Wednesday, February 27, 2008


My brother took me into the office where they issue driving licences again today. Yesterday there was a wee hitch, perhaps because my case was SLIGHTLY unusual. I had a licence that was, according to what the government had written on it, totally valid, but those lifetime licences were changed to 10-year licences in . . . some Kiwi please tell me . . . 1990? It might have been earlier. But anyway, at the time nobody told me. Eventually somebody did, but not until it was already at least 10-year-old news, and after that I kept meaning to try to get it switched over if it was still possible, and every time I visited NZ I couldn't be bothered or had left my licence in Japan.

But this time I thought I'd try. I was almost certain that I would have to do the test again, in which case I wouldn't bother since I never drive anyway these days (and would probably fail the test), but if I could get it, well, a driver's licence is always a good thing to have, just in case. So I went in yesterday.

The woman who dealt with my case was amazed by the licence I showed her. It was so old she had never seen one like that before. But she was fantastically helpful (and funny), and called Wellington, asked what the story was in a case like this, and gave them the details of the licence. They said they'd have to search their archives for myrecords (how to make me feel old) and since archives that old are on microfiche (how to make me feel even older) it would take a little time. I was told to come back today.

I went back today fully expecting to be told I would have to reapply. Instead, I was given a new licence. They GAVE ME A NEW LICENCE! Are they mad? I haven't driven for years! I even passed the eyesight test, which I did not expect - I had planned to get new contact lenses before leaving Japan because the ones I have are at least six years old and I'm sure my eyesight has changed since I got them, but I even passed that. What a shock.

Most of the staff were Indian. (The woman dealing with my case was Chinese, but she was the only non-Indian there.) The woman serving at the next counter got a surprise when a tiny, elderly Chinese couple came to her counter with a request. It was the wife who had a question, and her English was awful. After a while she said, hesitantly,

"Can I speak Hindi?"

"Pardon?" said the Indian woman, looking baffled. "English? Yes, you can speak English."

"No no no, Hindi," said the Chinese woman, louder this time.

"Hindi?" said the Indian woman. "You want to speak Hindi?"

"Yes," said the Chinese woman.

"But . . . Hindi? Aren't you Chinese?"

The Chinese woman said something in Hindi, and they chatted rapidly for a while. The Indian woman's face was a picture, she was SO shocked. After a while she said, in English,

"But your Hindi is PERFECT!"

The husband said something in Hindi, which made the Indian woman look even more shocked.

"You BOTH speak perfect Hindi!" she gasped. "I mean, it's PERFECT! WHY? You . . . you CAN'T be Indian! I mean, LOOK at you!"

It was true the Chinese couple were almost the perfect stereotype of an elderly Chinese couple. There was absolutely nothing Indian about them.

The other customers (us, actually) were laughing so much that the husband finally explained to all of us,

"My parents were born in China but they moved to India, and I was born in India. My wife, too. So we speak Hindi." He shrugged and laughed.

If the Indian woman had been grinning more broadly her face would have split in half. She held her hand to her heart and proclaimed dramatically,


A little later she handed back the paperwork she was doing for them, explained something in Hindi, and as they were leaving called after them, in English,

"You guys MADE MY DAY."

Multiculturalism. You've got to love it.


Lia said...

I think they made my day, too. Great story.

StyleyGeek said...

I am jealous. I was totally unable to ever get my NZ licence renewed, since they demanded proof of address in the form of a phone bill with my name on it. Since I keep not remembering to bring a phone bill with me when I travel overseas (stupid stupid), I could never get it renewed, and now it's dead.

But when I got my lifetime licence changed to the new sort, they sent me five copies by mistake. Every day for nearly a week, I would open the mailbox to find a new driving licence in there. It was kind of fun and I was sad when they stopped coming.

kenju said...

Another good example of why you shouldn't judge a book by it's cover!!

Good story! Congratulations on your new license.

lina said...

that story made my day too. Even when holidaying overseas, it was such fun to meet people who speak the same language.

A new license for you. Time to get behind the wheels then. :-)