I got my Norwegian driver’s license recently. I can now legally drive anywhere in the European Economic Area! I am even licensed to drive a moped, for some reason.
I began the process last summer with a trip to Statens vegvesen, the Norwegian Public Roads Administration. My previous driver’s license was technically only valid for the first three months of my residency in Norway. In order to be able to drive, I needed to hand in my previous driver’s license with some paperwork and wait for the kind folks at Statens vegvesen to verify it with the proper American authorities. The woman behind the counter seemed bored out of her mind as she explained it to me. Her eyes bore straight through me, through my skull out to the back wall and the window out onto the parking lot as she recited a terse English explanation of what was going to happen next. I smiled and said “Takk for at du snakker engelsk med meg,” which I think means, “Thank you for speaking English with me.” She laughed, but it was cold, mocking almost.
I assumed the verification process would take about seventy billion years given the glacial pace of the Massachusetts RMVs but I got a message from the Norwegian government about a week later saying I could begin the next step: scheduling a driving test. First, I needed to contact an auto school and schedule the test through them. After strategically delaying for a few months (also known as procrastinating) I finally contacted the auto school down the street from me. They were able to schedule a test and two driving lessons for me at a total cost of around 5,000 Norwegian kroner. The lessons were good, but anxiety-inducing: I felt like a sixteen-year-old again, and there’s something terrifying to me about the possibility of learning that I’ve somehow been driving incorrectly for fifteen years.
There are a few differences between driving in Norway and driving in the US. First, the roads in Norway are noticeably narrower, so I tend to adjust the steering wheel constantly because I’m somehow too close to the edge on both sides. The driving instructors called this “hakkede”, like the cans of finely diced tomatoes in the grocery stores labelled “hakkede tomater“. I suppose they meant “choppy”.
The second big difference between the US and Norway is that rotaries (the proper name for roundabouts or traffic circles) are significantly more popular in Norway, and as a result there are relatively few traffic lights and no stop signs. Most large intersections are rotaries. I was comfortable driving with them, though they’re usually a bit narrower and tighter than in Massachusetts.
The third, and perhaps most important difference, is what I had been calling the right-hand rule after one too many physics classes. In Norway, traffic coming from the right has the right of way, unless a specific set of signs declares otherwise. This rule is not too different from four-way stops in the US, except it applies without stop signs as well. It is your responsibility as a driver to slow down when you see a road on your right and ensure that you yield to any traffic coming towards you from it. An interesting and somewhat terrifying corollary to this is that if you’re driving up to an intersection and you’re turning right, you are supposed to assume that traffic coming from the left will stop for you. Luckily, this situation never came up on my test.
After a couple lessons, I took the test itself. It was a beautiful sunny day in March and the roads were clear and dry. A nice Norwegian man named Lars sat shotgun with an iPad, taking notes as I drove. We drove down the worst dirt road I’ve ever seen, with potholes big enough to catch the whole wheel, and at one point I even got the car momentarily stuck in a ditch while trying to let someone else through. We took the highway south to Byneset. I forgot the speed limit and guessed 80 km/hr, which was probably too slow, but I mercifully got stuck behind a truck doing about 77. We got off the highway and did a loop around a beautiful farmland valley, including an interesting exchange where Lars gave me extremely specific instructions to stop following the main road, then asked me to turn around and go back to it, probably to see if I could actually find a place to safely turn the car around and try again. At the end he told me I had done “just enough” to pass – I was generally safe, but could have gone faster at times, and there was one turn in particular where I drifted into the left lane a little bit.
At the end of the test I went back into the same Statens vegvesen office I had been to months before. Lars had told me which button to press to get my ticket – something in Norwegian that I was too nervous to remember. Eventually I figured it out anyway, got a ticket with a number, and was called up to the same desk I had come to earlier, with the same woman. I was surprised that I recognized her. I doubt she recognized me.
I told her in Norwegian that I had just finished my oppkjøring before the driving instructor met me at the desk. The woman told me, in very slow Norwegian, that she was printing me out a temporary driver’s license, and the real one would come in one or two weeks in the mail. In the meantime, I was to carry this temporary one along with my passport. The driving instructor began to translate for me, but I finished his sentences for him, and the woman behind the counter seemed to find this amusing. She smiled, a bit more warmly this time. And I realized I had come a long way since last September.