Practical Driving Exam #1

Little Yaris at the Wood Green Test Center

Months of driving lessons later, I found myself in late December 2010 and all ready to book my practical (road) exam. The closest test center to where I live is in North London, in an area called Wood Green, which is right near White Hart Lane, for all you Spurs fans.

Anyway, I got a test date for April 21, and sparingly took lessons over the last four months to keep up my skills in prep for the big day. I probably should have scheduled more practice sessions/ lessons recently.

See, this post is entitled, “Practical Driving Exam #1”, because yours truly will be pursuing a “Practical Driving Exam #2” in June.

First a bit of background: I had planned 5 hours of lessons/practice time this week, thinking that such would be sufficient to make up for the 5 or so weeks since I had last driven. This might have been so, but this week has been further complicated by my asthma and medicinal side effects, insomnia, in particular. (If you’ve taken Prednisone, you know my pain.)

A view of the parking lot of shame.

Monday’s lesson was the worst one I have *ever* had. I stalled the engine four times, nearly took off someone’s mirror, and really, I just did everything wrong.

Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s lessons near the test center were better, but still, I wasn’t doing well. I felt really out of my element, and the area around Wood Green is full of very aggressive drivers with no sympathy for a car with a learner’s tag. In two days of driving there, I observed a broad variety of hand gestures that I’d not experienced in my own neighborhood. I would have rescheduled the test, but doing so would have been a forfeit, and I thought it best to just experience the exam, as it was already paid for.

Thursday arrived, and I met my instructor at 11 to head up to Wood Green for my 13:03 exam (no, that time isn’t a typo). We did a bit of practice, including a right turn on the Great Cambridge Roundabout, which may not seem like a big deal, but someone even made an instructional video about it and put it on You Tube!

At test time, the first bad news came: my examiner had called in sick. The good news was that they could accommodate me at 14:57 (really!) because an examiner from another center would be coming, or I could just reschedule the test altogether. Initially, the latter seemed a good idea, until they told me that the next date available would likely be August or September. (Note: Wood Green is a small center with a lot of demand, thus the long wait.)

I took what was behind Door #1: 14:57. I felt lucky to at least have the choice!

Two more hours to kill, we took a lunch break (cookies and water) , and reviewed maneuvers. We even did reverse bay parking, one I never mess up. I thought I might as well practice, given that I have the time and I’m paying my instructor.

By the time I returned to the Center, I had already driven for about three hours. (The most I’ve driven in a single go in the last ten years is two hours.)

Anyway, about the Center… Wood Green’s tiny parking lot is anything but welcoming to a new driver. Getting in and out of it isn’t exactly easy, as you’ve got a very short, sloping driveway going into a busy road with a bus stop right where you’d turn left. (You can kind of see it in the picture.) Even the lot isn’t the easiest thing to maneuver. It’s rather small!

After signing in and meeting my examiner, we headed out to the evil lot where the examiner asked me to open Little Yaris’ (yes, that’s what I call her) hood and show him where the coolant goes as well as explain how I ensure that there is an appropriate amount of coolant in the car.

Next, we all got in the car, and I faced my second question on adjusting the headrest. Easy enough.

We began the exam with the maneuver. I was given the easiest maneuver imaginable:

“Please pull out either to the left or to the right and perform a reverse parking maneuver.”

All I had to do was pull out a bit, turn my wheel all the way, drive out of the spot, and then do the exact opposite. It’s the equivalent of putting something down and picking it back up.

Of course, that isn’t quite what I did. For some reason, I decided that was too good to be true.  Surely it wouldn’t count if it was that easy, right?

