Posted by Adam @ 10:39 pm on February 22nd 2007

The US for limeys, Part 2: the DMV

Hot on the heels of Part 1, here is Part 2 of our hard-hitting limey’s guide to the most tedious aspects of life and how they are differently dull in America.

So, there you are, outside the DMV. It’s Columbus Day. State employees don’t work Columbus Day*.

So, there you are, outside the DMV, the day after Columbus Day. Hardened by previous encounters with the bureacracy, you will have brought a sheaf of documents pertaining to visa, employment, your UK driving license, birth certificate, wedding certificate, degree certificate, social security card, two or three utility bills, dog license, any deals you may have signed with the Devil and anything else that occurred to you once you had reached the end of your road.

As with supermarkets, you will not be allowed to carry a gun into the DMV, for reasons that will become obvious.

Up to this point, your only experience of the DMV has probably been from watching the Simpsons. On walking into the DMV, you will discover that, in fact, it is just like the DMV from the Simpsons except that real life, with no restriction on animation costs, can afford a hundred people in the room already (the cost of animation would, however, be significantly mitigated by the fact that nearly all of these people are standing in unmoving queues. Possibly for weeks). Don’t curse yourself for not being there when the doors opened; you would have experienced scenes reminiscent of the Running of the Brides before being trampled under Americans whose years of bitter DMV experience lend them a determination to move mountains and trample underprepared limeys.

Once you are in, do not be dismayed by the large number of printed signs located in every line of sight. These signs are at best meaningless, for example, relating to a previous governmental use of the building; at worst, they are a trap. Look, instead, for a poorly handwritten sign on a tattered piece of paper sellotaped to the wall off to one side; this may bear the information you need. If fortune smiles, that sign will contain accurate directions to the first queue you have to join. Your adventure begins.

Firstly, you must bring at least one book. The boredom of a day spent at the DMV without a book will dry your eyeballs up into your head. Think of watching the Queen’s Speech replayed 24 hours a day for a year over a looped background of Cliff Richards singing his version of the Lord’s Prayer. This is the spirit-crushing tedium that erodes mountains.

You will be in the first queue for a deceptively short period of 20 minutes or so. This queue only exists to tell you which queue you are supposed to be in. If you are short of some document, you may be lucky and find out now. Don’t depend on it. Do not treat the person at the desk like the mental defective you quickly believe them to be; the DMV staff are a hive-mind and any offense caused to one will reverberate through the collective consciousness. Their vengeance will be swift and painfully slow.

What happens next will depend to some extent on the state in which you are living. They may take your UK driving license from you, apparently unaware that you can just apply for a replacement. They may insist that you pass a theory test, for which you may have to study a little (as an aside: bring all your documentation to the theory test as well. No one was ever sent home from the DMV for having too much paperwork). You may even have to take a driving test; this may, no kidding, take place in a vacant section of the DMV carpark, at which point the appalling standards of driving in New Jersey will be explained as you demonstrate your vehicular mastery to the satisfaction of the state by racing around cones at 15 miles per hour.

The only certainties are boredom and frustration. You will appear to be the first foreigner ever to set foot in the DMV, necessitating phone calls, questions to more experienced staff and the mounting frustration of the people behind you in the queue. The eye test may contain a ‘Z’ – they will have absolutely no idea what a ‘zed’ is. Your photo will make you appear to be an IRA terrorist disguised as a child molester with cerebral palsy. You will reach the front of at least one queue to be told that you were in the wrong queue. The initial rate of employee activity will, impossibly, decrease as the day wears on. You will find yourself longing for the friendly atmosphere and relaxing aesthetics of Newark airport.

Eventually, as you are considering skinning yourself alive with a knife constructed from discarded forms cured with tears of frustration, you will get your driving license. Congratulations. You are only 2 spurious medical conditions and an unsustainable debtload away from fully engaging the American Experience.

*You may become convinced, after your first DMV experience, that state employees don’t work any day and that the only difference between holidays and weekdays is where they are doing it.


  1. hahaha

    Comment by dizzy — 2/23/2007 @ 1:15 am

  2. I just had to sit through my own license renewal here in the Great Communistwealth of Virginia.

    With fond memories of 6 hour queues at the DMV in Trenton, only to be turned away because my name on my utility bill was misspelled, I came prepared with sheaves of documentation, verification, addendums and continuations to legacy documentation and so on and so forth.

    I had taken the day off work, and true to my English roots, I was looking forward to a nice relaxing queue and a good solid argument with a lack witted government drone.

    Far more than umbrellas, bowler hats and being spanked as adults by hookers dressed up as our Nannies, queuing and arguing with bureaucrats is the British raison d’etre.

    Imagine how far by fragile heart fell, when checking the dmv website for the address of the nearest DMV, it gave not only that, but the estimated wait times at the 3 nearest (10 minutes!!!).

    Upon arrival, all of my carefully accumulated data was ignored in lieu of my old license and my passport.

    All told, the duration of my visit was less than a quarter of an hour.

    The price of progress it seems is efficiency. Happy to say you’d never see behavior like this back home.

    Comment by Vacuous — 2/23/2007 @ 11:23 am

  3. […] can’t have an SSN. Take that back to the DMV only three short hours after you left, and your DMV experience will really […]

    Pingback by The Crossed Pond » The US for limeys, Part 3: Credit — 3/1/2007 @ 10:36 pm

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