Well, it seems all those hours and euros given to the auto-école paid off. Two days after moving last week I had my driving test. Even though I've been driving for a long time I was still nervous, and when I met the inspector I became even more so. Of course I got there early (20 minutes) and of course my test was an hour later than scheduled, but I was ok with waiting and having a chance to talk to the other people waiting for the same thing.
There was a waiting room with two offices on either side and each of the offices belonged to a driving inspector. There was no reception area, nobody to check in with, and no signs indicating the purpose of the space. It was just a room with chairs. The inspector arrived after my monitrice (representative driving teacher) arrived and I was asked to show my ID and my Canadian licence. The inspector said that I if I failed today, I might be asked by her colleagues to provide an official translation of my licence. Not a nice way to start!
I had to wait for her to go away and do an exam and then 35 minutes later, she was back for me. The monitor was in the back of the car and the inspector up front. I was asked to settle into the car (adjust seats, mirrors, seat belt) and I knew that this could a) take up some time and b) earn me up to 2 points. I adjusted everything and then she asked me to work the lave glace. I turned on the windshield wipers (oops!) and she said no, that's the essuie glace and then I turned on the windshield wiper fluid. This was definitely a language issue. I know what the difference is between the two, but in the moment I heard "clean windshield" and didn't think about the liquid part of it!
We left the parking lot and entered into a neighbourhood that is full of priorité à droite streets where there are no stop signs in any direction, so you have to slow down just in case anybody arrives on your right. I think I caught them all but this was definitely one of my weak points in my lessons so I was scared to miss one! As I was driving the inspector and monitor chatted non-stop about how difficult it is for the driving schools to book exams and then every once in a while the inspector would give me a direction. We drove around for a bit, got on the highway, got off the highway, took a busy roundabout and headed to a park with a large gravel parking lot. I was asked to park anywhere I liked using any method I chose. I decided to back into a stall and then when that was over we took off again. In no time we were back at the office and she said "merci et bonne journée" and I was asked to get out of the car while she filled out the exam paper. They don't tell you the results right away and since my exam was on a Friday of a holiday weekend, I had to wait until Tuesday for the mail to arrive at the driving school saying that I had passed. I got a mark of 31/30, with bonus points for éco-conduite and courtoisie on the road. Yay! The passing mark is 20/30.
Did I learn new things after 23 years of driving experience? Yes, especially the right of way and busy roundabouts. Was it worth the €860 it ended up costing me? I would say no, but I had no choice in the matter. In retrospect I could have gone to a province in Canada that has direct licence exchanges with France and, pretending to move there, I could have gotten licence from that province, but it's not what I did. I do feel a lot more confident on the road and I officially know the rules of the road, so I suppose I can't complain too much. Now I just get to wait a couple of months while my pink paper licence arrives and then I'll have to figure out how to carry it around because it's too big for a wallet and made out of *paper* so it can easily get wrecked! (I think the paper licence is an old world / new world thing and I believe that France should look into the plastic card technology that they use for bank cards and health care cards!).