They gave ME a UK drivers license! What were they thinking? @barbtaub #FabulousFriday


“The one thing that unites all human beings, regardless of age, gender, religion, economic status, or ethnic background, is that, deep down inside, we all believe that we are above-average drivers.”
Dave Barry, Dave Barry Turns Fifty

The Vomit-Comet, a Chevy Impala wagon painted (for reasons my father never revealed) mint green.

The Vomit-Comet, my family’s Chevy Impala wagon with the red pleather interior & outside painted (for reasons my father never revealed) mint green.

“Do NOT,” my mother warned as she slid out of the red pleather bench seat of the Vomit Comet, “…come out without IT.” I had just turned sixteen, and IT was my drivers license. Growing up in a California suburb where you practically needed a car to drive to your mailbox, a license meant freedom and adulthood and illicit trips to the beach. In my case, it also meant relief for my mother, who ran a one-woman taxi service for her ten children, frequently logging upwards of a hundred miles in a day.

While I pictured trips to the drive-in with all my friends—the Vomit Comet was purchased to my parents’ rigid specifications regarding the number of children that could be crammed into its seatbelts-are-for-people-without-spare-kids triple rows of seats—my mother was dreaming of the day someone else would help drive to school/grocery/other school/afterschool/after-afterschool/and on and on.

I did indeed return with the license, and duly received the keys to Gus, a geriatric VW bug twice my age who predated modern conveniences like a gas gauge, but boasted three important features—he ran (mostly), he had a great radio, and he was a teenaged Californian’s most essential accessory—a convertible.

Gus died heroically a year or so later with his radio on, blocking the entrance to the beach at Santa Cruz and resulting in a traffic jam so legendary it made the evening news and the next four decades of my father’s conversation. But I went on to drive for all of the following 40+ years. I even spent a gazillion years (that’s in parent-terror units) doing the required behind-the-wheel practice with all four kids.

“You’re a rotten driver,” I protested. “Either you ought to be more careful, or you oughtn’t drive at all.”
“I am careful.”
“No you’re not.”
“Well, other people are,” she said lightly.
“What’s that got to do with it?”
“They’ll keep out of my way,” she insisted. “It takes two to make an accident.”
F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

But none of that mattered to Her Majesty’s Driving and Vehicle Licensing Agency, who seemed to feel that while my colonial-trained driving skills were all very well for prissy American road conditions, here in Britain they would be measured, tested, and (undoubtedly) found wanting.

In the UK, driving is not an automatic rite of passage but a privilege that must be earned. Indeed, most years many more people fail than pass. The first hurdle is the written test, which includes a very fun video simulation that is (at least for mamas with on-the-job experience of four video-game savvy offspring) a LOT easier and not nearly as gory as Grand Theft Auto. The second test part is the usual series of written questions, most of which have one realistic answer mixed in with several answers composed by space aliens on crack, along the lines of:

[image credit: ap-autoservices]

[image credit: ap-autoservices]


  • A. Run at them waving your hands and yelling, “Shoo. Shoo, I say!”
  • B. Honk your horn and flash your lights because what the heck else do you have to do and it might be fun to make sheep jump.
  • C. Rev your engine and floor it. You pay your road tax, and you sincerely doubt those wooly freeloaders have coughed up a single pence, so they can bloody well just get out of your way.
  • D. Turn off your engine, offer the shepherd a cup of tea from your thermos, and discuss the weather.

ANSWER: D, while obviously correct, is tricky because it doesn’t mention that you will also need to discuss his fine wee dog as well.

L is for...

L is for…

So I was able to dispose of the written test without too much trouble. I was issued a provisional driving license, but during my ‘practice’ period, we had to install a giant red L on front and back of the car. The Hub (who had, of course, taken and passed his driving test back when we first arrived) was not amused.

But a far more dire fate awaited me.  His name wasn’t Justin Bieber, he informed me when he arrived in his Ford Fiesta from Get Your License In A Week Driving School, although due to his Glaswegian accent, I couldn’t quite tell what his name actually was. I’m pretty sure I could have been his grandmother, but Not-Justin’s expertise tended more toward instructing teenaged girls. He was frighteningly upbeat, with a tendency to lapse into outright perky.

