My Russian driver’s license recently expired. This was not a huge tragedy, since I am more of a public transportation kind of guy, and my wife uses our car for shuttling our offspring to various educational events and programs. However, after a week and a half of my wife chuckling as she incessantly inquired as to whether I would “need mom to drop me off at the mall today”, I understood it was high time to take care of the matter.
Happily, the renewal of the Russian driver’s license only requires physical testing. That is, the 800 questions that must be memorized for the Russian driver’s license exam are a once in a lifetime event. After that, it’s just a matter of keeping yourself physically in shape.
So, two days ago, I headed off to go through the gauntlet of physical examinations required for said license renewal. The first doctor asked me how I felt, if I had any complaints, if I had any surgeries large or small over the past year, such as even surgery on the veins. The eye doctor had me cover one eye and read the bottom line of a chart, then cover the other eye and do the same. There was another doctor, but for the life of me, I can’t remember what they asked, but they all provided the necessary stamps to my document that I would later need to produce at the road police station.
The next doctor took my blood pressure and then asked if I had ever suffered any epileptic seizures. I replied “no”. She then directed me to another chair and put a curious black cap on my head with numerous wires coming out. Some clips with wires were (I swear I’m not making this up) attached to my earlobes. A light was placed in front of my face. I was instructed to close my eyes and breathe through my nose. An explosion of strobe lights were then directed into my closed eyes. I honestly don’t know if it would have mattered or not if they were open or not. I could hear the doctor saying “she was going out for a minute”. I don’t know if she was gone for a minute or an hour, but the strobe light frequency became increasingly intense, and it seemed like an eternity. I did have the thought that this would be helpful information about whether I would be able to drive with my eyes closed while driving into a blinding strobe light. The doctor returned, and the strobe light test soon came to an end. She then instructed me to breathe through my mouth. There was no strobe light, and I have no idea what was happening. I assume some electric shock waves were being sent through my head, as I felt very hot and experienced the unmistakable urge to breathe much harder than usual. I did get a peak later at the form and did see that I had “maintained relatively normal breathing during the 3 minute hyperventilation process”.
With four stamps in my handy form now in place, I headed off to the narcological ward. After a two hour wait in line to register, I went to see the doctor. He asked me to show him my arms which are wonderfully free of syringe marks. He then asked “We do not drink? We do not smoke?” as he applied his stamp to my form. I was in his office for about two minutes.
With this, there was only one stamp left to be applied to my paper and it was from the local psychiatric unit. I was a little confused at how to get there. And at first, I was a little shy to ask fellow pedestrians for directions to the psych ward, but then decided to have some fun with that one, because you know it’s not every day you get to ask directions to the psych ward with that little look on your face that says that you need directions to the psych ward.
It was about a 45 minute wait in line to register at the psych ward and then a 45 minute wait to see the psychiatrist. I had asked my wife what to expect. She indicated that they would just talk a couple minutes with me while stamping my form “and she really didn’t see the point of it all”.
And here I was after nearly 7 hours of seeing doctors and standing in various lines, sitting at the psychiatrist’s desk, waiting for her to apply the last stamp to my form so that I could run over to the road police office and get my shiny new driver’s license. But I could hear things in the conversation that seemed to set off vague alarm bells in my head. I don’t know if she was disappointed in my educational background or grieved by the country of my origins, but now she was saying that I had only been registered in her district for a year and a half, so the “right thing to do would be to send me to the psychologist for testing”. I asked her if my wife should return since she had also only been registered in her district for the past year and a half and her form had been stamped without a psychological evaluation. She replied that this decision was “made individually”. I really really wanted to say, “Oh, so you think I’m the crazy one and my wife’s normal. If you only knew.” But I reined myself in with the wisdom that snark and sarcasm are not helpful while visiting a psychiatrist, because you know they might then come and take me away somewhere.
So, there I was making an appointment with a psychologist two days ago for yesterday morning. I was pretty agitated, because they said the psychological test would take at least an hour, and that did not fit in the plans I had for my life this week. I had some concern about the legal part of all of this, so I called a lawyer friend and asked if there could be any problems associated with me being sent for a psychological exam. “Not if you’re not a psycho,” he replied. Good point.
So there I was yesterday morning, going through a psychological evaluation. She started off by asking if I had any complaints about my memory. Recognizing that there is a time and a place for everything and that this was neither the time nor the place to discuss that I sometimes forget where I park, I replied that I had no complaints. And then the testing began.
Here are the tests I took to prove that I am capable of driving:
1) Audio Memory Test: The psychologist read out ten words. They were: Laughter, Thought, Border, Ring (as in the sound), Cabin, Autumn, Bone. Judging by the fact that she read these words to me ten times and I have now only recalled six, you get an idea of how I did. But out of the ten times she repeated the list, I usually remembered 8 or 9. She then informed me that I was “in the norm”.
