Monday, September 16, 2019

It is literally impossible for an American to get a German driver's license. Oh, they'll let you sign up with a driving school and download the app and buy the book and study for months and take the test, but there's no way in hell you'll pass. The test is thirty questions selected from a pool of one thousand, and while they will happily give you all one thousand questions in advance, even with months of deliberation and conceptualization and rationalization you'll never make sense out of them.

One problem is that the "English translation" of the book is into Great British. Trailers are "caravans," people have "behaviour," and your car has "tyres" and does "manoeuvres." Sentences actually start, "You must reckon with....", which sounds more Wild West to me. I want to answer, "Do I, pardner?"


I like this passage because it's so totally true. Is "muzziness" a word? Nowhere in the world. But I like picturing a German motor vehicles official sitting back and imagining, "So, when I take an Ambien, how do I feel? Tired? Relaxed? No.... Muzzy! That's it! Medications can cause muzziness."


Even ignoring the odd comma here doesn't help, since "reeve" means "the chief magistrate of a town or district in Anglo-Saxon England."

Google doesn't even help with words it agrees are real. For weeks I read about the proper behaviour in regards to "walking paths" and "footpaths." Don't park on them. Don't drive across them. I kept picturing Mercedeses zipping through forests when it hit me: they meant those cement walking footpaths we have in America. You know, we call them "sidewalks."

"Sunken kerbstones" also baffled me. I wondered about a country whose driving rules so heavily featured flooding. Don't give priority to cars at sunken kerbstones. Ignore cars at sunken kerbstones. Weeks dragged by before it hit me:

Driveway. Don't stop for cars coming out of driveways.

Every day I'd study more, and fume more about it. In America I'd regarded Germany as Valhalla, where everybody was smart and logical. And then I came here and realized the reason Germany was so highly regarded was because it was being graded on an EU curve. Not a genius? Less than brilliant? No problem. Just go stand next to Italy and Greece.

My irritation magnified over months of study, as the examples of their idiocy piled up. A few weeks were spent on something called "dipped headlights." References were everywhere. In a tunnel, you must dip your headlights. When you see a deer by the road, dip your headlights. I started to think, are German headlights controlled by a joystick or something? And I'm a smart guy: an idiot would have assumed there was onion soup mix and sour cream involved.

I still don't understand the reasoning but I can repeat the facts: their "dipped" headlights are what Americans call "headlights," and their "main beams" are our brights. Dipping your headlights bizarrely just means turning them on.

Here's a life-or-death instruction about markings on the road:


I can't even understand who this is talking to. Will British people read this and think, "Righty-O, Guv'nah!"? Because Americans look it and go, "Whaaa?"

Americans might also take exception with the word "recommends." We'll be tempted to stop in the middle of the intersection, and when a policeman pulls up we'll say, "Well, the book RECOMMENDS stopping back there, but I disagreed. You know, it's like going for the fish when the waiter recommends the veal."

Of course, if getting a driver's license is torture here, I'm pretty sure jail is worse.

Naturally you need to know the rules about driving past buses, so I knew it was important to memorize this:


Makes perfect sense, doesn't it? And then you come to this passage:


Here's something else the book never explicitly tells you. "Passing" is what you do to a stopped vehicle. "Overtaking" is what you do to a MOVING vehicle  So, you can pass a parked bus, but you can't OVERTAKE it. EVER. Because, you know, it's NOT MOVING. Which seems to me less a rule than, like, a law of physics, which renders the first quote as useful as, "Make sure your car doesn't float away." But remember it! Pass the test and you spend a year driving through Europe. Fail and welcome to the hell that is FlixBus.

Let's learn a bit about parking:


When I first read "up to 10 m" I assumed it was the "up to" from supermarket advertisements which means "definitely less than, all the way down to zero." You see the sign in the window saying "Save up to 90%," so you run inside and see everything is 1% off, but there's one dusty can of Spam that's 90% off and that makes the whole thing legal. At the St. Andrew's Cross I pictured somebody standing there when you pull up saying, "Today you can't stop ... FOUR METERS AWAY!"

No, in this case "up to" means "at least." You can't stop within ten meters. Now turn the page.




Yes, you got it. You can park five meters in front of a diagonal cross, but you can't stop there.

Here's a simple instruction from the book: "Parking is not allowed on a priority road outside built-up areas." Translated, this means "Don't park on the road in the country." And then I took a sample test which asked, "Are you allowed to park at the side of a priority road outside built-up areas?" My answer: absolutely not! The correct answer: of course!

It sent me running back to my translation. Apparently when they say "Don't park on the road in the country" they mean "Don't park IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROAD in the country." What, did you assume they meant "Don't park on the SIDE"?

I sat there staring at the book, struggling to process what I'd been dealing with. I'd spent six months deciphering their pronouncements only to discover they were facts any idiot knows. It's weird: everybody in Berlin speaks perfect English. I get two German words out of my mouth and they say, "Look, buddy, let's make this easy. Let's go for English, okay?" But then I decide I want to get a driver's license and suddenly they're all, "You want go putt-putt in motorcar?"

Whether they're incompetent and don't care or they're actively trying to keep Americans off their roads, the end result is that it's impossible for us to pass the driving test. It's a Catch-22: if you're stupid, you'll never figure out what they're talking about. But if you're smart, you could waste weeks trying to unravel things that are obvious to idiots.

One last example bolsters the incompetence explanation. Let's start with a paragraph from the official book.


And here's a question from the official quiz.


As you can see, I got it wrong. Apparently you need to "reckon" with taxis and beware of taxis and watch out for taxis and keep away from taxis but you don't need to show them "particular care." Like don't send them flowers or chocolate? Think twice about that shoulder massage?

Anyway, I hope you learned something. You can pass someone without overtaking them, you can park somewhere without stopping, and you can totally ignore people that you need to pay very serious attention to. It makes me think of relativity, and that Einstein himself would probably fail this test.

I'd like to say that frustration makes me more determined, but in truth I gave up. I stop trying to understand it and instead just memorized the one thousand mostly-useless questions and their corresponding nonsensical answers. And I passed the test. Now I just have to pass the driving test and I get to drive all over Europe.

I've got to say, I'm feeling really muzzy now.

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