Life in France takes some getting used to. There are huge lurking differences hiding behind every corner, just waiting to jump out and pounce. I want to tell you about some that I’ve encountered recently, in trying to get my driver’s license.
As an adult (the entire post is from the perspective of an adult wanting a license) in the United States, getting your driver’s license is a simple affair. Stroll into a DMV with an ID, plop down a little bit of money, maybe take a driving test, and you can walk out with a valid license. It requires a total investment of maybe 50 bucks and a couple hours.
In France, getting a license is roughly a million times more complicated. The first, and most inconvenient difference, is price. As stated above, getting your license in America might not even require a visit to the ATM beforehand. You could visit the ATM to withdraw the necessary funds for a French driver’s license, but I wouldn’t recommend it. You shouldn’t walk around with even half that much cash on you.
You see, here a driver’s license is near or, much more often, over the €1,000.00 mark. Yes, you read that correctly [at least, I assume you did; you look like a pretty bright person]. The last time I got an American license, it cost me $25. My French license is costing me €919. That’s more than 35 times more expensive! And that’s completely ignoring that the Euro is actually worth more than the ‘Almighty American Dollar’.
Consequently, the schools are also a breeding ground for scammers. A common tactic is to enroll as many students as you can at full or even reduced rates, then go bankrupt right after (the first school I signed up at did this).
Then there’s the time commitment. In the U.S.A. it’s an afternoon at the DMV being coughed on by the guy behind you in line. Here, it’s going to take you months. There are inquiries that have to be made to the local government (the school makes them), classes that have to be attended, different levels of tests that have to be passed, multiple videos that have to be watched. In fact, six months is the average time frame, according to the friendly receptionist at my driving school. So now we’re at +35 times as expensive, and +180 times as many days!
So naturally, with all the increased difficulty involved here, one would assume that the drivers here are vastly superior to American drivers. And one would be assuming very, very wrong. Things like driving ability are hard to quantify numerically, but if I had to guess, I’d say that French drivers are precisely 3.14 times worse than American drivers.
After much thought, I attribute this to yet another difference between the two countries. American roads are lousy with traffic cops. You can’t go a day (maybe a couple) without seeing at least one traffic cop, if not more. Here you can easily go a month without spying one. French roadways are almost completely devoid of traffic cops. Also, in the US, you must retake the test every now and then. In France, no need. So you have to be on your best to get your license, but afterwards, you’re free to let your driving technique go to seed.
All student drivers here are required to affix to their car in a clearly visible manner one of these stickers:
Every time I see a car sporting one of these stickers, I remember The Scarlet Letter, and I imagine that the car so marked was maybe caught being test-driven one too many times. And it makes me smile every time. Even after almost two years.
What do you think? Does France need looser regulations regarding driver’s licenses? Does the US need tighter restrictions? Does it really make no difference to you whatsoever? Share your thoughts in the comment box down below.