is this necessary to include in a mandated set of test questions? I mean, who flunks this one? I could ear the eyeballs rolling in all the heads of the other 15 young men and women taking this test with me this afternoon. Third of all, all that singing messes up shooting up the heroin. I mean, come on, what a silly question.

There are rules for when you signal a turn into a roundabout and when you leave the roundabout but the rules are different depending if there’s a yield sign at the entry points or not. I couldn’t keep track and I think its one of the questions I flunked. Or maybe I flunked it because you have to actually also check the box where it says, “don’t run over the center island unless your truck is so big you can’t help it.” Really? This is so important that you have to test people on this? Are young men and women on their ways to discoteques so likely to simply run over the center island that the country has to mandate this question in…oh, wait, never mind.

I passed the written test by two points. Close enough for horse shoes, atom bombs and me navigating those roundabouts. Next up: some actual driving time with an instructor to prep me for the testing driver. I can hardly wait. >.<

Seriously, why doesn’t California have a exchange agreement with Germany?


*English spelling, one of the facts of life here in Europe


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