L is for Learning - Again

Moving to a new country as a middle-aged adult with school-aged kids is never simple. You have all the expected practical things to sort out anew with respect to banking, taxes, housing, job situations, visas, schools, daycares, sports, etc. In the first several months the list seems endless. This is on top of the cultural adjustments you need to make in terms of language, food, holidays, and a thousand small things. A lot of this is of course fun and interesting – discovering and then adapting to the differences is part of the joy of being an expat. It’s in any case what you sign up for.

But there are also a number of things you have to do or redo, not for any logical or practical reason, but just because of differences in systems and regulations, where you fall between some cracks. Or just because some bureaucrat hasn’t really thought it through.

After 10 years in Norway, this one is undoubtedly the most annoying.

The drivers ed course is a rite of passage for teenagers. Not for 53 year old men who have been driving for nearly four decades.

Maybe it’s because I have been driving for longer than the patient but pedantic instructors have been alive. Maybe it’s because I resent spending a few dozen hours in classes spread out over months that compete with work time to teach me what I already know. Or maybe it’s because it is costing me over $2500! Or maybe it’s because I’m having to take these lessons at the same time as my teenage son and he’s enjoying the irony a little too much.

I started driving as soon as I was legally allowed to do so – actually a bit earlier. My dad bought me an old 1969 Ford Fairlane with 7 of 8 cylinders in working order when I was 15 and I took a few opportunities to drive around the neighborhood when I thought no one was watching. I had my license within days of turning 16 in my sophomore year and I have been driving more or less ever since. Sure, in those first few years I had more than my fair share of tickets and small accidents (a slow-motion rollover in my classmate’s long and curvy driveway). I haven’t had any sort of accident in over 30 years though, and no moving violations in over 15 years - even longer if you exclude the speeding tickets from the brief period when I owned a sportier car (which is to be expected I think). I drive like an old man these days, often while wearing a hat. I have also been driving in Norway for over 10 years, as it turns out much of it illegally, without any citations or accidents. But here I am, back in driving school with the teens, plebes and first-time drivers.

The other students are actually a mix of people with various backgrounds. You’ve got the surly Norwegian teen who rarely speaks except in monosyllables. The ambitious young woman from India who is always first to chime in. The young Korean woman who brings along her infant and gets by somehow with no English or Norwegian. The Mexican chef with a sunny disposition. And then the grumpy old American who thinks he knows everything (me). It’s like a B cast from Community.

To be fair though, while the driver’s education in Norway is much more time consuming and expensive than what we have in the U.S., it also more thorough with specialized classes to cover various aspects and situations. And despite having some extreme conditions, Norway has many fewer road fatalities per capita or km driven than almost any other country. And it manages this with many fewer police per capita (I have only been pulled over twice over 10 years, both in general checkpoints). The focus on safer roads, vehicles and driving has enabled Norway to decrease fatalities from a high of 255 in 2008 to a low of 106 in 2017. One cannot argue with that kind of success.

And I also must admit that I have in fact learned a thing or two, despite my bad attitude and over confidence. I thought I was an expert on icy roads and conditions but at the test facility I managed to take out 4 pedestrians and 2 moose… As well I forgot much I had once learned about first-aid. So this hasn’t been a total waste of time. But I could’ve learned what I needed in a couple of hours tops.

I have accepted my fate, set aside the cash and rearranged my schedule. This COVID-19 situation though has ground everything to a halt – including the final steps to getting this bloody license. Frustrating but also no big deal. I don’t drive much anyway so it’s not much of an inconvenience. With the lockdown, we are not even allowed to go to the cabin, the only place we really depend on a car. That leaves me loads of time to write this rant thinly disguised as a blog post. That L on my forehead is for learning to cope.

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