Getting your driver’s license is one of the most exciting milestones of your teen years. A sign of your growing independence, the anticipation of driving without your parents as your designated chauffeur increases as you get closer to obtaining that small rectangular card with your picture on it. In many countries, the wait doesn’t last long; however, in Israel, the process is arduous.
While rules and regulations have changed since I got my license, from what I remember, teens must be over sixteen to begin driving and have a minimum of twenty-eight lessons. In that time, Israeli youth are only allowed to drive with their teacher, hopefully gaining all the information and experience they need to pass the test without needing more lessons and spending more money. After passing the theory exam and having a preliminary driving test, a teen is finally ready to complete the last step toward getting their license. Nevertheless, freedom is not as close as anticipated because while a they might have passed their tests, new drivers are only allowed to drive a car with an adult present for the first year.
That has to be the whole process, right? You would think…
I recently discovered that after driving for five years, before I could renew my license, I was required by Israeli law to take a “refreshers” course. It seemed simple enough. Eight hours over two days; it’ll be a walk in the park…
Something you should know about Israel: Foreigners are rarely given all of the details before being thrown into the lion’s den to fend for themselves.
So, after choosing a date to take the course and selecting English as my language of choice, I waited for the day to arrive. As I searched for the right classroom (there were no signs), I met three girls who were also looking for the same place. They were Israelis but spoke English, so I figured they were fluent enough to participate in the eight-hour course I had signed up for; little did I know that I was the one in for a surprise.
Following them to the class, my eyes widened as I listened to the Hebrew being spoken around me. This can’t be right, I thought to myself as I approached the teacher.
“Um, excuse me. I think there’s been a mistake. I paid for the English course.”
Unable to speak much English, the teacher gestured for me to go to the office and sort it out with them. “I’ll wait,” was all he said as he waved a dismissing hand my way.
Following his instructions, I went to the front desk and once again explained the situation. The staff only stared at me with a look of sympathy before handing me an English booklet. They said, “This is going to be very boring for you.”
What does that even mean? Do I seriously have to sit in a class where I can barely understand a single word for the next two days? I thought as I returned to the class and took one of the last available seats. Looking around, I felt like the odd one out; a poppy in a field of daisies.
You have got to be kidding me, I groaned.
Given no instruction or even acknowledgment, I opened the booklet I’d been given and spent the next three hours reading every word, front and back, blocking out the teacher as he bellowed information in Hebrew.
With an hour left of day one, I left the classroom and returned to the front desk to ask if I could take the test. Unfortunately, the staff informed me that they could not give me the test until the course had ended. They said, “You have to sit in the class the whole thing, today and tomorrow.”
“But, I don’t understand a single word, and I’m ready now,” I complained.
“Sorry, it’s the law.” They replied.
“Well, this is ridiculous! What am I supposed to do?”
“Sit and do whatever you want, just so long as you’re in the class.”
With a huff, I reluctantly returned to the classroom and spent the last hour reading on my Kindle, thankful for a distraction to pass the time.
Four hours felt torturous enough, but the following day, I was required to return and endure it all over again. Nervous that I hadn’t been given enough guidance to pass — the teacher was clearly leading the others through the booklet in great detail — I once again flipped through the pages, answering the practice questions and focusing on the sections where I stumbled. It didn’t take long. Within two hours, I was ready for the course to be over and sighed as I looked at the clock and saw that there were still one hundred and twenty minutes left. Thankfully, I once again came prepared and wrote on my iPad to pass the time.
The tests arrived in such formality that one would think we were about to take the SATs or something on that level. As each person’s name was called to collect their question and answer sheets, I waited in angst. When my name was finally called, I didn’t miss the glance the teacher gave me, like he knew I was getting the short end of the stick.
Taking my seat, I looked at the test and saw that the answer sheet had been numbered to twenty, while the test itself only contained ten questions…
Maybe this is only part one, and we have to ask for the second half when we’re ready? I pondered as I peered at the girl beside me to see how many questions she had on her page. Not wanting to disturb the class, I took a deep breath and began.
Eight hours. Two days. One test. Ten questions. Five minutes.
I kid you not, after all of that sitting, studying, and stressing, the entire test took me all of five minutes! I have never been a good test taker, especially when it comes to multiple-choice, so I made sure to double-check that I had not missed anything since a part of me still thought there had to be a trick or some sort of scam happening. Nevertheless, with confidence, I took my test to the front and handed it to the teacher.
“Siyamyta (finished)?” He asked.
“Is this it?” I replied, still expected another sheet of questions to be handed to me.
“Yes,” he nodded.
Stunned at at the whole experience, I returned to my seat to collect my things and walked out of the classroom for the last time. I was finally free!
The following day, I received a text informing me that I had passed the test… Welcome to life in Israel!