I sat in the driver’s seat and looked to my right. Not a shoulder check, just a look to the side. The driving examiner seated next to me slapped his hands on his thighs. “Alright,” he said, “Off we go!”
I put the key in the ignition, checked all my mirror two or three times, put on my signal, and pulled out of the parking spot. Here we go, I thought.
I was nervous because driving tests are stressful. Even though I’ve been a licensed driver for more than 20 years.
That’s right, this driving test was last week. Of course, I had a driver’s license from when I was 16 years old. But that expired ceases to be valid after 180 days of living in the Netherlands. I’ve been here for 4 years (or 1,460 days).
For the most part, having a technically illegal license in my wallet hasn’t been a problem, because we don’t own a car, and the Netherlands has great public transport, plus cycling is way faster and easier. But three things inspired me to actually (re)get my driver’s license.
3 reasons to get a license
1. Last year I wrote a commercial for Heineken. No, you haven’t seen it; it was an internal commercial to launch a new communications platform. On the day of the filming, one of the people from the agency that had contracted me found out I was also an actor and offered me some well-paid work. Only thing: I needed a driver’s license.
As a man of negotiable morals, I was prepared to omit the fact that my driver’s license wasn’t technically valid. A job is a job.
Then she explained the gig to me: pick up some VIPs in a rental car. Act like a terrible driver and a complete asshole. Get lost, shout at them, pull over on the highway and get out to look at the car while talking on the phone, as ideally the people get more and more frustrated, scared and angry. Upon a delayed arrival at their destination they would learn that my bad driving was a ‘moment of experiential learning’ about customer care, or something.
This whole situation sounded dodgy enough without me adding genuine illegality into the mix. So I didn’t do it. Having no license lost me out on some paid work. So I resolved to get my Dutch license. But I didn’t. As is so often the case, the resolution didn’t translate into action.
2. In the summer of 2016 the UK voted for Brexit. By a very small margin, but still it happened. My British passport is how I’ve managed to live in Europe for 15 years with little to no bureaucratic hassle. I like it that way, so I voted to ‘Remain’. But I was in the minority. Suddenly, my British passport isn’t the automatic easy safe ticket to Eurodwelling it once was. I mean, not much will change, probably. But who knows.
I figured that the more I integrate myself into Dutch society, the safer I am. I already own a home, have a job, have a bank account, and so on. I’m legit. Having a Dutch driver’s license would really help me be more Dutch, and at least it wouldn’t hurt. But still, I didn’t start.
3. By the end of June Chiara was in the third trimester of her pregnancy. That means we started setting up the house, and the idea of becoming parents started to feel real. Now, I’m not an old-school dad in terms of emotional repression and red meat consumption, but looming fatherhood, caused me to want to be able to do fatherly things. Like provide for my family, and shout at everyone in the car when we get lost on road trips.
Getting a driver’s license was a ticket to at least part of that dream.
The road to licensing
In the Netherlands, the first thing you need to do to get a license is to take your theory test.
I borrowed the English study guides from a friend, booked an exam, and looked through the guides a few times. I went to the exam and failed so hard. Nobody was looking (it was all automated) but still: it was embarrassing.
So I enlisted my wife’s help, and we got serious about studying. We went through the whole book section by section, and she quizzed me relentlessly. So I knew the questions in the book backward and forward. Now I was prepared. I went.
I failed again. Turned out knowing the book wasn’t enough.
Now I was pissed. I bought some online courses, and wrote practice exams every day for nearly a month. This time I passed. It was close, but still: I did it.
The practical part
The driving lessons I took went pretty well. This was the easiest part. I can drive a stick shift, know how to signal and so on. There were some things I needed to do to be able to pass the test, but it was all uneventful. Even the exam itself was uneventful.
But it wasn’t until the end of the exam, when we were back inside the building and the instructor shook my hand that I was sure I passed.
And now, I feel like I’m 16 all over again. Flush with the success of passing through this ritual, and entering adulthood. Only rather than approaching the end of my high school career, I’m turning 40. Still, tastes sweet.
One way to stay young is to do things that young people do. For some people that might mean staying out all night and partying, but for me it meant getting my driver’s license.