It's a good thing Great Guys are pretty relaxed about deadlines. Nearing my first anniversary in the heart of European Socialism is easily way more than enough time to commit experiences to pixels.
And what could be a more mundane way to start than driving?
In Germany, and likely the rest of the EU, drivers' licenses from Many Countries (a list that includes the US, at least) are valid for six months from arrival. And cars from those Many Countries can be driven for a year before they must be registered.
What could be so hard about that?
Plenty, as it turns out.
License to Kill
I'll start with driving. Oddly, in the dual sense that there is no apparent reason, or available explanation, US licenses have varying degrees of acceptability to the Germans. Many States are completely acceptable — go to the TüV (the German version of the DMV, pronounced like a cross between "toof" and "tough"), hand them your license, and they give you a German one. Oh, by the way, the TüV is as justifiably famous for speedy customer service as almost any DMV.
Other states are treated with greater skepticism: take the theoretical test, and the license is yours.
The rest of the states get no respect whatsoever: their unfortunate license holders get treated as if they were born before 1886, and have been in comas ever since. For them, every inch of the entire nine yards (new money: 2.54 cm in 0.9144m): first aid course, written test, and driving test.
No extra points for guessing which treatment Alaskan drivers get.
My SWIPIAW (hereafter, TOSWIPIAW) never does in the afternoon what can be done in the morning. So we hit the ground running. We had the first aid course done within our first month.
Oddly — a word I will be wearing out — her being a registered nurse cut no ice. Even more oddly, sitting through an entire day of first aid training in German did. The CPR dummy was the last event of the day. When it was my turn, my first chest compression, perhaps powered by aggro, sent the dummy's head flying across the room, where it spun like footballs often do after a touchdown. Oddly, they didn't score that as a save.
But still, one block checked. Our hearts filled with resolution, we advance, in imagined solidarity with the rest of our comrades, onwards to the theoretical test.
You have no idea. None. What. So. Ever.
I've not had a license in every state, but I have had more than my share. All of them: flip through thirty or so pages printed on cheap paper, spend 10 minutes taking a multiple guess test consisting of picking the blindingly obvious from the glaringly incorrect.
Not here. Uh uh. No way. There is a 1000 question bank from which the questions are randomly chosen. The correct answer may be one, or more, of the choices. Both the questions and the answers are designed to be misleading. The only way to pass the damn thing is to memorize all the questions. Here is an example why:
Notice the question asks what you must do. But the answer includes what you may do. Knowing the sign and reading the question is a recipe for failure.
Hours upon hours, gone.
And months, too. The TüV, with a mistrustful eye on "customer service" only offers the test in English twice a month. It was five months until my planet and theirs lined up.
All that remained was passing the driving test. For which lessons, seven 45 minute sessions in my case, are required. Our car has a stick shift, so I had to get a manual transmission endorsement. At some level, although it doesn't get too deep before I go full ranting skeptic, I get driving ecomentally.
What I don't get is the insistence on short shifting the heck out of the poor thing. Third gear at 20 mph is just wrong: no torque, the motor is lugging, and desperately wants to go faster than 20, which is bad if the speed limit is 20. But when in Germany, drive the way the ecomaniacs insist, even though it doesn't have heck all to do with either safety or economy.
Throw the only English speaking instructor's schedule and mine together, and yet more months go by. I failed to fail the driving test last Friday.
Whereupon I went straight to the TüV licensing office to promptly turn my certificate into a license. No wait, the exact opposite of that. Because their pace is so murderous, they close at noon on Fridays.
Eleven months later, and I'm still not done.
But wait, there's more:
Licensing the Weapon with which to Kill
Of all the things in life that should be easy, so easy, in fact, as to not warrant doing in the first place, registering a German car in Germany should be right up there.
Or so you would think, anyway.
Oddly, the US requires symmetric and prohibits asymmetric driving light beams. Hold that sentence up the mirror, and that is the EU. Repeat with rear fog lights: US prohibits, EU requires (although in this case the US cares nowhere near enough to actually check).
With regard to headlights, symmetry means the beam spread is uniform; asymmetry means there is a pronounced notch on the left side so as to avoid dazzling oncoming drivers with your low beams.
I think it is nearly a law of nature that if two diametrically opposed concepts persist simultaneously, then the difference between them is utterly without distinction.
Just so here. Sure, it makes sense to not dazzle oncoming drivers. But given that we haven't been hit even once with a flash of the high-beams, there is considerable experiential evidence to suggest that this whole asymmetry thing doesn't amount to a hill of beans.