2) The Comprehension of Euphemisms Test: The psychologist said “The slower you go, the farther you get”. I then said, “I understand this to me that it will be safer and I will get farther if I do not rush”. “That’s exactly right!” she said. Then she quoted a phrase that I didn’t understand at all. I think some of the words in the phrase are now dormant in Russian. So she paraphrased it to “You can’t stick a needle in a sack”. “Because”, she helpfully added, “you really can’t stick a needle in a sack”. By the way, if any Russians reading this can shed any light on this at all, I would be deeply grateful. I told her that they only thing that came to my mind is that perhaps the sack was another person, and indeed, you should not stick needles in other persons. She looked very disappointed and then said “Golden Head”. “That means a smart person,” I cried out. “Good job”, she said as she smiled at me somewhat like my mother smiled at me when I had a successful movement while being potty trained.
3) The Search For Numbers Test: I was handed a ruler and a sheet of paper was placed in front of me. It had 25 squares and in each square was a number between 1 and 25 in a random order. I was to search for each number sequentially between 1 and 25 place the ruler on it and say the number out loud. This was repeated I believe ten times with different sheets of paper that had the numbers 1 through 25 in various sequences. The psychologist was running a stopwatch and writing down my time with each piece of paper. In general, it was taking me about 43-45 seconds each time. As you might understand, this is helpful if a driver needs to quickly find a speed limit sign with a certain number on it. During the last round I could not find the number 17. I asked the psychologist if she was absolutely certain that there was a number 17 on the paper. She quietly wrote a note in her forms which I can only assume read “This clown is horrible at quickly locating the number 17”. And my time during the last round was 64 seconds. She then informed me that the average was 42 seconds, but I was still very happily “in the norm”.
4) The Visual Memory Test: It was explained to me that I would be given ten words that I would need to draw. I would then need to repeat back those words based on the pictures that I had drawn. The words were: Dark Night, Fear, Anger, Hard Work, etc. I was delighted to hear that I would not be judged on artistic talent, but I would need to explain why I drew what I drew. One of the drawings was “Deaf Old Lady”.
|A Re-creation of my rendering of the subject of “Deaf Old Lady”.|
The psychologist inquired as to why I had drawn “Deaf Old Lady” in this manner. I explained that the triangle was indicative of a dress, so that I would remember that this was a lady (“Deaf Old Lady” in Russian is only two words, “глухая старушка”, not three as in the English version which is “Deaf Old Lady”), the cane indicates that she is elderly, and the X over the ear represents that she has a hearing disability. “Yes, I see”, said my psychologist friend and made some notes. If I ever get to to do this test again with no driver’s license hanging in the balance, my drawings might be very different, because that is grand fun. But in this case, each of my drawings were oozing a preposterous amount of normalcy.
5) The One Of These Is Not Like The Others Test: I think this is useful for potential drivers so that they know which ones are pedestrians and which ones are cars. Alas, I again digress. I was shown a series of cards and on each card were 4 objects. I had to then indicate which one of the four was different than the three others. Most of them had like A Cow, A Chicken, A Goat, and A Belly Dancing Mermaid on a Tricycle. The one that really required thought was An Airplane, A Passenger Ship, A Car, and A Hot Air Balloon. After some careful thought, I nailed it. Can you guess the right answer?
6) The What’s Your Favorite Color Test: Some small colored cards were placed on the table in front of me in an upside down V pattern. I remember that a charcoal color was at the top. Green and blue were on the left side coming down and black and brown were on the right side. Orange was on the bottom left and Yellow was on the bottom right. I was instructed to choose the colors in whichever order I would like. You know “just any color it makes no difference, but hand them to me in the sequence that indicates that you are a safe driver”. I knew black was not the first right answer, so I went with green. My mind was racing. Blue seemed like the next obvious answer, but it was located right next to where the green had just been and what did that mean? I went with blue anyway, and then brown. Because, I thought, brown is a natural color and she will know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I enjoy nature. This left me in a bit of a quandry because yellow seemed quite aggressive to me, but now the left side of my V was nearly completely gone. I went with orange anyway with the additional comment of “for some reason I’m liking the orange”. “Mhm”, she said, “for some reason you like the orange”, and wrote some notes. Then it was yellow, charcoal and black. She then flipped over the cards, and it turned out there was a numeral on the bottom of each one. She then wrote down the numbers in sequence with a plus sign in between them. I wondered if she ever noticed that the sum was always the same regardless of the sequence, but kept my thoughts to myself.
7) You Thought This Exam Was Over Test: I was handed my paper of ten drawings and instructed to state the words that were given for each drawing. Again, I nailed it. I was then instructed to repeat the 10 words that (and I quote) she had read to me ten times already. Again I remembered nine.
I was instructed to wait in the hall wondering if I would ever be allowed to drive again, while the psychologist entered her notes and conclusion in to her computer to be passed along to the psychiatrist.
I was invited into the psychiatrist’s office, and she informed me that I was “in the norm”. “This makes me glad,” I said. “It makes us glad too,” she said as she smiled and stamped my form.
It was then after four very short and uneventful lines later at the road police headquarters that I was presented with my new Russian driver’s license. I headed home, but after that experience sort of felt that maybe I should maybe first pay another visit to my new friends at the psychiatric ward.
If you’re moving to Moscow or St. Petersburg and would like the freedom of having your own car, and remain unencumbered from the details of buying, selling (that’s part of ownership!), changing the tires according to the season, and finding the right insurance, get behind the wheel with a simple and affordable mini-lease agreement. The details will be taken care of and you will be on the road in no time.