10 years – 10 long years – that’s how long it took for me to learn driving in Switzerland.
Okay – you caught me there. I am exaggerating. It wasn’t as though I was learning the art for a decade, but yes, it did take me 10 years to finally get a Swiss license.
It all started in 2001. Anil got his license after 8 driving lessons to get to get used to diving on the opposite side, adjusting to the new rules, priorities, traffic, etc. So, it was my turn now.
I had an Indian driving license. I had taken 20 classes. Learned nothing. Been to the RTO. Almost killed people and punctured footballs as I drove the Maruti crammed with 5 other “aspiring car drivers” and the examiner. And – at the end of the ordeal I was asked: “Madam – national chalega ki international mangta?”Shocked, I blurted international!
But – ahem – Anil knew that. How did he assume I could pass with 10 classes? Okay – we were new to the Alpine land, with very little disposable income. Driving was an expensive proposition. But, 10 classes?
Ho-hum – I gave in. I said I’d give it my best shot. And, I’d learn from Anil’s teacher as he understood the Indian mindset.
Meet the teacher
“Baldev Singh – from Jallandar ji” Married ji – to a Swiss lady. She’s a nurse but is earning to be a driving teacher since she seems to enjoy that more.
So Singh speaks a mix of Punjabi and Swiss German with a smattering of English.
Seatbelt, engine, lights on. And I whizz – at the speed of a tortoise. “Faster – Gas gebe (accelerate)” he says. And then he rams on the breaks, looks at my licence. “Fake na. Hmm… 10 class not enough. I guarantee failure. Challo ji!” He says. That’s some encouragement.
Over the next sessions he convinces me I’d fail.
He also tells me that when I break, I should keep in mind that I’d come to a complete halt 5 metres later. Well, “I don’t even know the distance between you and me Singh –ji . How do I know how far 5metres are?” He slaps his forehead and says, “One, two, three, four, five – yeh lo – 5 trees and so 5 metres.”
“Singh ji – there are no trees on highways. How will I know then?”
Next we talk of psycho-motor behavior. Where you look there you drive, where you drive there you look,” he tells me. And just as I am about to hit a 100 speed limit at the twilight hour of 9pm, he says, “Look at the moon – beautiful isn’t it?” I mutter, “Where you look, there you drive. Want me to take you up there? To the moon?”
We both give up.
20 days later, I am taken to the Strassenverkehrsamt for my driving test. I am shaking with fear – fear of letting my teacher and my husband down. Did I say my teacher? Nah – he knew I’d fail. But letting hubby dear down? Failing for the first time ever in my life? Nah! I’ve never failed and I never will.
Singh walks out – talks to the examiner, walks back to me and says, “Best of luck, but bad luck – you have the toughest examiner in the history of the driving authorities. Please at least try talking in German!”
Needless to say, I failed. I was miserable. I never thought I’d ever fail – but I did! Never say never!!! And to cope with this was not easy. My world had crashed. Me sense of self had crashed.
After this devastating yet humbling experience, there was more in store.
So now you all no I didn’t make it in my first attempt. I was disappointed – but more than that I was angry! And with Anil!!! How could he not realize that I can’t come to terms with failure? How could he not know that I needed waaaaaaaay more than 10 classes? Did he not realize that I’d never driven in snowy, frosty conditions? I mean real thick snow! For that matter – that I’d really never driven?
In retrospect – how could he? We’d been married just 11 months! (Ah! Me and my large forgiving heart ☺ )
And now that I’d been here for a year, and not passed my “convert to Swiss license” test, I had to go through the whole rigmarole of:
1. Theory exam
2. Practical driving lessons – number of classes to be taken – read this – double the number of years you’ve walked the planet! In my case, 56.
3. Red Cross Course of 3 solid weekends
4. Driving psychology course
5. Practical exam
And you pay a large amount for each step. Those days driving practical lessons used to cost CHF80 per hour! Howzzat for saving and being a new arrival in the land of expenses and high living costs!
I am B-A-D at convincing my own hubby.
I tried telling him the joys of public transport. And no kidding, most people – even politicians and top shot business people travel by train. Switzerland is well networked – trains, buses, tram systems are all coordinated like clockwork – and talking of clocks – punctuality is the middle name of public transport here – along with cleanliness, pleasantness and more. Yes, I am truly amazed at this level of attention to detail for a bunch of commuters – nameless and unknown to the authorities.