What did I do? Come join in my shame! (I’m the gray car in the diagrams):

First, I pulled out imprecisely because I… am an idiot, as established. I quickly found I was too close to the cars on my right. What to do? The right thing: readjust my position and then reverse in, or…

The wrong thing: I decided to try to get back in the parking space anyway, only I wasnt quite in there because I had started the maneuver too close:

So, I pulled out again, but I wasn’t far enough from the cars on my right again, so I reversed to give myself a bit more space:

Then, I advanced to almost where I wanted to be in the tiny lot to commence the maneuver (a car’s width from the bay) and I reversed into the spot. This time, I landed on the line because I still was a bit too close. *sigh* I wasn’t panicked or stressed, but UGH: I couldn’t help but think how much I’d really like to just start all over again, but in these cases, you just have to fix the mess you make. I had to reposition the car, something that I normally do effortlessly…

But of course, it only got worse.
As I needed to position the car fully within within the lines, I pulled forward and then reversed to straighten the car. Unfortunately, I was just tired and feeling really stupid at this point. I just lost any sense of bearing and instinct. I reversed the wrong way and completely worsened my position

.It was as though a cardboard box of kittens I was babysitting had popped open, kittens were crawling everywhere, and I couldn’t see any graceful way to collect them all. I ended up needing to advance and reverse TWO more times before getting myself nicely centered in the spot.

When “the longest reverse into a parking spot, ever” was finally over, I put the car in neutral, pulled up the parking brake, and accepted that this test was long and well failed.

We kicked off the rest of the test. The rest of the exam was as expected, only it was easier. My later test time (teamed with my very time consuming maneuver) meant that risking the roundabout traffic on the day before a holiday weekend wasn’t an option, time wise. The independent driving sections went very well. Barring a case where I was asked to drive on after stopping where I did not see a car coming a bit of a way back, despite looking, the rest of the exam went well; i.e. there was no further humiliation. My instructor and I had a good laugh about it on the drive home.

What have I been reminded of through experience today: The most simple of things can become intricate when you make them in to something they aren’t!

Oh, and I’ll be taking my next exam at Hendon! (Not because of the parking lot, but because the wait was shorter for an exam.)


About the Practical Driving Exam

What you get after the red "L"

First, I have to stress that the UK driving exams seem much harder than those in the States.

In the US, most people I know learned from their parents in a relatively short amount of time. Once granted a license, you are entitled to drive either a standard or an automatic, regardless of which one you used during your exam.

I sat two driving exams in the US: One in New York State in 1994 (failed) and one in Virginia in 1998 (passed, but I absolutely shouldn’t have… that’s a story for maybe tomorrow). New York required a parallel park and a bit of simple suburban driving. Virginia was just simple, suburban driving. In both cases, I wasn’t prepared for the exam. (My dad let me drive his car once or twice in the Fall of 1994 and my mother just made such an ordeal of my trying to learn, I rarely got any practice with her. I couldn’t afford professional lessons, so I just tried.)

I don't recall roads in the States being this narrow. Buses drive on this too!

In the UK, it seems like everyone takes professional lessons, and often, then take quite a few. I read that most people will need at least 40 hours of instruction to prepare; although women tend to take more lessons than men do. As a learner driver, you are not allowed on motorways, ever.

Admittedly, I think you have to be a more skilled driver here. The roads are much more narrow. Check out the picture of Hampstead High Street from Google Street view, and you’ll see what I mean. This isn’t even the worse! There’s a road going uphill to Hampstead where I find I tend to hold my stomach in while driving, just in case it makes my tiny driving school car, a Toyota Yaris, a little slimmer. I can’t imagine driving a Range Rover on that road, but people do, and they all keep their side mirrors.

My instructor's little Yaris is similar.

A UK road exam is around 40 minutes long, and in many cases, it will include a major roundabout and a bit of driving on a busy A Road, where you’ll need to drive in excess of 40 mph. You are always required to perform one of four maneuvers (3 point turn, reverse around a corner, and reverse park (either parallel or into a parking bay).  You are asked about vehicle safety checks, as you are expected to know how to check tires, power steering, oil levels, coolant levels, etc. in addition to knowing how to operate lights, fog lights, wipers, and so forth. Throughout the test, you are advised where to go, except during the two independent driving sections. During Independent driving, the examiner will give you a brief set of directions and you must then carry them out. In 1/3 or so of tests, the examiner will require you to perform an emergency stop. The full summary of fun  is available on this DVLA site here.

I’ll be taking my exam on a standard, and undoubtedly, any doubts about my driving skills that I still carry because I believe I didn’t really earn the license I got in 1998 will be long gone when I pass.

