I reached a milestone in my French assimilation recently. You see, after you receive your French driver’s license, you are required to affix the letter ‘A’ (pictured, left) to the back of your car. The ‘A’ is for “apprentice” and notifies other drivers that you are new to the road and are subject to the speed restrictions that apply to new drivers. Yes, new drivers have to go about ten kilometers per hour slower than everyone else. FOR TWO YEARS.
It’s not a bad idea, when you think about it. Kids who have never had a license before will drive more slowly than everyone else, and the scarlet letter on their car will make those around them aware of this fact, which will ensure that people will be patient and give them a wide berth. Of course, this is only a good idea in theory, since what actually happens is that people spot that big red ‘A’ from a mile away and automatically make plans to pass you, even if it’s a no-passing lane and you’re going around a corner and are on a bridge. Even if you are actually traveling at the regular-people speed limit. Even if you’re exceeding the regular-people speed limit.
That ‘A’ triggers a reaction in a very ancient, primal part of the brain; a reaction that convinces the brain’s owner that it would be far better to perish in a fiery crash than to drive behind a car with this particular letter of the alphabet on it for even ten seconds. And rest assured, if they are behind you for these ten horrible seconds, they will be right behind you, with their front bumper mere atoms away from the trunk of your car. Tapping lightly on the brakes in no way convinces them that they are too close, but rather strengthens their resolve to risk their lives by passing you without delay.
So, after two solid years of motor vehicle harassment, it is finally time to remove the ‘A’ from the back of my Volvo. Like Hester Prynne ripping the scarlet letter from her chest, I will tear off the magnetized rubber disc that advertises my shameful condition to the world. I’ll finally be able to make a simple trip to the grocery store or gym without calling loved ones to say goodbye, making last-minute changes to my will or fretting about the indignity of having “Nissan Micra” listed under “cause of death” on my coroner’s report.
But now, the question remains: What to do with my scarlet letter? It can’t be damaged by running over it (I did that already, though not on purpose). It floats, so throwing it into the Mediterranean is out. And I don’t think it would burn well, being made of a rubbery plastic substance. I suspect that fire would smell awful and be bad for the environment. So, I’m asking you, dear readers: What should I do with it? Bury it? Auction it off on e-Bay? Mail it anonymously to Le DMV? Please send me your ideas. In the meantime, I’ll be planning a road trip.