Friday, August 27, 2004

Do you like to drive in Samoan?

After using various forms of public (VTA) and alternative means of transportation (skateboard, rollerblades and a bicycle), it was time to purchase a car. After all, Car is King in California. Highways have eight or more lanes and there is an exit every mile. Bike lanes or sidewalks on the contrary are most often non existent. Many of the people I got to know by then, owned on average two cars, and often had one permanently stalled in the driveway. Americans love their cars. They love owning them, driving them and working on them. Since there is no mandatory yearly safety checkup, you encounter some real disasters on the freeways. One car was literaly kept together by tape. You will also encounter cars of every age. And nothing could be cooler than working on your American classic muscle car.Dealerships have made it very easy to buy a new car. You don't even have to put money on the table and off you are in the new 2005 model*.

Purchasing a car first ment time to get a California Drivers' License at the Department of Motor Vehicles ("the DMV"). While often ridiculed for the long lines and bureaucracy, the California DMV is currently a very modern and computerized department. Most paperwork can now be obtained and filed online.

Obtaining a Drivers' License was a bizarre experience. First of all, the theoretical exam is a walk in the park. However it can be very tricky. One question I still remember today: "If you get caught spraying graffiti, your drivers' license will be a) suspended b) suspended/delayed till you are at least 21 years old c) not affected."** What this had to do with being a safe driver and knowing the road rules, was a mystery to me. For a flavour of the current exams, check out some of the sample tests. As I paid the $12 registration fee, the office clerk asked me in which language did I want to take the test. "Huh? In which language? .. English", I said, "but what are my choices?" "I am glad you asked", he said, and rattled of a list of languages. Besides English, the basic Class C written driver license exam is also available in the following languages:
Amharic Arabic Armenian Cambodian
Chinese Croatian French German
Greek Hebrew Hindi Hmong
Hungarian Indonesian Italian Japanese
Korean Laotian Persian/Farsi Polish
Portuguese Punjabi Romanian Russian
Samoan Spanish Tagalog/Filipino Thai
Tongan Turkish Vietnamese

Besides English, the basic Class C audio driver license exam is also available in the following languages:

Armenian Chinese/Mandarin Hindi Hmong
Japanese Korean Portuguese Punjabi
Russian Spanish Vietnamese

Since I had studied the Driver's handbook in English, I opted for English. But I found it bizarre that English is not a requirement to drive a car. Will the California Highway Patrol dispatch a translator when they pull a Laotian over, unable to speak a word of English?
Give me a break! As English is the official language, English should be the only language in which you can take the Drivers' Exam. And let's save a few trees and dollars translating and printing the Driver's handbooks and exams in the various languages. (Or at least add Dutch/Flemish.)

* It's somewhat a mystery to me that the 2005 model gets delivered to the show rooms by summer 2004. The 2005 model should arrive in January 2005.
** If I remember correctly, your drivers' license will be b) delayed/suspended till at least 21 years of age.

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