27 June 2011

my international driving permit

"No! Less smiling!"

It was 7:45 in the morning, and I was being chastised about my smile in Walgreen's. Saleem was trying to take my picture for my International Driving Permit, and I did what I always do when a camera is turned on me: I smiled like it's the final play of the Homecoming game and my smile and cheerleading skirt is the only thing that will guarantee us a win.

More than a decade after my last fight song dance {Go get 'em, Grayhounds! Come on and fight with all your might!}, I still have some lingering remnants of a cheerleader in me, these automatic responses that will not go away.

One. When someone says, "Ready?" I think in my head—and sometimes say out loud—"Ok!" That was the beginning of every cheer, followed by this resounding, all-squad thigh smack. To reinforce the readiness, ok?

Two. I have the urge to do spirit fingers at every kick-off, even if it's just on TV and even if I'm just walking past the TV and not really watching the game. I still have to will my fingers to not wiggle, to not do that small-scale sparkle of a dance that brings good luck.

Three. I smile when a camera is turned on me. Big. Showing the teeth. Crinkle the eyes. Let them know you're happy. Smile.

In other word, cheerleading made getting my International Driving Permit a process this morning.

I'd stopped by Walgreen's on my way to work to get some passport-sized pictures to take to AAA, where I'd get my Permit. I'm going to France next week, and for the first time ever, I'll be driving there.

When I read in my guidebook that it's strongly recommended—but not required—to have an International Driving Permit, I started planning immediately for how I would fit this into my pre-France week.

You see, I live by the motto: Better safe than sorry.

And I wanted to avoid this scenario {translated from the French for all you non-Francophiles}:
Moi: I have the driver's license. License of driver—of driving. How do you say that? Um...I can drive the car in the United States. See?

{Please note: I translated my part in this imaginary conversation that I just made up into broken English. Because I'm sure my "I swear I used to speak French relatively well" French will go through some cranky, non-grammatical adjustments next week.}

French Person Working at the Car Rental Agency: Yes, but mademoiselle, your driver's license is in English. And this is France, land of pastries and intense pride in the language. Why should we accept your American driver's license and reward you with a car?

Moi: But there's a word that is a little looking French on there! Illinois! A little like French, no? Is that enough?

French: That is not at all like French.

Moi: {muttered} You're not at all like French.

French: Pardon? Mademoiselle, may I remind you that when you lived here {Side note: This French person has become omniscient, which is kind of frightening, but if you've ever talked to a French person working at a store or a ticket window, you'll know that they have the ability to appear omniscient and just in general, more in the know than you.}...May I remind you that we made you fill out 37 forms, just to get a bank account?

That you had to bring your passport and visa to get a cell phone?

That to run a half-marathon in Paris, we made you get a signed doctor's certificate swearing that you were in good health?

That to end your cell phone contract, you had to send proof that you were, in fact, no longer living in France—and that proof had to be a job offer letter, translated into French? {And we know what you did: we know you had your father "offer" you a job at his accounting firm and that you then translated it, simplifying the language where you needed to. We know this.}

What, in your experience with la belle France, has led you to believe that we will give you a rental car, simply because you reserved it and you're smiling your big American smile in your driver's license from Illinois?

Moi: Le sigh. I remember.

With that possibility in mind, I went to get an International Driving Permit.

In France I live by the motto: Be prepared for bureaucracy. And charm. And a beautiful way of life. And days that you don't want to end. But also: for the bureaucracy.

At 7:45 this morning, I was told to smile without showing my teeth. I actually had to cover my mouth with my hand and look away from Saleem—standing there with his camera—for a minute to actually do this, this no-teeth smile.

When I looked back at him, he said, "No!"

And then he walked up and fixed my hair. This 50ish man from India {he called it the "sub-continent" and I suddenly felt like I was in The Secret Garden} thought my side-swept bangs needed a little help.

He said, "You need to show more forehead. They like that, the government people. You need to be more serious and have more forehead."

This guy could be working the Glamor Shots booth at the mall.

I covered my mouth again, looked away, tried to expand my forehead, then stared into the camera with this prim smile that I imagined was used at afternoon teas on the sub-continent during the British Raj.

I tried to communicate to the camera: Dear French person working the counter at the rental agent, please give me a car. I want to see more of your country and maybe even speak my broken French with people in small towns way off the main roads.

I think it worked.

Or at least it worked for Saleem, who told me afterwards that I took a very nice picture and that I should enjoy myself in France because I seem like a nice girl who deserves a nice trip.


  1. Best thing I read today.

  2. Thanks :) Reading my International Driving Permit in 10 languages {but I guess I couldn't really read all of them, now could I?} was the best thing I read yesterday!



Related Posts with Thumbnails