Dual Citizenship

If only it were this simple. (Thanks to Ben Hayes of

So, when asked about dual citizenship, I’ve been pretty vague in saying that the US seems to only really care about my US citizenship.

The US State Department offers a bit of guidance here, which I found a bit surprising and even more vague, specificially:

However, a person who acquires a foreign citizenship by applying for it may lose U.S. citizenship. In order to lose U.S. citizenship, the law requires that the person must apply for the foreign citizenship voluntarily, by free choice, and with the intention to give up U.S. citizenship.

Intent can be shown by the person’s statements or conduct.The U.S. Government recognizes that dual nationality exists but does not encourage it as a matter of policy because of the problems it may cause

So, I read more and I asked around… and here’s what I gather:

The only rule the US has on dual citizenship is that you must always enter and exit the US on your US passport.  You must carry both when travelling and use the fast line for citizens upon arrival in each respective country.

You must always take both passports because the US Government fines airlines around $3,000 if they board an American citizen traveling on a foreign passport. I expect this must happen quite frequently.

Also, when renewing  my US Passport, I must include a very brief  letter along with the application stating something along the lines of:  “I Francoise, chose to naturalize as a UK citizen in 2011.  At no time did I intend to relinquish my American citizenship, nor do I intend to do so in the future.”  The reason for this, is that taking on a foreign nationality is a potentially expatriating act (as mentioned in the text above), but the Supreme Court has ruled that you only lose your American citizenship if you expressly intended to do so when taking on the other nationality.  It seems that as long as one makes it clear that that one wanted both, and not simply to take on UK citizenship while rejecting US citizenship, all is fine.  While the idea is implicit in the sense one would be renewing a US Passport, you still need to state it explicitly.

Interesting, eh?
That said, the rules are always subject to change, and you shouldn’t bet the farm on the advice of a stranger, so here are some other links (in addition to the Dual Citizenship guidance page, referenced above) for fun reading:

UK Naturalization- The Ceremony

The Mayor, The Queen, and I....

The big day arrived! The letter came in the mail about two months after I submitted my application: I had been approved for citizenship.

First things first, I had to select a date for my ceremony, which was easy enough. Showing up on the date of the ceremony was nearly as easy. Unprecedented ease!

Ceremonies are held in your local council’s Town Hall, so on the 28th of March, we headed to Islington Town Hall. After signing in and filling out voter registration forms over tea and cookies (biscuits!), we were organized for the ceremony.

Signing the Register...

The ceremony consists of a few speeches; including one by the Mayor  after which each new citizen pledges allegiance to the Sovereign (one can opt to make a religious or non-religious oath), signs the register, and receives a Certificate of Naturalization from the Mayor. After all certificates were issued, we sang the National Anthem, and were released into the wild to resume our usual activities.

We didn’t take pictures during the ceremony, as the paperwork noted that there would be a photographer present who would have pictures available for purchase. Thus, we assumed that being a British citizen was just like going on a roller coaster at Great Adventure and that we would not be allowed to take our own pictures.
FYI: Our assumption was incorrect. The photographer seemed happy to take pictures with his camera and with those belonging to the participants, which was nice to see.

A very cool gift from Suzanne & Nick

So, now I find I’m being asked lots of questions.. here are a few:

1. Are you relinquishing your American citizenship?
No. I’m very fortunate to have two places to call home, both of which I am very fond.

2. Are you a dual citizen?
Basically, but to each government, I represent myself as a citizen of that country.

3. You look pretty giant in that photo. Were you the tallest person at the ceremony?
Sadly, no… but I’ll wear heels if I’m ever in a similar situation.

4. Do you have a UK Passport now?
That’s a totally separate application, but I am now eligible to apply for one.

5. Does this mean you aren’t ever moving back to the States?
No. I have no clue what’s next. Do you? If so, please email me and let me know.

6. So, your accent hasn’t changed, but do you say “sweater” or “jumper”?
Sweater, but I’ve adopted a lot of words I didn’t think I would, including: motorway, flat, lift, pavement, holiday, driving license, courgettes, aubergines, coriander, petrol, chips, tinned, dodgy, windscreen, queue, rubbish bin, sacked, stroppy, and I’ve even described a cup of tea as, “quite good”. I still spell like an American, but auto-correct is always updating what I’ve typed.

