Around France

French Drivers’ Code: The Agony

Last, I wrote about the stress of studying for the French driver’s code test. It’s one of the most aggravating tasks I’ve encountered since living in France. Now I can attest to the agony of failing it.

Yes, I failed the test, along with my two American friends who, like me, are suffering through this ordeal.

French Drivers’ Code Test Day

The day of our test started out stressful. Not only was it raining when we left Uzès, but we had to squeeze into our driving school instructor’s tiny car for the trip to the testing site in Nimes. We were three good-sized Americans,  the driving instructor, and a teenage student driver on her first lesson.

Thankfully, the instructor was at the wheel. Not so on the way back.. which is another part of the nightmare.

Dread or Fear???


We should have known the day was going downhill when we spotted the testing site-building in Nimes.

french drivers school

An interesting architectural feature, don’t you agree?


French Drivers’ Code Test Day

When we arrived at the test center in Nimes, we waited for what seemed a lifetime before being admitted to the classroom for the test. During the wait, our translator joined us and introduced himself. He’s French and is married to an American. His English is perfect.


Beforehand we’d agreed to share one translator. We were cocky enough to think we could read the questions in French. After all, we’d practically memorized every online question and answer – 800 plus.

Big mistake.

French Drivers’ Code Test Day

The first question on the test, I knew I’d never seen the video or the question before. I was told the test is taken from the same 800-question online questions I’d studied.

By question three, I was in pure panic. It was up to listening to and understanding the translator if I would make it. 

Unfortunately, the translator had his own problems. Because of COVID-19 restrictions, he sat at least six feet from us. Plus, his back was to the screen. The presenter read the questions and answers off the screen in French to all the attendees. Since our translator couldn’t see the screen to read the questions, he had to repeat the question from memory if we didn’t get it. Multiple choice questions and answers. It was impossible. 

Did I mention the handheld device I was given to enter my answers? It had buttons for each choice of answers, A-B-C-D; a “Correct” button; and a “Confirm” button.

Heaven forbid you mess up. If so, the test questions are rolling past, and you’re left wondering what planet you’re on!

By the time we reached thirty out of the forty test questions, I was in a daze. My friends were glassy-eyed.

Bottom line, it didn’t go well.

French Drivers’ Code Test Day

I’m not sure how we got back to Uzès. The student driver took over the wheel with the instructor beside her and three Americans in the back.

You can picture what happened next for any who knows the Pont Saint Nicolas route from Nîmes to Uzès.

Here it goes. A two-lane road winds and curves around rocky cliffs overlooking a formidable gorge. If you safely navigate the valley, there’s the Pont Saint Nicolas bridge. It’s one-way, not because of how it’s marked but because of the harrowing switch-back turn to get to it. Next, there’s a narrow road banked with giant plane trees (sycamores). The Tour de France often takes this route for the fear factor. 

The instructor had to grab the wheel several times l before we headed into a stone embankment, the river gorge, or a tree. If you dare to watch it, this video shows the reverse route through Pont Saint Nicolas- from Uzés to Nimes- minus the plane trees. 

French Drivers' Test

French road banked by plane trees.


The good news is that we survived. Plus, I made friends with the driving school instructor. She and I discovered we can communicate with each other. Her English is better than she thinks, and my French… well, she can figure it out. Hopefully, she’ll be my driving instructor… if I ever pass the code test.

Buying a Car in France

French Drivers Test. Gimme A Break!

32 replies »

  1. Great piece on your part 2 getting a French Drivers License. I could feel the tension and stress of your ordeal, which made me laugh in response to your plight. Are they kidding with the confusion from language, 4 button device with “correct” or “confirm” buttons. You must of had the spirit if the mathematicians from Uzes who broke the Enigma Machine Code in WW2. As for the drive over the Pont St. Nicholas -I’ve driven it several times and its much narrower than your video makes it appear. Add to that cars and tractor trailer trucks coming from the opposite direction over a bridge built in the 1200s that was meant for people and horses only magnifies the fear factor. Of note there is no side wall or railing just a curb between the vehicle and the rocky river below-lol. This whole Gauntlet including the Plane trees only adds to the nightmare and inevitable failure of your mission but NO you pulled it off. I was exhausted reading but thrilled for your outcome ! Thanks for taking us for a ride !

    • Now I can add that I just passed the driver’s test! It’s all done! Whew! I must say it was one of the most difficult hurdles I’ve crossed since being in France. Thanks for your support and ongoing encouragement, John!

