Sunday, August 2, 2009

You never really know how it feels to be a failure until you fail at something you CAN do in someone else’s country…


So I failed my driving test. I am not exactly sure what I did wrong, but I think it was stopping halfway through a reverse turn.  So from the start… I woke up at 3:30 am (after not being able to fall asleep until midnight) to get ready for the day and leave for my test at 4:30. I arrived at the testing site around 4:45 and proceeded to take my signals test. I reviewed a pamphlet of about 50 various signs and signals and their meanings. For this test a government official pointed at the 10 most obscure signs (1 was not even in the pamphlet) and wanted an answer right away without hesitation. I definitely got one wrong, but think the rest were ok. The official never spoke to me, he only signed a paper and pointed to a counter. I did not know if I passed this or not, but went to the counter. My supervisor, Chris, came with me and told me I probably passed or he would not have signed it. At the counter I paid the fee and was told to sit and wait and Chris was told there were no men allowed and he would have to leave. I told Chris I would call him when I was done.

I found a chair next to a very nice woman and was soon joined on the other side by another woman. Both women had failed the test twice before, and both had been driving in their home countries for several years. The woman on my left was a doctor at the local hospital and has been in Doha for 7 months using a driver because she has not passed the test. She assured me I would do fine because I was American. I am how that would help me, but I was a little more confident. The officials then come to the front of the room and called forward from a list all the women who had failed before to go and start their test. They then arbitrarily began picking people from the crowed. I was picked second form the rest of the women to take my test. I walked out of the room and an official just pointed across the street to a car, but did not say anything. I got in the car and pulled forward only to find there was an extremely flat tire.  You take the test with your window down and the officials yell instructions through the window in Arabic. I tried to tell an official the tire was flat but he kept yelling and gesturing forward. Finally another man came and told me to get out of the car. I was then pointed toward another car that was manual. I told him I needed automatic but he just pointed to the car. Instead of trying to argue I just waited for another automatic car to arrive. I got in and waited for instructions. An offical said something to me in Arabic that I did not understand (I really need to learn this language – fast) I thought he meant stay as there were several other cars pulling out around me. When I did not move he looked angry and yelled again. This time I knew that what I was doing was wrong, so I obviously needed to pull forward. That is how the next part of my test went. If they yelled something at me I tried to guess what they wanted, if they yelled louder and with an angry face, then I did the opposite. When I was finally in line for the L hill test I felt more confident. The L hill test is not that hard, I just managed to mess up somehow. You drive forward and turn right up a hill. You then reverse down the hill and turn so you are facing the same way. There are cones and concrete barricades around you, but in general it is like backing out of a driveway. I did not know what the official was yelling so I just did what the person before me did. As I started to reverse a car drove behind me so I stopped. I believe this was my first mistake – stopping is bad. When the car was clear I kept reversing and very very slowly turned in reverse, as there are many cars and cones around. Looking back I think this was mistake two – going slow is bad. The official took my paper and said “halas, fail, halas.” I pulled forward and got out of the car because I did not know what to do. I watched another woman do the turn and from my perspective it looked great, but she also failed. I noticed that my official had about 10 fail papers in his hands when the other officials had none. I was then yelled at and an official pointed for me to get back in the car. I parked the car and went inside to get more information. None of the government officials were able to speak English well enough to answer my questions, and my Rosetta Stone Arabic is not getting me anywhere. I man who works at the driving school, but who was not a government official finally told me “fail, halas, leave” and pointed to the door. When I asked what I did next and when I could retake it he told me to come back another day to reschedule the driving test (so two more mornings of getting to the driving center very early). He then repeated several times “fail, halas, leave.”

As I walked outside I watched a few more drivers take the L hill test. Several did the same thing I did and passed. I am not sure exactly why I failed, although I am sure I have plenty of room to improve, but I did notice a commonality amongst those who failed. The women I watched fail who drove similarly to me were all Philipino, I was the only person who looked White or “western”. The other women who failed were of all backgrounds and ran over cones. The women who drove similar to me and passed were mostly conservatively dressed Muslims (with their head covered) or Arab.  I am not saying there is a double standard at all – I am just saying I noticed a commonality in those that failed.

I hope my next driving test update includes insight into the road test and the key phrase of “I passed.” I have gained a lot from this experience. I want to work to learn Arabic more than I did before and I have learned that driving test and policies have flaws everywhere. While I think the US system is better, I realize I am clearly biased because I passed the US system and failed the Qatar system. Maybe if it had been the other way around I would prefer the Qatar system. 


  1. I cant believe how you put up with this stuff so well! You have a really good outlook on the situation. It really just sounds like they are trying to rob you by making you take the test over and over again. Cant wait to see what your license looks like when you get back to the states... if you get a license... which Im sure you will!!

  2. I learned from my instructor that they only pass you if you take the class. I think there are good intentions behind it... but it might also be the income from the classes. After I finish these classes I am sure I will pass - I will make sure to scan it and send it to Tess so you can see it.