But – no – Anil had a licence and I had to have one! That was that. So I thought, what the hell – I’ve given umpteen number of exams, so here’s one more. And I had the option to do the theory in English.
And off I go!
I passed the theory, enrolled myself for the rest of the procedures and started practical lessons – this time – with Annabella Meier Singh! Yes, the nurse-wife who wanted to teach. I was her third student.
We bargained a bit and decided to go for 20 – not 56 classes (desi mentality comes to the fore). After all, her husband had taught me before, so 10 classed should be considered done and over with! So classes began. She spoke German and “haan-ji” “nai-ji” – punjabi ishtyle. She said I was doing okay as I drove.
She was a lovely person – until we decided to go on the highway. “Aradhna – I have three children! No – you’re not set to hit the highway. We will practice parking,” she shrieked – hyperventilating at the same time.
Parking was a bigger fiasco – we tried it everyday, till my 103-point reverse parking became a 3 point-parking ☺ Nice!
The Red Cross course was interesting and so was driving psychology.
Shaking with nervousness I asked if she thought I could do it. “Yes” – she said – and added “may be, but you should have taken more classes”. Well, at least she hadn’t said “No” !
And – she went on – “you have a lenient examiner.” Yippee! Smiling, I greeted the examiner and we were off!
I went on the highway – a bit too slow. I changed lanes – a bit too fast. I parked – at the wrong spot and with 30 false moves or more. And then – I almost killed a dog! Not really. The lady and her dog had crossed both the streets of the main road – and then the stupid mutt jumped back on. On to the other side. It has to be “Superdog” to be able to run all the way back to my side of the street – so I drove on! And the examiner breaked hard and asked me if I had made a mistake. I said no – and gave him the above reasoning. He said I was arguing. I said I wasn’t. He said I was and I continued with my reasoning…
Well, like her other students, I failed – AGAIN! And poor Annabella reverted back to her old profession of being a nurse as she nursed her own mental wounds!
I was devastated yet again! Anil told me about a friend’s wife who attempted driving in Europe 9 times and passed at the her 10th attempt. I said hats off to her. I’m not the kind to go on after this.
But – I was wrong!
Anabella Meier Singh gave up, but Aradhna Jyoti Sethi didn’t!
Okay – confession
I was depressed, low, hated the concept of driving, and didn’t see the need to get behind the steering wheel of this potentially lethal weapon called a car.
But, Anil the ever-optimist – at times to sickeningly impractical levels – God bless him, was adamant that I learn driving, you know… just incase something happened! Like what, I asked? Well, he cajoled, say someone was to be taken to the hospital.
NOW – I was sure my husband of almost three years knew me ZILCH! IF there’s anything that can make me loathe something and lose any motivation to do it, it is what psychologists lovingly call “negative reiforcement”. THAT to me is “positive demotivator”!
But that “little Aradhna” in me who never let anyone down reared her innocent head again and decided to go for it this last time. The third and final attempt. For Anil.
So gritting my teeth, I studied for the theory exam again (one theory result was valid for just a year, and I had just about completed that year a month ago). And off I went. Exam cleared. Off for practical lessons – sigh – again. This time again with Annabella, on special request. She was a kind and understanding woman. All done.
Test day arrives
The examiner was a man – three times my size, spoke only German, and was a tough cookie to handle. He looked at me disapprovingly and asked if I spoke Swiss German. Hesitatingly, I replied, “ Ich verstehe und spreche ein wenig Deutsch. Ich habe fuer ein Jahr die gelernt.” (I understand and speak a little German. I’ve studied it for a year).
He was not impressed.
A shiver ran down my spine as we started. After 10 minutes, things seemed to get better. No mistakes yet. A slightly rough break at the traffic light. I apologised, explaining that I was a touch nervous.
I expected him to tell me to head to the highway. I was mentally prepared. “Drive uphill to the next town please, via the country road,” he told me in crisp German. My eyes widen as I was caught off guard! My mouth went dry and I croaked “What!”He repeated his instruction in an irritated tone. Suddenly – I changed lanes without indication and swerved towards the road he wanted me to go on. It was winding and steep. The 50km speed limit was struck off. What now? Annabelle had told me to go to the next speed limit – but 80 on these kind of roads? My thoughts raced on as my foot squeezed forcefully on the accelerator.
