Mug shot musings: the first step towards a French licence.

I have been driving on my UK licence since I came to live in France. My recto-verso sheet of A4 paper follows me everywhere, and the photo card is stashed away in my purse. It is never taken out – not even when the gendarmerie stop me to check my paperwork.  My face of 13 years ago beams out of the accompanying photo card into the depths of my purse, where it brushes shoulders with my French Health insurance card, the hallowed gang of French supermarket loyalty cards, till receipts and packs of stamps. She never sees the light of day.

Never, that is, until I dug her out with horror recently. A series of hilarious posts by Pecora Nera in his refreshingly funny blog “Englishman in Italy” brought up the topic of exchanging his UK licence for a full-blooded, racy Italian version. Thanks to Mr Black Sheep, I woke up to the fact that my own photocard was no longer valid. Not just a little, either. Light years.

I squinted at the photo, and it struck me how the constipated expression we have in photo booths makes us all look like potential villains on our driving licences.  There’s a very fine line between a prison mug shot and passport picture.

Al Capone. Mugshot information from Science an...

Exchange the suit and tie for a roll-neck sweater, put a wig on him, and you have MM Capone’s driving licence. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now I know I should have dealt with this earlier. I had prepared the paperwork nearly a year ago, when I (exceptionally) did a three-point turn over a continuous white line on an empty road, managing to do so a few seconds before a gendarmette (exceptionally) passed by with flashing lights, and hauled me over. When she glared at my dog-eared licence and told me that I should have got it exchanged for a French one within three months of arriving in France, the mustard got up my nose (as they quaintly say here) and I made a HUGE mistake. As Best Female Friend squirmed in the passenger seat and sent me panicked “DON’T DO IT” signals tapped in terse girl morse code on her thighs, I informed Miss Gendarmette with a self-satisfied smirk that the official government site said otherwise. In for a penny, in for a pound, I continued to knock any hope of absolution on the head by telling her that I was entitled to drive on my UK licence until I committed an offence. Which, of course, I had just done. Result: four points off my henceforth obligatory French licence, and a 90 euro fine.

Citroën C4 Gendarmerie model

 Gendarmette’s blue pumpkin with matching blue light (Photo credit: francisco.j.gonzalez)

Nearly a year later, thanks to my anglo-italian Black Sheep friend, I’m finally revving things up to get my pretty pink French licence, which is too big to fit into my purse, cannot be folded, and promises to resist life with MM as well as Paris Hilton could hold out on a Cornish cliff top in a force eleven gale. I hate administrative formalities, and would like to have a multi-pass to cover everything, just like Leeloo Dallas in The Fifth Element. I dream of popping on an orange wig and flashing the card at everyone from the supermarket cashier to the Gendarmerie, saying “MM Dallas, Mooltipass”, as I swan my way through formalities and get on with life.

To sort this palava out, I decided to take the frog by the legs, so to speak, and went to get my passport photos done. It proved to be a difficult mission, as the photo booth’s screen was ominously black. I rounded up the supermarket security guard and the reception desk assistant, and we checked out the machine with an expert eye. A dodgy wire hanging from the ceiling terminated in a three plug socket, dangling dangerously in thin air behind the machine. Although the machine was plugged in, the screen was blank. I suggested kicking it to see if there was a Twix or a can of coke stuck in it somewhere, and the security guard laughed. The assistant wasn’t impressed, though. She inspected her vicious pink nails, wrinkled her pierced nose, and looked at me like I was a pile of particularly ripe camel dung before pulling a large bunch of keys out of her pocket and forcing the maintenance door open, revealing the dusty innards of the machine. “There’s no button to press”, she announced ominously, apparently disappointed by the lack of a huge red flashing light and a sign saying “Press Here To Destroy the World”. She sighed, rolled her eyes, and slammed the door shut in despair. The machine promptly hummed and the lights lit up. I thanked my two apprentice technicians, and watched with amusement as the young lady trotted back to her desk, jangling her keys and zipping up her fake leopard skin fleece.

