My Scarlet Letter

Trip Start Jan 01, 2014
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of France  , Île-de-France,
Friday, January 24, 2014

While I have never actually read Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, I know the gist of it. The lead character has to embroider a scarlet "A" on all of her clothing because she’s an adulterer, and this marks her for the rest of the community to be aware of her sins. In France, new drivers are given a sticker to put on their cars so that people know to be a little more patient with them on the road. It’s a white circle with a capital “A” in the middle and is printed in, you guessed it, scarlet red.

When my host parents first proposed that we put this on my car, I felt ashamed. I’ve been driving for over seven years now, and I felt like I was marking myself as an idiot to put this on the back of my car. To make matters worse, they made my “sticker” out of some printer paper, one of the kids’ markers, and Scotch tape. So not only am I marked as someone who doesn’t really know how to drive all that well, but I’m that ghetto kid who couldn’t even buy the sticker for 3 euros….

The first morning with my new branding, I skulked to the car and climbed inside. I had already been humbled enough throughout my driving lessons and being bested in a foreign language by a two-year-old, but why not put a knife through my heart and just let the whole world know “Lauren has no idea what she’s doing!!”

I parked at Claire’s school and got out with both of the children to see her off for the day. To my surprise when I returned, the car that had parked behind me had left me a good five feet to maneuver out of my spot! I thought to myself, “Poor fool thinks I’m going to ram into her hood if she gets any closer.” And then it occurred to me, this scarlet letter might not be so bad after all. 

I began to notice more cars that had them and not all of them were snotty-nosed 18 year olds who had just received their license. On my way to school that day, cars gave me plenty of space in the turn-arounds, and I don’t think I received a single honk! The initial pain of my wound began to subside as I accepted that my big, ghetto, scarlet A might help me more than harm me.

My driving skills have immensely improved though, and I feel really comfortable behind the clutch now. I even found a semi-decent radio station to listen to, so I’m not awkwardly driving in complete silence. And, it doesn’t distract me anymore as the clutch has become more like second nature. 

Along with my driving skills, my language skills have skyrocketed too! For the most part, I am able to convey what I want to the children. Usually, one of them has to interpret a bit for the other, but it works out. I still have trouble understanding adults who speak much quicker and with a better accent, but I had almost a full conversation with a man yesterday who was asking for directions. I told him immediately that I don’t really speak French, but that only enticed him to ask me everything about why I was in France. At the end of our small chat, he told me that I speak French very well! While he may have only been trying to get my number, I feel like there was at least a grain of truth in this statement!

Over the past two weeks, I have become much more comfortable in my surroundings. I have met more people and am starting to establish a more regular routine. Hopefully soon, I’ll be able to explore a bit more of the local villages and Paris. Keep me updated on your lives as well please!!

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Jamie on

It just proves that people in France really are nice. If you did that here, people would see the A and try to mess with you. What does the A stand for, anyway? I'm glad it's not adulteress! :-) (And you're not missing anything by having never read The Scarlett Letter :-).

Edgar on

I'm glad you're doing well, and even more glad there's a Scarlett letter for new drivers, up hills are tough and I bet they are even thougher driving in a complete strange place. Do you think Your car would be ed friendly or I should think on buying the next size up?

Perle on

I think A is for "apprenti"
I wish we had that also in Belgium :)
And it doesn't mean you're not a good driver, they have to drive with an A for 3 years, that quiet a long time...

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