Not-Justin also liked to remind me not to hit objects in front of me (pretending to laugh as if he was joking but with his foot hovering protectively near the additional brake installed on the instructor’s side of the car), along with an obsession with mirrors I hadn’t experienced since being a teenaged girl myself. He told me to “act like a meerkat” and mimed sitting up with big eyes and jerky head-swivel mirror scans. I told him what unlikely combination of hell merged with his personal physical attributes would have to occur first, and we mutually agreed to (mostly) keep silent.

It was harder to get my driver’s license than to get pregnant and give birth.—Julie Bowen

Over our series of two-hour drives, Not-Justin initiated me into the mysteries of the British road. Of course, I’d already been driving on my American license, so I had noted a number of differences between American and British driving, to which I added Not-Justin’s observations. I categorized it all in terms of life-threatening (to me) cardiac events and pleasant surprises.


  • I glance at the next car over and realize that a child or maybe even a dog is driving. Only as I’m breathing into a paper bag do I remember that the driver is on the opposite side of the car, presumably to be near the steering wheel.
  • I look at the road and wonder how a car could possibly fit. [NOTE: I use the term “road” loosely, since many seem to be little winding animal tracks that someone paved—also, a term used loosely—when cars started driving down them. Many roads are so narrow, that I picture the deer stopping, pulling over, and even backing up when encountering another animal attempting to go up the track in the opposite direction. That’s certainly what the cars have to do.]
  • British traffic humor: I encountered this in the middle of a roundabout. I cried. [Image credit: Traffic-light-tree by Pierre Vivant. ]

    British traffic humor: I encountered this in the middle of a roundabout. I cried.
    [Image credit: Traffic-light-tree by Pierre Vivant. ]

    In addition to Not-Justin’s meerkat obsession with nonstop mirror checks, he informed me that the parking brake needed to be set every time the car stopped in traffic, and the engine turned off. Seriously. I countered by inquiring if it was then okay to turn left on a red light. He turned pale and was still shuddering blocks later.
  • To turn the car around, Not-Justin told me, instead of making a U-turn, you back into a side street and pull out going forward— a maneuver guaranteed to get you arrested in the States (except in South Carolina, of course, where as far as I could tell you would need to commit cold-blooded vehicular murder or vote Democrat to get arrested). I asked Not-Justin if this was a little driving-instructor prank and the police would be waiting to hand my L-plated self my very first UK ticket, but he assured me that driving instructors HAVE no sense of humor. When I just could NOT make myself do this, Not-Justin informed me (in revenge for my left-on-red sin) that it would almost certainly be on the driving test.
  • Swindon's Magic Roundabout: 6 roundabouts, 38 arrows, and a couple of Americans who disappeared in there a few years back

    Swindon’s Magic Roundabout: 6 roundabouts, 38 arrows, and a couple of Americans who disappeared in there a few years back

    UK drivers aren’t required to stop for emergency vehicles or even a school bus. On the plus side, they are extremely careful of cyclists and the odd sheep in the road.

  • Roundabouts. There are actually roundabouts that have more roundabouts inside and around them. I’ve been on extreme carnival rides that weren’t as scary.
  • Cars park facing in every direction (instead of the direction of traffic). (Actually, it didn’t take me long to move this one over to the Pleasant Surprises section…)


  • UK drivers are incredibly friendly, allowing you to enter traffic or pass with just the British Wave, which can vary from a full-on hand waft that would do the Queen proud to a casual one finger salute. (No, not THAT finger, you Americans…)
  • That automatic 10-15MPH over the speed limit we drive in the States just doesn’t happen here. In fact, with national speed limits and nationwide video cameras ready to snap your picture and mail you a ticket, speeders are rare birds.  (Plus it’s fun to live in a country small enough to have nationwide speed limits and weather reports.)
  • [image credit: wikipedia]

    [image credit: wikipedia]

    Clearly, I haven’t made it much past seventh grade, because I find the signs here to be unrelentingly hilarious. [NOTE: in America, humping is a more private activity which would generally be unexpected on public thoroughfares.] Still, you have to hand it to the British for sheer stamina. Seriously…a mile?
  • And then there are those road crossings named for animals—toucans, pelicans, zebras… The combination paints a picture that’s frankly… well…

[image credit:]

[image credit:]

To Not-Justin’s shock and my own amazement, the actual driving test was kind of fun. The DVLA examiner and I had a wonderful time talking about our kids, grandkids, dogs, and we even (when we passed her on the street) waved to his mother.

be' spaceship yItungHa', qaH QaQ yInISQo' SoH? (Would you let this woman drive your spaceship?)

be’ spaceship yItungHa’, qaH QaQ yInISQo’ SoH? (Translated from the Klingon: Would you let this woman drive your spaceship?)

