Sorry, this is going to be a long one. Life here has been wonderful and we would do it all over again, but it has been a roller coaster of a week…month…year and I have to write about it to recover.
We moved here with the intention to rent, ride the bus, explore Europe…but that all changed when our landlords told us they were selling. We did not want to move. We love our home, area, and neighbors. Then the bus network stopped serving this area and owning a home requires a car.
Waiting for our house construction to finish has been incredibly frustrating. We closed in August, and as of December, still couldn’t use the other half of our house.
Our construction worker left mid-December with only 75% of things done. (He had promised to stay until it was done in November, then by Christmas.) This meant another month of waiting and who knows how many more months to come.
So…John finished 99% of the work on the house and it is beautiful. He is meticulous. I am so proud of him, there just aren’t enough words. He has always been my knight in shining armor.
I painted our former living space and kept him fed while he hung sliding doors, laid floors, added tile, finished drywall, added a kitchen pantry, and so much more.
We worked 12 hours a day for 3 weeks. The only breaks were for John’s birthday, Dec. 30 with friends, and January 7 with a friend. Christmas was a work day.
During this time, I also cared for pets of friends who were traveling and prepared for my driver’s license practical exam, scheduled for Jan. 10.
No one who hasn’t gone through the French driving license process will ever begin to understand the pressure. Every American I know who did this said it was the hardest thing they had ever done, but at the end it gave them the greatest feeling of accomplishment ever. (And they all were fluent French speakers, unlike me.) Eighteen states have reciprocity agreements, but not Oregon. Some folks move to a reciprocal state before coming here. In hindsight, we should have done that.
It was a 6-month process from start to finish and it was a weight on my mind and body that was all-consuming. It was my 2 am and 4 am wake up and worry alarm. The horror stories of friends taking and re-taking the test and the online accounts of expats’ experiences made the fear even worse. I chose to take automatic rather than manual transmission certification because it was cheaper and quicker and more likely to be successful.
I didn’t tell people when my test was to be because I didn’t want to admit my eventual failure. Two dear friends each spent an hour driving me around the assumed test area so I would be familiar with it.
The morning of the test, I had a 2-hour driving lesson and returned for the 3:30 pm test.
You must earn at least 21 points out of a possible 31, but if you make an elimination error, you fail, no matter how many points you earn. (Examples: Crossing a solid line, not signaling properly in a round about, not stopping for 3-5 seconds at a sign, or missing the dreaded priority on the right.)
Priorité à droite. The stupidest idea in traffic management ever. You are driving on the main road and there is an intersection without any markings. The car coming from the little side street on the right has priority and you must yield to them. Often these little side streets are obscured by walls just to make driving more interesting. If you happen to miss seeing and slowing for one of these, you fail.
You must take the test in a car with additional controls on the passenger side. If the examiner touches the brake or the wheel, you fail. Your driving instructor sits in the back as a monitor. After the test, your results are sent in a couple of days. The stress is so high, that when people found out they failed right after the test, they attacked the examiners. Now, they delay the results and remind you that any abuse of an examiner can result in a €150,000 fine and jail time.
They say seeing one ‘pie (magpie) is bad luck, but seeing two brings good luck. The morning of my test, I spied single ‘pies everywhere. :-(
That afternoon, I drove to the testing center while my instructor gave rapid-fire last minute reminders along the way, adding to my stress.
The “examinatrice” entered the car with a grand smile, “Bonjour madame! Vous venez des Etats Unis?” Hello, you come from the US? Then she let me know she spoke English, but wasn’t allowed to. In my bad French, I assured her I could understand French if she spoke slowly, but my speaking ability is horrible.
Off we went. It was like a bad Charlie Chaplin movie.
Narrow road. Had to pass a bike.
Construction truck blocking a curve. Worker steps out from the front into the path of the car.
Two-lane roundabout with another construction truck blocking the exit lane.
And the icing on the cake… getting on the highway, I had to merge on a combined on/off ramp behind a big semi-truck, when a car from the passing lane entered that space, and then it was my turn to merge.
Being used to US drivers, I knew to look for crazies. Yep. In the distance, I saw someone flying up from the farthest lane, I slowed and hugged the right, he cut across all the lanes and cut in front of me to take the exit.
My instructor gasped, “Parisien!
The examinatrice turned to me and said, “Parfait!” (Perfect)
She directed me back to the exam center. In the road were two pies. Yay, good luck! Then, one flew away and the other one wouldn’t get out of the road.
I groaned and made a waving motion and everyone laughed. Finally, the stinking bird flew away.
My teacher told me he couldn’t promise anything, but he didn’t see anything wrong with my drive.
I came home and John had set up his music studio. We danced for an hour.
The next morning, the results arrived.
I was floating on air, but I wanted my score.
An hour later, I received my score…31/31. Everyone tells me that is almost unheard of. I want it printed on my license, my license that will only allow me to drive an automatic car.
Yesterday, I finally started to decompress from it all, when I received a text from our neighbor. Our grand-dog died. She had been hit by a car and died immediately.
That poor baby had been kept in a cage for 4 years before they adopted her a little over a year ago. We all loved her with all of our hearts. She arrived afraid of everything, especially men with sticks, children, other dogs, and washing machines.
When she was with us, which was often, she would delight in long walks followed by a massage/rubdown at the door, the ends of fresh baguettes from the neighborhood bakery, peanut butter, and chill music that seemed to calm the voices in her head. She had started to play fetch and wag her tail. Much to our delight, she was becoming a normal dog. We are crushed. We were so lucky to have her and love her.
This morning there were two ‘pies in the yard. I like to think they are letting us know our grand-pup is now happy and safe.