Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Driver's License

IMAGE VIA HTTP://WWW.VOYAGESCOLAIRESECURITE.ORG
I spent a good two-and-a-half hours at the lovely St. Gilles commune today. I needed to go there for my certificat de bonne vie et moeurs, or background check, for my work permit application, to certify that I haven't committed any crimes in the five short months I've spent here. Shockingly, it only took about five minutes for the document to be printed, stickered, stamped with the requisite number of official stamps, and signed (across the stamps and stickers, to enhance its feeling of authenticity and official-ness). Emboldened by the swiftness of this transaction, I thought I would try my hand at the driver's license counter.
I naïvely walked through the door marked Permis de conduire and explained my case: I recently moved here, have an American driver's license and realize I must replace my American license with a Belgian one. The bureaucrat (and by that I really mean Platonic form of bureacrat, as Belgium produces a good many of these) attentively listened to my less-than-perfect French, inexplicably snatched my
certificat de bonne vie et moeurs out of my hands, thoroughly inspected it, dismissively handed it back, and demanded where my ticket was. Turns out I was supposed to take a ticket outside the door, in the style of visiting a butcher/baker/cheesemonger. I apologized and took a ticket, and the waiting commenced. 
I waited long enough to finish "The First Night" of The White Tiger - thank god I brought a book. The scene outside the bureau could best be described as civic unrest - other people-in-waiting shaking their heads, sighing, complaining to one another and to friends and loved ones on their cell phones, in multiple languages, occasionally barging through the door, demanding to be seen a little sooner. All ineffectively, of course.
Eventually my number was called. I explained my case, again, to the other bureaucrat. He took my New York driver's license and inspected it thoroughly, bending it, deciphering it, committing various acts short of smelling it. After reading that I was born in Texas, he and his colleague began singing a charming song consisting of the sole word "Texas." It lasted a while. At some point, he complained that the license's hologram hurt his eyes. I tried to explain that it was supposed to prevent fraud, but could not think of the French word for "to falsify" and gave up. He then began to scan a giant database on his computer, presumably a list of driver's license provenances reciprocated here in Belgium. At some point he exclaimed "Aha, New York State, ça va!" which presumably meant I was in luck. Well, sort of. 
It turns out that, in order for my license to be traded for a Belgian one, I have to give it - and all driving privileges - up for at least a month, during which time the Belgian police will "investigate" my license. Should they find it worthy, I will then become the proud owner of a low-tech, non-hologram Belgian license constructed of paper. And my American license will be stored for the duration of my stay in a safe in St. Gilles commune. And although it felt a little bit like signing my soul away, I said, yes, that's what I would like to do.

4 comments:

kbell said...

what do you think of the white tiger. i bought, but but haven't read it yet...

maisie said...

I liked it a lot. And I don't think it's at all fair - or right - it got summarily dismissed in the Tournament of Books (http://themorningnews.org/tob/). Don't even get me started on the similar fates of Netherland and Unaccustomed Earth . . .

Alana said...

Is Brussels/Belgium "bureaucratic" by virtue of it being the EU seat? Or is it the EU seat bc the ethos is inately bureaucratic?

Kenny said...

I was just there yesterday, and ammost got arrested for not taking a ticket.