A while ago I decided to learn driving. I felt it could make my life here in The Netherlands a bit nicer: it would make me more independent, allow me to bring home a lot of groceries from the supermarket, and give me a chance to make some good road trips (short ones, I admit: this country after all is not too big). So I grabbed the phone, took some test drives with different schools, compared the prices (my goodness, can I keep the car after I get my license?) and in the end chose for a well reputed driving school in the heart of Utrecht. So far so good, you think? Yep, but keep on reading.
Now before I continue, let me explain you first something more about the Dutch. Tall, funny and at times considerably handsome as they might be, they also are a bunch of extremely careful people. The Dutch nature is known to be extremely risk avoiding: by a complex web of rules, insurances, social security systems and contracts, the chances of any undesired event is reduced to a minimum. Thinking I am exaggerating? Then just read the books of well-established cultural researchers like Hofstede and Trompenaars: they actually are from Holland, so surely they can know.
Anyways, back to the main topic of today: driving classes in the Netherlands. The first shock, of course, was the huge hourly tariff, but that would be fine, as long as you would just get your driving license after 10 or 15 hours. Anyone can learn to control a car in that time, right?
Perhaps in a less risk avoiding country, but not in the Netherlands. Because once you got a good control of your car, the real fun starts: the instructor starts the process of making you a clone of him: a human being that acts, looks, talks and breaths exactly as he would do if he was driving. In fact, my trainer got extremely displeased if my personality (sorry that I have one!) would tell me to even divert one inch away from the perfect driver he had in mind. Occasionally I asked him questions like: why do you need me to check in the mirror four times even if I have seen at the first time already it is safe to change lanes? Why can I not look over my left instead of over my right shoulder when driving backwards, if I find that more convenient? The man would look at me for some time, shake his head and then say: “I am just preparing you for your exam, okay? After that you can do it just the way you want”.
The researcher in me started to come in. Why my driver tried to make me a photocopy of himself? Was it just me? Or was it something other expats were struggling with as well? As to find out the question on those two crucial questions I started a small survey.
The replies, without exception, were all the same. Yes, quite some of the people I spoke to had experiences with Dutch driving classes. Almost everyone said that they took only a few hours to learn car control, they were very good with clutch, stirring, brake and accelerator; in fact, some of them already had considerate experiences in their home country. They felt they knew all about speed limits, signs, rules and all the other special actions such as parking, going up and down, etc. soon enough. And then they added “at least according to me”. Not according to their instructor, who still felt their style was too unique for the Dutch roads. And that’s why they keep on driving, week after week, maniacally looking into their mirrors and over their shoulders, just to show their trainer that they can drive and they could do their exam…
And then came the biggest shock.
I started to observe some of my Dutch friends who had their driving license. I observed their hand and eye actions closely. I looked at the sequence of their mirror looking behavior. I investigated on the moment they would switch their indicators on. Just like my teacher told me? No way: they held their steer with one hand if not less (“Poonam! Both hands at the steer! Always!”), they switched lanes with the use of indicators at their will (“Poonam! That was a side movement! Indicators! Indicators”) and they standardly added 20 km/h to any maximum speed given, unless there were camera’s.
So if even the Dutchies are changing their style of driving after they got their driving license, then why the instructors and the examiners are stressing so much on this extreme predefined style of driving? Is it just so that they can earn more money from you? I, and perhaps I am extremely naïve here, do not believe in that. It must be that well known characteristic, extreme degree of uncertainty avoidance.
Of course I am no one to say anything here, but I, Poonam Sharma, I have a dream. I dream of a country that is providing driving classes in which the drivers can develop their own unique technique that fits with their style and preferences. As long as the rules and regulations are followed, and no one is being killed, I believe that would be perfectly fine. And probably people will be far better to anticipate and react if they can drive the way they like it – anyways they are going to do so once they get their license.
Message to our beloved, careful instructors and examiners who are responsible for this system: be brave and stop making clones of yourself! Let’s make this world more mobile!
Yes we can!