Flash. The brights of an oncoming car briefly shine into my eyes. Something’s coming.
I warily reach the summit of a small hill and can see the reflection of police vests in the roundabout ahead.
Even though I know I haven’t done anything wrong, my heart starts to pounds and my palms start to sweat. Please not me! Please not me!
The weak streetlight in the center of the roundabout doesn’t do much more than attract moths so I can’t see much. Was that a signal? Should I pull over? Where should I go, there’s no shoulder in the middle of a roundabout?!
Naturally, I decide to err on the side of caution and panic. Instead of pulling over, I take the exit and drive away in the direction away from home.
Maybe if I just keep driving, he won’t realize I was supposed to pull over and he’ll let me go.
Half a breath later, I realize turning off is madness as there is only one way home and it’s through that roundabout. I make a u-turn. I really look guilty now.
My mind is frantically buzzing with possible French vocabulary words.
Should I use vous? I should probably use vous. This is useless! I don’t even know the word for headlights or trunk.
French class has not adequately prepared me for this moment.
The two children in my car are silent as I we advance toward the checkpoint.
The officer watches my approach with confusion. He lifts his eyebrows skeptically as I roll down my window and say, “Hello.” English, only speak English if you get pulled over they always said.
He responds with a question I can’t understand, but based on his body language is, “Why did you turn around? I thought you were heading the other way.”
I smile weakly and ask if he needs to see my driver’s license. I begin frantically digging through my purse to find it. He furrows his brow and examines the other occupants of my car. They don’t move.
“Non, non,” he motions for me to put my card back.
I’m confused. If he doesn’t want to see my license, what does he want?
He walks around my car then looks at my windshield and verifies that my insurance and safety inspection stickers are up to date. Satisfied that the car is legal, he heads back to me.
Calm, remain calm. Breathe. Smile.
He takes a loud breath and begins to rummage through his pockets. Soon, he pulls out a clear plastic bag containing a white, plastic straw. He attaches it to a machine and points it at me.
“Souffle,” he orders. He demonstrates by blowing.
I look up at him doubtfully and try not to laugh. He thinks I’ve been drinking?!
Instantly, I feel calm. This is a test I know I can pass. I don’t drink. Ever.
I place my lips over the straw and look at him for instructions.
“Souffle, souffle,” he orders. “Continue, continue. C’est bon.”
He suspiciously eyes the machine and waits for the results.
Ping. He looks at me, shrugs he shoulders and shows me the results–0.0.
I could’ve told him…if I had only known how.
The real expat life.
–Special thanks to Nabeel Syed for the photo