A few days later, my new license arrived while I wasn’t at home. Lately the dog has gotten quite competitive with our letter carrier, and often there is a tug of war over our mail. So by the time I arrived home and opened the letter with all the teethmarks, my brand new license looked like it belonged to a morose Klingon with a remarkable forehead bulge.

Anybody want to go for a drive with a UK-licensed Klingon?

[image ]

[image ]

How about you? How do you think you’d do on the UK Driving Test? Take BuzzFeed’s quiz here and find out!


I take a humorous look at writing, books, and life at Writing & Coffee. Especially Coffee.

I would love to hear from you! When I’m not travelling or walking the dog, you can find me at home in Glasgow, Scotland trying to hide from feral packs of rampaging haggis. Or you can reach me via Twitter (@barbtaub) or Facebook, or just sneaking off for some quality time with my Kindle.

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56 thoughts on “They gave ME a UK drivers license! What were they thinking? @barbtaub #FabulousFriday

    • Late to the Blog today, but WELCOME, Barb! It’s such a pleasure to have you as our #FabulousFridayGuestBlogger! And this post is hilarious! Even without ever having BEEN to any corner of your world, I can already tell I’d probably be walking everywhere. Or hiring a driver. GREAT Post!! Thanks so much for joining us. Sharing this with the Immediate World.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I’ve been driving in the UK for a while but every so often I’ll still try to get on the wrong side of the car…. Mind you, one of the biggest scares I had was when I was in the inside lane and I saw out of the corner of my eye something coming fast to my right in the same direction, in the centre of Sheffield. What? It was the tram! Enjoy your license! (In Scotland I’ve been in a road blocked by Highland cattle and on my way to work I used to have to wait behind the cows that went from one field to another crossing the road)

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Barb, you make me laugh. Loved this post! Having driven in the UK, I can say I only lost one tire (tyre?) when I drove too close to the left side of the road in a complete panic over the possibility of hitting oncoming traffic. Also, there may or may not be a rental-car-guy who gets killed off in my next book.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Rental Car Guys definitely need to be killed off in many books. You stumble into their office, totally jetlagged and not quite sure of what day it is. And they start typing into their ancient computers. And typing. And typing. What can they possibly be writing? Your reservation already contains every possible iota of information about you, your driving record, your financial situation, and probably what you ate for breakfast. They already own the car, so all that info has already got to be there as well? My theory is that they have a giant multiplayer game going (probably written in DOS given the primitive computers), and they use these (many) minutes to put in their next moves. Which they print out at the end on their even more primitive perforated sheet-feed printers.

      Yes, they all need to die. Possibly in a conflagration of perforated paper forms started by a tourist who just can’t take one more rental car agent attempting to upsell them to a fullsize Buick…


      • This reminded me of the car we rented in Ireland. It’s passenger-side mirror was missing the outer shell, just mirror and wires and mechanism, all hanging out for the world to see. It looked downright naked. We did not realize this until we were way, way out in the rental car lot, tired and jet-lagged, so we decided to live with it.

        After driving the tiny little tracks that are considered roads there, and having to run off the road or sideswipe a bush more than once to avoid being creamed by a tour bus, we understood about the mirror. Why bother to fix it. The next bloke will just bash it into something anyway.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Too funny! The first car we rented when we were moving to England was sideswiped ten minutes later by a car which took out the passenger side mirror and about ten years of my life. We brought it back to the rental agency, who were completely unconcerned. They showed us an entire cabinet filled with white replacement side mirrors and explained that it was why all their rental fleet consisted of white cars.

          Liked by 2 people

    • On first glance, Paul, this seems like a compliment. But then I realize what Paul the professional driver is NOT saying. “I’m so glad you’ll be back on the road, Barb.” “Hooray that you’ll be able to drive anywhere, Barb.” “Congrats on getting your Klingon license, Barb!”