  2. Excellent paper on the French driving test ! So true !
    And by reassured, you don’t need to be a foreigner to fail it.
    My son just passed it last summer and, having studied it with him, I can assure you some situations are just unbelievable !

    • Thank you, Nancy. It was pure stress to study for and take the drivers’ test. Now I have to get up my nerve to do the practical part to actually get the license. Stay tuned…

    • Again today! I’ve had such bad news about it, I’m waiting for a break! Hang on.. maybe today???

  3. Deborah, I’m a friend of Rich and Paula, Kaye. I had no idea what a nightmare the test day and test was. Hopefully you all consoled yourselves with lots of 🍷.

    • Lol! Glad you enjoyed the tale. I’ll do an update soon. Come to visit! Thanks for following.

  4. I can sympathize. when I went for my French drivers test years ago, I passed the road test but not the written/oral. Had to go back some time later for that but I got it on the second try. My French was very limited at the time so I think they took pity on me! i’m sure my test was nowhere near as hard as the ones they give now. Bon courage!

    • Merci, Barbara. I’ll let you know how it goes. Thanks for letting me know I’m not the only one who has problems with this!

  5. Best of luck next time Deborah! We are still in lockdown here in England, no idea when we can travel again and no idea if France will allow us in!! I guess we’ll just have to wait for that cup of coffee! I look at photos of Place aux Herbes and dream of a different life, we haven’t been anywhere or seen anyone since beginning of November! Xxx

    • I do hope you’re where you can get outside and that the weather is improving. This has been a terribly difficult year and hard to adjust around. Keep thinking of Place aux Herbes and the beautiful places you want to visit. If there’s a photo in Uzès you want me to send you, let me know. Thank you so much for staying in touch. All will be better soon🌈

  6. Hi Deborah- How long were you able to drive with your U.S. license in France before you needed to get a french one? Ne quitte pas !

    • That’s an interesting story, too. I was driving for six years in France, on my own car insured by a French agent! When I was going to get a new car, I reminded the agent I had no French license. He said he’d just learned it was forbidden! Good that I had no accident!

  7. WHAT A FRIGHTFUL ADVENTURE! You’ll ace it next time. I can’t imagine how hard to do having to answer the questions through so many layers of interpretation. I had a hard time through only one. I had to take the drivers test 3 times because I couldn’t parallel park🤣 Driving those mountain curves is a piece of cake now, but not when I first came to CO. Great story and the grandkids will love it as they get closer to 16.

  8. I think Americans had an easier time scaling the walls of Normandy -lol The route and road over the 15th century Pont St. Nicholas was made for carts and horses of the Great Crusade not oncoming cars and trucks -lol Your description of your ordeal is hysterical because I can imagine my own nerves being in such a dilemma. Thanks for sharing can you or dare you-take it again ?

    • I think I’m still trembling from the ride. We have a new scheme now that’ll be unveiled next week. Might be a total disaster, but worth a try. Stay tuned and thanks, as always, for your encouragement.

  9. Oh my, the ride, after the test, with the student driver sounds like a nightmare. In fact, the day sounds like a nightmare. Bravo for living through it – and I sure enjoyed your narrative – as always – so descriptive and interesting.

    • Yes, the ride home was the icing on the cake. It can only get better… I hope! Thanks for the encouragement….

  10. This sounds like a horrible dream – uh – nightmare!! Very happy your survived!! Better luck next time with more familiar questions!

  11. I know you are reluctant to openly agree, but French bureaucracy is specifically designed to exclude and frustrate “foreigners ” and the administrators take a malicious pleasure in doing so.
    You have my admiration for your perseverance and good positive attitude.

    • Yes, I will never talk negatively about the French. This is their country and I am privileged to live here. If some things are inconvenient for me, I just look around and count my blessings being here.

  12. Oh Deborah, what a day – your self-deprecating honesty is so touching – many of us have been there albeit in different exams or situations. It will come good in due course, I am quite sure. And knowing that route from Nimes to Uzès so well I am amazed you didn’t all have heart failure several times on the way back – I think it is utterly beautiful and utterly terrifying; I have never yet had the courage to take the wheel for it and leave it to my husband, irritating the poor man with sharp intakes of breath every five seconds or so. Locked down in London though I would give anything to experience it again….hoping so much that Uzès is going to be possible this summer and if so, meeting you there!

    • Oh, Cherry, I hope it won’t be too long before we can have visitors again. I’m getting tired of my own cooking! Stay safe so you’ll be ready to travel. Thanks for the note. Stay in touch.

    • It was! Just wait til the next part of the story… unraveling now … stay tuned. Thank you for your encouragement!

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