Now we’re off for stage two: filling in the papers and taking them to the Préfecture. Watch this space…… And if you’re feeling generous, take a minute to pop over here and support MM in the Expat’s Blog Writing Contest! 😉

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19 thoughts on “Mug shot musings: the first step towards a French licence.

  1. Pingback: Part 2: How to swap a UK driving licence to an Italian one in 340 difficult steps | Englishman in Italy

  2. oh don’t mention to me “Korben Dallas Multipass”, one of my favourite movies of all times!!!!! honest I must have watched it 25 times… will probably do so again at the weekend, MM.
    I am having much fun moving from your blog to Pecora Nera’s blog to read the sagas of the driving licence exchange, mugshots, medicals, and anything in-between. On the one hand I hope for both of you that the procedure will be short and sweet and painless, but on the other hand…… hey guys WE are having so much fun reading your adventures….. keep the posts coming and exchange notes.

  3. Heh heh 🙂 I too am having much fun following yours and Pecora Nera’s driving licence sagas… my feeling is that the French will sort it out before the Italians (I fear that Pecora Nera’s may get lost in the post!) … I await the outcome with baited breath! 🙂

    • Maybe we could play it out as a Playmobil saga to prepare children for administrative tasks….. Between the French and the Italians, I’m not sure there’s much in it: the French will either shrug their shoulders in Gallic indifference and pass over the paper, or they’ll go into paperwork meltdown…. you never know with them!

      • Playmobil saga sounds like fun! Especially if it’s child friendly but with a little hidden adult humour, like they do with some Disney films! 🙂

  4. Gosh, all this excitement just to get the photos, MM! I await the rest of the saga with bated breath. If it continues on the same lines you could sell the storyline to Hollywood. 🙂 Now let’s see, who would they cast as Miss Gendarmette…..?

    • I have an idea for that. I think we should keep it in the blogging family; after all, it’s our story. Then we’ll add a little Shakespearian twist and cast a boy as a girl, which logically points to Pecora Nera with a wig, a pair of black leather low heels and a blue gendarmette suit 😉

  5. I had the same sort of experience about ten years ago. I now have my French licence. When I went for my medical they looked at me and that was about it, no tests. I ended up with an HGV licence which rather bemused OH. I can tow a caravan and he can’t.
    How did you manage to get that police car parked on a battenburg?

    • So people do survive the experience. Things are looking up. I’m a bit bemused that the French form doesn’t have boxes to tick for my aptitude to drive mowing machines, mopeds and tractors. Most irritating to discover these rights so long after passing my test. Sniff. Now I want battenburg cake – again.

  6. You’ve done very well to get thus far without incident! It’s quite amazing what passes notice until it doesn’t any more. Some Americans I know drove their car on US plates for the entire 5yrs they were here. Totally illegal but they didn’t give a shit, and got away with it! 🙂

    • We went through sheer hell getting Helga’s number plate changed after driving on UK plates for years without knowing I had to change them…. French Officialdom informed me that my car didn’t exist because as she was made in 1981, she wasn’t constructed in Europe so didn’t exist. I took the man outside and introduced him to my sexy Mexican babe. THen we agreed that she did exist, and went through so many admistrative contortions that I received papers through the mail and didn’t know if they were to be sent off to other people for other papers, or if they were for the Préfecture. After around four months of blood, sweat and tears, I finally got the Carte grise….. Never again!

  7. Well, I´m about to try to get my UK driving licence changed for a Spanish one. Went for a medical today (without incident), but I´m flying back to the UK tomorrow for a few days, so it will be next week before we head into Malaga to tackle Traffico. I´ll let you know how I get on!

    • A medical? The French don’t mention medicals on their site; maybe it’s a surprise they’re keeping up their sleeves for later. I’m off to the Préfecture tomorrow. Italy, Spain, France….When we’re all done we can write a guide! Have a great time in the Uk, and don’t forget to say a few “Hail cheddars” for me in front of the supermarket cheese shelf…. 😉

  8. Pingback: Part 2: How to swap a UK driving licence to an Italian one in 340 difficult steps | Englishman in Italy

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