Suddenly everything was spinning. I felt sick. At a distance, I heard a faint but extremely angry voice saying, “Are you mad! You are driving too fast and on the wrong side! You’ll get us both killed! Please drive back NOW!”
Dazed and confused, I stopped, turned back and drove… slowly. I knew I’d not passed. But he still had to say it. It still hurt. But I really couldn’t figure out what had happened. I felt sick. I stopped all “car-connected” conversation with Anil or anyone else. He warned friends and family to not broach the subject. I was volcanically volatile!
And then – a month after the miserably failed exam – I found out what I had suffered on that day was sheer nervous tension AND my first bout of morning sickness.
No more driving – at least for the next 9 months I thought – perhaps never again – my heart hoped. But mostly, my heart jumped with excitement at the thought of the little life being created within me through the next 40 weeks!
Darling little Aakash came along. He was almost 16 months old. We had never spoken about driving again. And then, I was expecting little Aanya! There was no way I was going to learn how to drive at this stage. Never!
But never say never… (watch out Swiss roads!)
So now we hadn’t spoken about driving for sometime. Aanya was 6 months old and Aakash three years old. He had started with Play School. And sometimes, it seemed to take ages just to get there with the two kids! Aanya would sit or snooze in her pram and Aakash would stand on the kiddy board while I pushed the two – slightly uphill. But he was getting heavier and bigger, so was she – and walking him down to Play School started to get to be a weekly chore which I wasn’t enjoying much.
Moreover, I had no time at all – by the time I’d drop him and get home, I’d have to leave again to get him home with a short 60-minute break. This break I’d use to go grocery shopping (with Aanya and her pram) or for a quick coffee with the neighbour.
Hmm… I wondered…
“Perish the thought! Sitting behind the wheel of a lethal weapon and hit the roads where innocent people risk their lives each day is not what you’re meant for Aradhna,” said a little voice in my head. OK! Not a problem – soon Aakash would be in Kindergarten just a block away ☺
And then began kindergarten and my new job. I would get to work in 48 minutes door-to-door by public transport. But then, I got late one day, missed a train and was still somewhere on the way for two hours now. And then, the next day a kind husband offered to pick me up – and I was home in 23 minutes flat! But no – driving was still not worth it.
We began a house hunt – a piece of heaven on this lovely earth. But hey, we had the public transport going to each nook and corner of the Alps! So we began a hunt – checking out train routes and setting a time limit of 25-30 minutes from home. Okay, for now everything seemed to be either over our budget or just too close to the station and not right to bring up babies… But we had patience – there was no rush.
I started to look for Karate classes for Aakash. Every village and town was self-sufficient. Aha! Found a teacher. But she was bedridden! Had a bad accident and couldn’t teach, but she recommended a school in the next town. I would need an hour by train and bus to get there, wait there for an hour and get back spending another hour on the road – 3 hours for an hour’s lesson. Well, I didn’t want my kids to lose out on the joys of learning just because I couldn’t drive!
That was it! I’d try again! And this time – I would do it – for the kids!
I spoke to Anil and told him this time I’d do it – but I did not want any limits set on the number of lessons I take. I would do it at my pace and give the test when I felt right. He was shocked into acquiescence.
I contacted Frau Fritz.
She came over.
1. She had a manual car and me an automatic
2. It was October and my theory would be valid only until December 8
3. If I had to appear for yet another theory exam – I’d have to do it in German – not a problem as the last time I had dome it in German and scored full marks
4. I would have to first go to the driving psychologist to see if I could actually still attempt driving after failing thrice. Now that was unacceptable!
1. Frau Fritz checked with the authorities if she could teach me in my car – the hand brake was good and, after all I had taken practical lessons prior to this. She got the permission. Yippee!
2. Well, I’d take my chances. If I could appear for a test in November, I could still attempt a second time in December
3. German was not a problem
4. Driving psychologist?!? Naaah! But I’d learnt never say never! And for the kids – I’d do it!
Classes began. Petrol prices were high – so were driving lesson prices. Anil was concerned. I could see it – but he didn’t say a thing.
