Need a Car? Speak English.

Once again I was scrolling through the Facebook feed, but I’m beginning to think I really shouldn’t.  This week offerings include:

  1. “Another early morning” as a fascinating status update from someone I haven’t spoken to in at least 3 years
  2. A recipe for bacon pie that looks like death via cholesterol
  3. This video on how to be a TV model from the 80’s.  *Peppiness, big hair, and whiteness a must*
  4. Why you should be planking right now; It benefits every part of your body.  It’s just like prancercise, but with less walking. Like yoga, but with less moves!  Get your fitness on via the plank!
  5. Sorry about number 4, that was probably uncalled for.

Not all Facebook posts are terrible.  I have plenty of perfectly nice friends who post scientific articles, camping photos of their latest Iceland adventure, or funny anecdotes about teaching.   It’s also a great way to keep current on what’s happening with my extended family or class groups, and anytime someone takes a video of the University Choir singing, they post it to Facebook, and it makes us feel awesome.  Have another link to Háskólakórinn, because I like us.

In a third category are posts that you aren’t exactly sure what to do with.  These may include political posts you simply cannot relate to, status updates that create a new level on the scale of awkward, or something that you can’t quite determine is offensive.  The example in question today was a giant meme that I have attempted to faithfully recreate.  This involved googling “How to make a meme”.

Here’s my recreation on the meme in question.

So here is the troublesome meme in question.  Massachusetts actually has 25 languages the driver’s exam can be administered in.  These are: Albanian, Arabic, Armenian, Cambodian, Chinese, Czech, English, Farsi, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Laotian, Polish, Portuguese, Rumanian, Russian, Spanish, Turkish and Vietnamese.

At first, I couldn’t figure out why I disliked this meme so much.  It’s just a picture, a fact, and an opinion.  In my home state of Alaska, the drivers exam is offered in only two forms, English, or your Native language, such as Yup’ik, Tlingit, or Haida; and yet, the United States doesn’t have an official language.  Government, legal issues, and schools are English focussed.  In fact, I imagine if you asked anyone, in any state, what language we use, they will tell you ‘English’, but using it and declaring it the one language of our diverse population, are two different things.

And yet, this meme still feels like something else.  It seems to be saying:



All I have to say to you is:


My reality is that simple.  Operating a car is exactly the same in any part of the world.  Unless of course you’re switching from an automatic to a manual, but lets be honest, Americans going abroad are the the most likely to have  that problem.

Even using my incredibly simple reasoning, questions are still left unresolved.  My roommate from Poland is especially frustrated with some of her friends here in Iceland.  “If you go to another country, you should really learn the language”, and she’s right.  If you want to move to another country, or move to an area where many people speak another language, you really aught to learn some of it.  It will make you a better student/employee/member of the community.  You’re less likely to feel isolated, and more likely to learn about the people you’re living with.  My Icelandic is pretty terrible.  I can only talk about food, the weather, and prices in shops, but I’ve learned that since I’ve lived here.

For added complexity, there are people who move around the world, but it doesn’t make sense for them to learn the language.  People travel for work, and stay for 2 weeks, or 9 months in each place.  They won’t be able to meaningfully use the local language in such a short span of time.  Some people have lived here all along, speaking a first language other than English.  They may be speakers of a local Native language, or simply have parents and grandparent that taught them something else first.  There are also people who move unexpectedly, but still have kids to pick up from school, groceries to buy and work to find.  Should they have to wait for months or years to operate a car?  They might have already been driving for 20 years.

I can drive a car in Iceland.  If I want to rent one, I use my US license, and they hand one right over, along with an English translation of local driving laws.  The expense of printing materials in English is heavily outweighed by the benefits of tourists renting cars, and foreign residents  contributing to the economy when they purchase gas or vehicles here.

I promise that's not how this works
I promise that’s not how this works.

When Americans travel, they aren’t prohibited from driving a car in France, or Columbia, or China.  Cars all work the same way, no matter what language you speak.  How’s that for brabble?  Anything else we need to go over?

If you would like to read more about this topic, try some articles that take the opposite view from mine, including: Debating Georgia’s Driver’s License Test, or Advocating for English Language in Oklahoma.

And a very special thank you to, for the intensely good time I had making all those memes today.




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