      I see what you’re doing here Paul—and you’re probably on your hands and knees kissing the ground and giving thanks that I’m not driving around Canada.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Another one of your blog posts that I snorted and chuckled my way through. I failed my first driver’s test at sixteen because I went through a red light. No one bothered to tell me they were on the side of the road instead of in the middle like normal (in my area at least). I think it was a fiendish plot to keep me off the the road a little bit longer, for the sake of society in general.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That reminds me of one of my daughters, who failed her drivers test because she ran the stop sign exiting the test facility. Then the first day she had her license, she slowly and carefully drove to the library where she backed into a parked car. She was so flustered that she pulled forward, then reversed again into the same poor car. We think it’s probably saved untold lives that she lives in New York City where she doesn’t need a car.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. So funny! Love your take on UK driving, you should try Spain next – they may drive on the side you are used to, but they don’t seem to have many other rules of the road, and a car without a dent or scraped paint work is a rarity.
    For now, I’m keeping my eye out for that Klingon, I’m currently in Aberdeen, but will be in Glasgow in a few weeks time…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Actually, I am in Spain right now. We came down on the ferry with our car for the summer, so we are driving around Spain on the right side of the road—but with steering wheel on the ‘wrong’ side of our UK car. Somehow, that doesn’t in the least feel familiar. In fact, I had to stop at a roundabout until another car went and I could see which way to go. I do love those European freeways though, with long high speed stretches and all that fabulous Euro-signage.


      • Oh I remember that feeling about roundabouts, and by the time I got home I struggled to get my brain around going the other way again. At least I had a Spanish car to drive so the steering wheel was on the correct side. Have a great time out there.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Thanks so much! We do this every summer—while the Hub is off flying with his buds, I’m back at the casa writing like a fiend. Then at night it’s tapas and cervezas at the plaza. Perfect summer! (Except for the roundabouts of course.)

          Liked by 1 person

  5. Grr, I left a lengthy comment here and came back here to let Barb know that I’d been missing her posts I signed up to follow because WP is acting wonky once again. And then I notice my comment disappeared from here 😦 Before I repeat , lol, I’ll wait and see if this comment stays 😦

    PS Marcia. I sent you an excerpt of my WIP, did you even get that? Danged WordPress! LOL 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks Barb. In short, I was trying to say my best friend lives in Kent, she moved there 20 years ago. When she lived here in Canada, her driving skills were debatable, lol. And when I first went to visit her, she drove us around everywhere like a pro. I was so proud of her because I couldn’t imagine she’d grasp driving on the opposite side of the road, lol. And that scary M16 (is that what it’s called?) LOL 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

    • The hard part is remembering which side of the road to watch. We are in Spain with our UK car, so again driving on the right. The feeling of going the wrong way on a roundabout is absolutely terrifying. [NOTE from the Hub: he says I’ve nailed the nagging part though…]

      Liked by 1 person

  6. What fun! Fortunately for me, here in France we drive on the ‘correct’ side of the road and also have our steering wheels on the ‘correct’ side! That signal light was hilarious. At first glance I thought it must be December and some of the tree lights were out?
    I was fortunate that I investigated a bit online before moving here. I found that France only offers reciprocity for a driver’s license to six states in America. Unfortunately, I didn’t live in one of them. Fortunately, I had a great-aunt who did. I had planned visiting her before leaving anyway so I just used her address and got a license there. That license and a few euro and I have a license for life! Beware when you cross that channel.
    While I learned to drive on the LA freeway, I do believe that San Francisco provided some of the best practice for these hills near the Mediterranean..

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha! Your comment reminds me of the first time I drove Gus, my geriatric stick-shift VW Beetle into San Francisco. Nobody have ever taught me the emergency brake-until-you’re-moving-forward trick, so my friend and I were stuck at the top of one of SF’s vertical streets. Every time I took my foot off the brake to move to the clutch, the car slid backwards. Finally, we worked out a system where my friend would hop out and physically hold the car in place until I managed to get it moving, and then she would jump in.

      Oddly enough, our friendship didn’t last much beyond that day. Wonder why?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hmm, imagine that. She just must have been tickled… I had a Beetle when I lived in NYC. Once summer I just need to get away and drove with four young children to S. CA. I had to pull out the back seat every time I stopped for gas to put water in the cooler so it didn’t overheat.


  7. Pingback: They gave ME a UK drivers license! What were they thinking? #ThrowbackThursday #humor | Barb Taub

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