We drove – for hours – an hour a day – between 4 to 6 hours a week. The meter was running on all counts – fuel price, teacher fee, patience, my test deadline. I had got my first attempt date on December 2, my birthday.
November was here. I had my good days and my bad ones.
On one particular day, at the end of the lesson, the teacher asked “What did you do before the lesson today and yesterday?” My throat went dry… what did I do now?
“Well,” I stuttered, “I worked from home – the kids were at daycare. Then at noon, I had my lunch. Then I took the toy cars of my son and practiced parking and lane changing to see the angles and mentally practice. An hour before class I had a coffee and 30 minutes before a chocolate!” “Good,” she said.
Next week, do the exact same thing, she told me as I went home.
Viola! I followed the same pattern – my teacher remarked that on this day I drove very well. As also on the previous dates where I had followed this pattern the week before. She had noted the routine and the dates.
“Before the test, do the same,” she advised.
November 30th – my last lesson before the D-day.
Frau Fritz – she was 65. I would be her last student.
I wanted her to have happy last memories of the profession she’d chosen to pursue for 45 years!
We’d spoken of her daughter-in-law problems, her younger son’s girlfriend’s uncultured mannerisms, laughed together at the stupidity of men, pulled a finger at those driving and not being sticklers to rules as she was… We’d shared close to 25 hours of togetherness – in one car, travelling the same road, in the same direction (a dose of melodramatic Bollywood dialogue here, eh! 😉 )
Would this December 2 be a Happy Birthday or…
Posted by Aradhna Sethi
Driving me cra-a-a-azy! Totally!!!
The day of the test
I woke up that morning – December 2. It was my test day – oh yes and my birthday! But right now – it was the test that mattered.
Anil cheerfully tried to wish me – but one cold look from me – and he knew he’d better manage the show of sending the kids to Kindergarten and Daycare himself.
By the time I showered and made my coffee – everyone – including Anil had left.
The test was at 4pm. It was just 8am!
I went to the toy cupboard and practiced all my parking styles and lane changing. I made a mental note of all my mistakes and the correct solutions.
I checked my mail. I’d taken the day off from work. So I logged on to facebook and gmail . I listened to music, cooked up a light lunch.
Frau Fritz would pick me up at 3:30pm.
Hmm… I had an hour and a half. The phone rang. Frau Fritz said, “Drink you coffee in an hour. Don’t forget the chocolate. Bis bald!”
Tick-tock, tick-tock. And the beep of sms-es wishing me a happy birthday. I didn’t want to read them until I knew it was really Happy!
Soon, I was in the car with Frau Fritz – and I drove this one last time before the test. She seemed happy, but nervous.
At the Strassenverkehrsamt, I parked – perfectly. She stepped out and turned. “Eat this quick and keep warm, “she said handing me a stick of Callier cholocate. She went to get the examiner.
A Santa look-alike stepped into the car.
I was shivering and really cold despite my layers of warm clothing and the heating in the car on.
The examiner greeted me with a friendly handshake. Noticing how cold I was, he asked, “Are you nervous?” “Yes,” I half shivered and half stammered. “I see it’s your birthday today. Come on, let’s go when you’re ready!”
I said a silent prayer, bowed my head and started the car.
I drove back in after 65 minutes to see Frau Fritz cramming chocolate into her face and pacing up and down. I was relaxed, but not sure of the result yet. “Santa” had taken me on 30-zones, 120-speedlimit highways, made me park a few times, change lanes, drive through zones where lots of children were playing and walking in the 30-zone street… And right through, he has spoken to me about India, the differences between the people here and there, my life here.
I parked. He smiled at me – scribbled something on a piece of paper and said – “Happy Birthday. It’s my pleasure to give you your license. You really did a good job – not one mistake!”
I could’vé kissed him!
Frau Fritz rushed to me with her chocolate face beaming the minute she saw me smiling with 100% joy! “You worried me sick! The test is usually for 45 minutes, you were gone for 65!”
How do I know what happened? I just knew I’d got my license – thanks to her.
I called Anil and said, “NOW, it’s a happy birthday. I’ll be home in 40 minutes.”
I got home to hubby-and-kids-baked hot chocolate muffins – complete with icing and decorations.
Yes, I’d done it! And with the license came the “taxi mum” tag – and responsibility!