As for the rear foglight, that was simple. The internet assured me that replacing the US light switch with the EU version incorporating a rear foglight position, reprogramming the lighting control computer, would serve just fine.
While I was on a trip, TOSWIPIAW, for whom "wait" is a swear word, took the car to the dealer to get an estimate on what needed doing, and came back with a mountain of Euros — 4500, or about $5000 — to summit our hill of beans.
Mr. Jaw, meet Mr. Floor with loud, anvil-like clang. Followed by muttered imprecations, and a vow to set the car on fire first.
(Here is where a montage with images of internet searching, traveling and calendar pages flipping belongs).
Ahem. About those Headlights. Had we not paid extra for the dynamically adaptive xenon cosmosity, going from symmetric to not involves nothing more than a blocking patch of sticky backed tin foil placed just so.
Silly us. Since the headlights move five different ways to Sunday, cheap and fast was out of the question. Fortunately, that internet searching in the montage you didn't see coughed up a price that, while not exactly cheap, was less than half the dealer quote. And, despite their vague threats, the things went right in.
Now for the rear fog lights. Installing the new switch was a doddle, so off to the dealer we went to get the car reprogrammed.
Which they couldn't do. Not wouldn't, couldn't. Suggested we needed a new $1,000 instrument cluster.
More imprecations. Renewed resolve to set the thing on fire. More montage. In the midst of it, twig that eBay might, just might, also be a thing in Europe. (I need to get my money back on that first montage). Indeed it is, a fact probably less surprising to almost everyone than me.
Far less money — $150 — and a week later, the proper EU part shows up in perfect condition. Ten minutes to install it, Bob's your uncle, and off to the dealer.
Still can't program it. Suggest another, larger dealer. Despite making a far more thorough effort, including contacting BMW itself, their conclusion is that it would be far easier to invent time travel than to get something working which the car already has.
Whereupon I did what I should have done much sooner: research the door-stop worthy factory shop manual's electrical diagrams, buy a ten dollar switch, five dollar relay, some wire, a couple connectors, and do it myself (if you care, and you don't, the solution is at the end).
Almost worse than the money and time involved attaining the pointless, is the psychic harm this causing TOSWIPIAW. Not only is this taking forever — longer, in her world — but the police keep pulling us over.
Not, you cynics, for our driving. No, oddly, something far worse. In the US, many states, cognizant of how useless front license plates are, don't require them. Michigan, were we bought the car, is one of those states. Alaska isn't, but to demonstrate my point, three cars, seven and a half years, and not one even slightly raised eyebrow from anyone.
In the EU, and, it seems, particularly in Germany, front license plates are required. When we drive down the street, people stop, stare, point, walk into lamp posts, fall off their bikes. Some of them turn on flashing lights and chase us down. We shrug, do some pointy-talky, they miss the distinction between the Alaska and Michigan, and send us on our way.
Cue another montage, with many flipped calendar pages and travel scenes, and the damn thing will get inspected in April. Close as darnnit to a year, though far less than $5000*, just to get license plates.
Surely, you must be wondering, there is a point here somewhere.
Socialism is pickayune and burdensome. Surely, you'd think, government agencies could either just pick one damn way or another — really, who cares? — and stop being such pests.
Socialism is what socialism does. Three hours waiting to do a five minute transaction (swapping a piece of paper for a plastic card) especially one that involves spending money, is unheard of in the red in tooth and claw world of heartless capitalism.
Thank goodness we live in a walkable city with plentiful public transit options, which nearly makes having a car redundant. Yes, I know.
A sure fire way to reduce the number of pre-mature deaths in the US isn't some jihad against guns, but rather to make getting a license cost more than $1000. Which makes this possible, while managing a motor vehicle fatality rate less than half that of the far more lackadaisical US.
And Germans would go absolutely spare seeing the shambolic heaps that far too often pass for our cars.
Although it isn't clear whether that is due to socialism, or being German.
In an American BMW, what would be the rear foglight is occupied by a low intensity lamp that is on when the parking or headlights are on. It is so unimportant that there is no mention of it in the owner's manual, and, unlike every other light on the car, doesn't throw a warning when it is out. That makes the solution easy: cut the common ground, run a wire from the lamp ground to a rocker switch tastefully stuck to the side of the instrument binnacle, then from the switch to a relay controlled by the power lead to the front fog lights -- that stops the rear fogs being on unless the fronts are, which is a requirement. Time: hour and a half, almost all of it routing that wire from the trunk to the instrument panel. And a heck of a lot cheaper than two dealer visits and $250 in now useless parts.