Proving what they say about New Jersey drivers.

One of the things that acclimated me to Irish life was the ability to drive. I found only taking public transport a bit... frustrating. So, in 2006 I went and took a theory test which would give me my provisional license. I passed the first try without incident although I was nervous leading up to the test knowing that if I didn’t pass I would have to pay the fee again, and take time off of work to take the test again, and then possibly fail. Again.

As a child I would privately berate myself every time I failed at something, a characteristic that I carried over into my adult life just to a much lesser degree. I don’t think I acknowledged this side of myself until I was in college when people who lived with me in the same small quarters were able to witness it for themselves; sullen attitude, bitchy, short conversation and condescension being my ultimate defense for making myself feel better. Charming and attractive, I know. Now, Bub sees my inner torment when I manage to mess things up right and good but my ability to pull it together has improved with age and wisdom. All this said, I do not know of an individual who enjoys failing, who revels in it or wants it to happen over and over.

So, really, I just needed a xanax.

I passed my driving theory test and then took my sweet time taking my driving practical test because the Irish driving test is incredibly difficult. After two years of putting off the test I decided to buck up and apply for my proper license since I have been driving semi-illegally this whole time and one day the gards are going to pull me over. Not only will they take my provisional license away but they will also slap me with a lovely fine. I had to prepare, though. It’s not like the New Jersey test where you have to barely pass five maneuvers to obtain a license. During the Irish test you have to first take a oral exam on the rules of the road:

Where are you not allowed to park?
What do you do if you have a green light but no filter to turn?
What is a contra-flow bus lane?

And then you have to identify signs. The same pictures on a sign can mean a different thing if the sign itself is a different color. You have to identify about 15 of them. Fifteen of a billion.

Eventually you get to your car where he asks you to lift the hood. You have to identify where your brake fluid, coolant, engine oil, and windshield wiper fluid are kept and how you know when they are running low or need to be changed. Then onto the tires where you have to know the proper tire tread depth (1.6mm), how you know this (the arrow pointing to the bump in the tread) and what your tire pressure is (I check the sign at the garage).

Eighteen hours later you can finally get in your car. Where he tests your knowledge of your lights. (Mine worked.)

You finally get to buckle your belt and drive. I had done well up to this point. I was a little fuzzy on the signs because, let’s face it, unless the sign says stop you should always proceed with caution. It’s a fool-proof answer. And I messed up my explanation on how to identify low engine oil which is really bad because my father used to have me change my own oil in high school and then reward me with a beer. Other than those things, which are minor, I was doing great. I was confident. I took pre-tests for the week leading up to the test and besides some silly mistakes made under pressure I was a good driver and I knew it. Unfortunately, there are about 50 things they mark you on during the Irish test, and it’s around 25 minutes long. They mark you throughout on your observation, progress, and road safety and of these you can only get a second degree mark eight times before you fail.

I pulled out into the road and he gave me directions. We drove through intersections (always looked right, left, right even when there was a light), I went around stationary cars (using my blinker to go into the right lane), I went over hump-back bridges (also known as speed bumps for anyone outside of the road safety authority) and even drove through a construction zone without him marking his paper once. I navigated a round-about properly.

Then I drove on the wrong side of the road.

What happen is a bit confusing and weird. I didn’t suddenly think I was transported back to America where we drive on the right side. I just thought it was a one-way street. So when he told me to take the next right, I pulled into the right lane. The lane where there could have been oncoming traffic. He yelled out, “YOU’RE IN THE WRONG LANE” and I quickly corrected myself but it was too late. I had automatically failed. We went straight back to the testing center and while tears came down my face I inwardly beat myself up for being so silly. I stewed over it the whole rest of the day with my mother-in-law (who came to the test with me to watch Mister Man), and then Bub, asking me if I was okay knowing the battle that was going on in my head about failing a driving test after driving for 11.5 years.

That evening we were in bed and Bub asked me one last time if I was really okay with everything and I told him I was disappointed but alright. That I felt stupid but I’d apply and take the test again. After a moment of silence we started giggling. And then laughing. And then outright howling with tears running down our cheeks. Because, let’s face it -- I DROVE ON THE WRONG SIDE OF THE ROAD. Who does that? Who, during a driving test, drives on the wrong side? I might as well have closed my eyes and told the tester I was “feeling” the road for how ridiculous my actions were.

No sullen attitude. No snarky or condescending words. Just acceptance of my little failure and the relief I felt that I could move on from something so silly and knowing that, not only will this improve my driving for my next test, but also maybe a step in the right direction for all future mishaps. No doubt there will be plenty.

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Liz in Dublin