Immigration is great fun, probably ranking up there with repeatedly sticking a fork in your eye. It’s hard to say what the biggest hurdle is, but looking back over our move to France I’d have to say that the driver’s licence debacle was the worst piece of bureaucrazy we encountered. Just to refresh your memory, Neil spent 600 euros, endless hours of intensive driving education and a grand total of about 18 months to procure the pink paper that set him legally loose on the roads of France.
My licence application is still sitting on some French bureaucrat’s desk covered in croissant crumbs and wine stains. Bear in mind that I began the process 2 years ago. I’ve left the country and it’s still pending. I mean that’s some pretty impressive inefficiency. So you can imagine how Neil and I felt about having to face this issue again. We knew we only had a year to deal with it so there was no choice but to tackle it right away.
We suspended the minutiae of moving for a day and steeled ourselves for the battle of the century. Now I had already decided if it came down to driving school and a driver’s exam in French, then the easiest way for me to proceed was to walk everywhere or work a Swiss street corner for cash to hire a limo driver — either way, fine by me.
The first step was an eye exam, an added hoop that we didn’t have to jump through in France so already we feared the worst. We walked into an optical in our neighbourhood to arrange appointments. An agenda was consulted and a time was offered: “Come back in 15 minutes.” The optician spoke perfect English and we were in and out in a jiffy. Well now, I thought, at least that’s one moment of smooth sailing in the rough seas ahead.
We packed up our paperwork, moaned and groaned, and set off for the DMV in Lausanne. The place was packed but moved along like a well-oiled machine. After about 15 minutes we stood in front of our first Swiss civil servant. She was pleasant and efficient and likely confused by our simmering under the surface apprehension. She clicked away at her computer, consulted her supervisor and then came back to us with the very bad news. They were happy to give us licences but only to drive cars. If we wanted to drive a bus or a fire truck in Switzerland, we were shit out of luck.
As instructed, we went down a floor, walked in the room and before we could even fully comprehend our good fortune, we were each holding a Swiss permis de conduire. We had only one moment of panic when we realized we didn’t have any cash. Pas de problème — they send the bill TO YOUR HOUSE! Oh my holy mother of god. It took more time to find the DMV than it did to get the licences.
To be fair we’ve already been through enough Swiss paper mess (with more to come) to make anyone’s head explode, so don’t think I’m pitting one country against the other in a battle of bureaucracy. France might be the clear loser on this one but we’re the clear winners. We move to a town where we’ll almost never need a car and driver’s licences practically fall from the sky. I tucked my shiny card in my wallet and then checked the word ironie in my French-English dictionary. Sure enough there it was: not a single word, just a full colour photo of us. We look tired but happy.