In the Netherlands, you can only use your driving license if it is issued in one of the EU countries. If you are from USA, China or Russia, they treat your driving license as non-existent. Oh, wait, not exactly: the first half a year after your arrival, you are allowed to drive with your crappy Russian license, probably bought from a corrupt police officer, or with your US license, automatically given to all kids who reach the age of 16. But after half a year your foreign license is not valid anymore, and you have to go to a driving school and learn how to drive.
Two questions pop up. First, if I don’t know how to drive, why was I allowed to drive for the first half a year? If, otherwise, I know how to drive, why do I need to learn it?
The answer is simple. They want your money. All of it. My German friend used to joke: “See this car with the yellow number plate? They give it to people who failed their driving test four times.” Indeed, a lot of Dutch fail their driving test, the fact that nobody likes to talk about. Some of my friends admitted to it only when I complained about failing several Dutch driving tests after 10 years of driving in Moscow and one year of driving in USA.
The Dutch have the most demanding driving test in Europe. Their pass rate is one of the lowest, 40%. You can’t book a practice exam yourself, even if you are a middle-aged Russian professor who managed to survive crazy Moscow traffic, or an engineer from Alabama, who was driving from the age of 16. You still need to find a driving school and take a certain amount of driving lessons. It is the instructor who decides whether you are ‘ready’ for the test. Mine, for instance, did not consider me ready until I told him everything I knew about marketing communication strategy. He knew I was teaching marketing at the University of Twente, so we were just driving around discussing advertising plan for his driving school.
You can fail the test for driving too slow or too fast, for being ‘not confident enough‘ or ‘overconfident‘. You simply can’t win this game. An experienced driver from the US recalls that the first time he failed for ‘being too sure of himself‘, the second time for giving a way to a mom biking with two kids, and the third time the examiner asked: “Why did you fail the first two times?” before announcing that he failed again.
For me, the added difficulty was having Moscow, Russia as my birthplace written on my ID card. The popular Dutch TV program Idiots on the road is based on amateur recordings of stupid car accidents. Dashboard cameras are very popular in Russia, so the majority of recordings are coming from Russia. Watching the program creates an impression that all Russians are crazy idiots driving on red, crashing their cars against the lampposts or forgetting to put their cars on handbrake while buying cigarettes and then chasing them on foot. I am sure CBR examiners enjoy the show.
When I failed the test the third time, I asked what my mistakes were. “Well, I don’t remember any particular mistakes,” answered the examiner. “But I did not have a feeling of being at ease while you were driving”.
“Can they really do that? Can they fail you based on their feeling?” I asked my instructor.
“As a matter of fact, they can,” he answered. “But don’t worry, I had students who passed after eight attempts”.
“I don’t have money for eight attempts. I’ll try one more time, and then I’ll file an official complaint against the CBR. I have enough of their discrimination, subjective judgements and a total lack of clear criteria”.
I don’t know what happened, but the next time I passed. All in all, it took me two years and huge amount of money.
Hayley, an immigrant from Philippines:
I have lost count of how many times I cursed the CBR. I even blamed my husband for bringing me to this exceptionally regulated country. I felt pushed up to the wall, trapped with nowhere else to go, exhausted and very frustrated with getting the Dutch driver’s license mission that turned paranoia.
I passed on my third test. At the first one the examiner said I was going too slow on a country road, which wasn’t true. At the second test the examiner was lovely, but I rightly failed for cutting somebody up. At the third test I expected to fail. My instructors’ car had broken the night before so I had to take my test in a Ford when I’d been learning in a Peugeot. I was so incredibly nervous. I did good, the manoeuvres were fine, I came to the last roundabout and stalled it, but I did the correct thing and drove back into the test center. I could feel the tears building up in my eyes and the lump at the back of my throat. When the examiner said I passed I did literally burst into tears.
Idioten op de weg
I watch this program when I feel homesick. Cures nostalgia really well: