‘Please look this way ma’am, and tell which letter do you see’, the doctor asks me in a friendly way. A flash of light blinds me for a few seconds. ‘Uuhmm, a F.’ ‘Very good, senhora. And know please squeeze this.’ He points to a rusted device with a handle and weights. I squeeze the handle, and the weights move up a little. The doctor says nothing while he scrambles some things on a piece of paper. ‘Did I pass?’ I ask him nervously. ‘Yes, you did, now you only still have to do the psychological test.’
As a foreigner in Brazil you can drive up to six months with your own driver license. And although I don’t own a car here, I do want to be able to legally rent one. So I didn’t have a choice: I had to apply for my Brazilian driver license. I collected many documents and went to DETRAN, the government agency that issues the driver licenses, to hand them over.
But of course that was not all. I thought I would maybe have to do another road test, or that I would have to learn the Brazilian traffic rules. But all of this wasn’t necessary. The only thing I needed to do, after the medical exam, was to convince the Brazilian government that I’m psychologically alright as well…
There’s a desk chair in the next room. Crappy stuff. An elderly lady in a long white lab coat – the psychologist? – gives me a few sheets of paper. On one of them there are three small vertical lines. I look at her, puzzled. Is this a joke? ‘You have to redraw these, until I say stop. Then you have to draw one horizontal line and then you continue with the vertical lines.’
I’m afraid I misunderstood her, because the purpose of all of this is everything but clear to me. Oh no, maybe I’ll fail the test now because I don’t know how to draw lines! ‘And how long do I have to do that?’ I manage to ask her. ‘Five minutes’, she says, ‘and we start now!’
Somewhat nervous I start drawing diligently. When the five minutes are over, she comes over to my desk chair to inspect the paper. ‘Well done!’ I look at the piece of paper filled with straight lines, and strange enough I feel kind of proud of myself.
Back at DETRAN I hand over the results of my tests. I passed! I can pick up my driver license one week later.
I take a taxi home and gaze out the window. São Paulo’s busy traffic is passing by. The city where indicators don’t seem to exist, tailgating is the most natural thing in the world and pedestrian crossings have no meaning. The driving skills of the average Brazilian thus lead regularly to accidents. Nearly every day I see pictures of car wrecks on my computer screen.
One photo in particular drew my attention last week. A motorist crashed his Ferrari 458 while driving with high speed on the ring road of São Paulo. Miraculously, he and his girlfriend only suffered minor injuries.
I wonder if he had to draw lines as well. And if he managed to pass his psychological test. Because when you crash your 20-day-old Ferrari of € 700.000,-, I don’t think you’re psychologically quite alright…
This blog was previously published (in Dutch) on May 18 on the website of RTL Nieuws.