In my pre-Reunion life, I was happily car-free. Buses and trains were perfectly fine for trips to work, university or visiting friends. And I would walk to the shops and markets a few times a week to get food or other necessities. I knew how to drive, and had a learner’s permit allowing me to drive as long as another person was in the car with me. But since life was so easy without a car I never found the motivation to actually sign up for the driver’s exam.
That is, until I arrived on the island in 2007 and was immediately confronted with the reality of Reunion’s public transport system. Or lack of it. Buses ran every hour, and stopped at seven pm. Half the places I wanted to go were nowhere near a bus stop, and tickets were expensive. The only fun part of taking the bus was clapping to signal the driver to stop. But that was no consolation as I spent each day stuck at home and unable to go anywhere interesting.
So I signed up to do the famous ‘code de la route’. For those who haven’t done this exam recently, here’s an example of a question, which I’ve only slightly exaggerated: “It’s three pm on a Wednesday in September. Am I allowed to park on the left side of the road if I have snow chains on the tyres of my car and my headlights are on?” The questions were crazy and at the time I couldn’t speak a sentence in French. Luckily, I’m stubborn and over several months I studied with the code book in one hand and a French English dictionary in the other. After passing the theory exam, it was time to sign up for the driving exam.
Even though I could already drive, I took extra lessons in order to adapt to driving on the other side of the road, and dealing with the mountains. Back home in Perth, the roads are all flat but here I needed to get used to extremely steep roads, hairpin curves and trying not to drive into any ditches. My first attempt at the driving exam, I failed miserably after it started raining heavily, another situation I had no experience with in Australia, and I panicked. The second time, I passed with flying colours. That was in October 2010, and today I’m proud to say I can do a pretty good parallel park and drive in torrential rain up and down mountains. What was a frustrating situation turned out to be a gift in disguise, and as a bonus I learnt to speak French because of it.
car-free – sans voiture
learner’s permit – permit provisoire
to sign up – s’inscrire
lack – manque
clapping – taper les mains
slightly – légèrement
snow chains – chaines à neige
tyres – pneus
headlights – les phares
sentence – phrase
stubborn – tétue
even though – malgré
other side of the road – l’autre côté de la route
flat – plat
steep – raide
hairpin curves – virages en épingle
ditches – caniveaux
with flying colours – avec distinction
to parallel park – faire un créneau
gift in disguise – un mal pour un bien