driver’s license

To Drive Is to Learn a Culture: Enter the British Zombies

I will not lie. I thought I knew all there was to know about driving. That is until I started trying to get a British driver’s license.

The dreaded British learners' L-plates.

The dreaded British learners’ L-plates.

I have been driving since the age of 15. That’s 30 years of driving experience. I first learned to drive in the United States. I left the US before I could finally qualify for a driver’s license. But I quickly picked up my driving once I eventually settled in Egypt. At 18, the legal driving age in Egypt, I answered the simple test questions that I was given about signs and I took the 5-minute practical exam, driving around some cones. I passed. Many Egyptians never take that exam. They find someone who knows someone at the police department and get it done automatically; with some money passed under the table, of course.

Since then I have driven in many countries of the world. I have rented cars in the US, Turkey, and many European countries to make transportation easier and more comfortable while on extended holidays. I vividly recall one of the lessons I learned during my driving classes in high school in the US: Follow the speed of other cars on the road. While driving in a foreign country, I have applied this general rule when I am not fully aware of the driving culture in that country. I observe what other drivers do and I imitate them, driving at the general speed of the road and figuring out signs and symbols based on how drivers react to them.

The main part of my 30 years of driving has been in Egypt; Cairo to be more precise. I once explained driving in Cairo to someone by saying, “The main rule of driving in Egypt is knowing that we’re all in this together and we’ll just help each other along the way so that we all eventually arrive at our destination.”

To be honest, that’s not the real main rule. The real main rule is: EVERY MAN FOR HIMSELF! Get to your destination using any means possible. There is NO ONE more important than you on that road. Anything you see is simply an obstacle to overcome, go around, or ram into.

The reality is that we have no real rules of driving in Egypt. We have no Egyptian Highway Code that I am aware of. Our driving culture is one of getting onto the road, doing your best to stay on it, and doing your best to get to where you need to get without having too many accidents on the way.

My husband Colin spent a month in Egypt and during that month I tried to teach him the rules of Egyptian driving. (more…)

The Pure Joy of Renewing a Car License in Egypt

There was a time in Egypt, only a few short years back, when a person might have his driver’s license registered to one address, his car license to a second, his passport to a third, and his national ID to a fourth.

When I first arrived in Cairo in 1986, my father wanted to make sure we got into Cairo University. That meant that our place of residence needed to be in one of the

The concept of "lines" completely eludes the Egyptian public. This was a "line" in front of the fines' office in Haram.

neighborhoods whose residents are allowed to go to it. Back then, we didn’t have a house. And my grandfather lived in Matariya. Matariya residents went to Ain Shams University. So my father made some sort of an agreement with a friend of his who lived in Agouza (a neighborhood whose residents could go to Cairo University) and they somehow managed to get my Egyptian passport registered to Uncle Anas’ apartment. I never saw Uncle Anas again. Ever. I don’t even know if he’s still alive. But for years my passport and then my car and my driver’s license were all registered to that address.