Friday, March 13, 2009

Driving, part II: Theory, or in Dutch, Theorie

So remember how I mentioned that I like to make things harder on myself than they have to be sometimes? Case in point: I chose to take my driving theory exam in Dutch.

The exam is available in English, but you have to take it in a town about 2 hours away from here and it's only offered a couple of times a year. And the books cost about twice as much. Those reasons and the fact that I did know some Dutch, having lived here for 2 years at that point helped me to conveniently forget that easy is not always a bad thing. What I also conveniently forgot is that each new venture that I undertake in the Dutch language has its own set of vocabulary that I haven't tended to come across yet, making my learning curve steep every time.

Working at an all-Dutch company? Hello university level sentence structure, business jargon and technical documents - in Dutch!

Starting my Dutch language classes? Hello Dutch names for all the parts involved in grammar and words involved in a classroom setting that you never hear at home! And all the grammar words tend to be longer words I've found. Dutch for 'noun': zelfstandig naamwoord.

So it went for studying the Dutch rules of the road. I started with a book loaned by the driving instructor, with the intention of keeping track of unknown words in Excel, like I did for work. I quickly realized that would be quite unhandy since I wasn't always studying at the computer and I added things too often to have it worth printing out. I went to the local bookstore and ordered a copy and after that, just wrote directly in the book.

It was excruciatingly slow at first. I didn't have a really good Dutch-to-English dictionary at that time and I had to ask T constantly what words meant then scribble them in the margins of the book. Sure, I knew what an 'auto' was, but they used 'motorvoertuig' (motor vehicle) instead. A lot of words to get used to. I diligently studied my way through a book that was at least 10 times as thick as I had used in the US.

One section that amused me greatly concerned how to behave around certain other groups of people on/near the road. It contained such gems as letting me know that kids playing on the sidewalk can make unpredictable movements. And did you know that you have to allow extra crossing time for old people because...they might be slow?? Seriously, an entire chapter.

The book came with a CD of practice exams and here's where my experience really changed. I in no way expected the exam to be paper and pencil. I expected to be sitting at a computer to take a multiple choice exam. Yeah, not so much. You sit in a room with about 50 other people, all at desks arranged into long rows. The desk has a small keypad sunk into it, partially shielded. The keypad has 0-9, A-C, and Ja/Nee (yes/no) and some key to cancel your answer (I forget what it was). There are several hanging TVs throughout the room. The exam appears on the TVs and everyone has the same time limit to answer each question as it comes up. That time limit is 8 seconds.

Each question is a scenario, a photo of a car in a certain situation or in some cases, as if you are looking out from behind the wheel. You read the question and possible answers and give your answer based on what you see in the photo. In 8 seconds. In Dutch. So you aren't just asked 'What's the speed limit outside the city?' No, the question is 'What is the speed limit here?' while you are shown a car and have to determine by road signs, etc., whether it is inside or outside of the city. For the scenarios where you appear to be behind the wheel of the car, you also have to take into consideration such things as what appears on the speedometer of your dashboard. No skipping and going back to a question later. No time to sit and ponder.

The first couple of times I tried to practice at my computer, I failed miserably. You are allowed to miss 6 questions out of 50. Almost every question I missed was because I didn't understand the question correctly. There would be one word or phrase that I didn't know that altered the meaning for me. I began to get panicky about the exam, which I had already signed up for. Luckily T pointed out that likely a lot of the questions would be similar, so the more exams I did and review of the book, the easier it would be. Luckily, this was also true.

After much stress and tears of frustration (thanks, pregnancy hormones!), I passed the exam with 46 out of 50 on the first try. I received not a learner's permit (they don't have those here), but a document saying I passed that is valid for one year from the test date. Assuming I pass my practical exam in April, I take both documents to city hall and trade them in for Dutch drivers license.

Part III, differences in driving here vs. the US to follow...

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