Applying for Citizenship

Wise Words

First things first: the rules and processes keep changing, so don’t rely on anything I’ve said here to apply in future.

At long last, the time has come for me to apply for British citizenship.

It’s a bit hard for me to believe that I’ve been here for over three years, as it has really flown by. I can honestly say that this really is home for me now.

It seems that the best way for me to approach this whole process is by using the Nationality Checking Service (NCS), a locally provided service in which a counselor will review and submit the application for you. A key benefit is that they will review and copy your documents, so you may take your passport and other key documents home with you, rather than needing to submit the originals as part of the application. The originals may be requested during the process, but generally, the signed off copies suffice.

The application itself is quite straightforward. The only difficult bit was the section where one must note every departure and arrival from the UK to determine how many days one has spent outside of the UK. I realize this sounds easy, but as I didn’t pull a copy of my calendar from work since mid 2009 and some passport stampers didn’t stamp so well.

During the appointment, my counselor reviewed my application and supporting documentation. In my case, I am applying as the spouse of a British citizen, so I needed to provide my passport, my spouse’s passport, our marriage certificate, and evidence that I passed my Life in the UK exam. I also made payment for my application, and received the tracking number for my application, which would be submitted by NCS with the photocopies.

The entire process may take up to three months, but in most cases like mine, it’s less than two. When the application is processed, I will receive a letter in the mail inviting me to my citizenship ceremony, complete with tea!

The Driving Theory Exam

The Test Centre

This morning, I sat the Driving Theory exam. Having passed, I can now schedule my practical (road test).

The Driving Theory Test is much harder than what I recall taking in New York State in 1994. There are 50 multiple choice questions and fourteen clips in which one identify developing road hazards. The road hazards section is particularly difficult because you have a five second window within which to identify the hazard, and the earlier within the window the hazard is identified, the higher the score.  You can see exactly what I mean here, If still unconvinced, try it for  yourself here.

My test included a clip where the hazards were sheep!

Life in the UK: A Journey of Multiple Choice

Long, long ago, I thought it would be interesting and fun to study for my Life in the UK Test.

Needless to say, lots of things seem like they could be enjoyable before you actually do them, and this is of no exception. A bit of procrastination teamed with my selecting a test date rather late in the game probably weren’t among my best decisions.

Some sections were more interesting to learn than others. Among the things I have learned in preparation for my “journey to citizenship”, or at least indefinite leave to remain include:

  • There are 646 Parliamentary Constitutencies.
  • An employer may descriminate potential employees if the job functions are to be carried out in the employer’s home.
  • 2.7% of the population is Muslim
  • One may drink at age 16 at a pub or hotel, provided it is done so with a meal.
  • One may obtain free tickets to see the House of Commons by contacting one’s MP.
  • A helmet must be worn while driving a motorcycle, unless the driver is male, Sikh, and wearing a turban.
  • Scots Ulster is spoken in Northern Ireland.
  • Provisional Drivers must put a sign with an L on their car, unless the driver is in Wales, where a D is used.
  • There are four bank holidays.
  • The NHS was founded in 1948.
  • Pregnant women receive free prescriptions.
  • If one is blind, one gets 50% off the TV licensing fee.

I went armed with said information to my test center in Wimbledon, ready to face my 24 questions in 45 minutes. I arrived at 9:00 leaving plenty of time to spare, only to find that the Wimbledon Library is closed until 9:30.

After a bit of loitering, we were allowed in and advised to queue outside of the examination room in the back of the library. (pictured)

I was thrilled! This provided me a prime opportunity to gleefully inform people that I had been hoping that queuing would be on the test.

Sadly, No one thought this was quite as hilarious as I did.

After that, the ID checking began. There was 45 minutes of ID checking and registration. Then, after a brief practice test, we were allowed to start.

4 minutes later with answers triple checked, I left the test room to wait for my results.

As you can see, I passed.

In addition to the satisfaction of a job well done, I also got a Percy Pig cake!
(Thanks, Darren!)