Driving Mr David - Red Tape, White Paper & Rubber Stamps

The first lesson of my driving course started this week but the whole process actually began a couple of months ago as I experienced one of Turkey’s favourite ‘old school’ things - bureaucracy. Official paperwork and plenty of it is required for all sorts of things here that we often take for granted in the UK and elsewhere such as getting for a passport (foreign embassies even get in on the act with all the stuff they make Turkish nationals produce for visas), applying for a job or starting a driving course. And just producing the paperwork is not enough - the notary office is alive and well here and so everything needs to be checked, signed, counter-signed and rubber stamped. Throw in being a foreign national to the mix and you’ve got quite a lot of red tape to deal with!

You’ll need these for the first stage of learning to drive, Turkish style! Image by @sandymillin via eltpics

The easiest item to get hold of was six passport size photos. As they are needed for almost everything and anything official here, it’s easy to find a place that can give you tens or even hundreds of photos in about 20 minutes. Alas, that was as easy as it got.

Next up, I had to undergo a medical to prove I was physically fit to drive. This involved an orthopaedic examination, nose and throat inspection (I have no idea why!), and a vision and hearing test (makes more sense). This gave me my first glimpse into how the ‘system’ works. The orthopaedic exam involved the doctor asking me whether or not I had any limbs or digits missing, after which he signed the form. The other doctors actually shone lights inside my head and had me respond to visual and audio stimuli but all in a very quick manner. While having my eyes tested, it became clear that I desperately needed new contact lenses as I could barely make out even the second row of letters. That worried me for a second but then the doctor said it was all fine and approved my report! So it seemed this medical assessment, much like the assessment we see in schools all too often, was just done to say it had been done. Any problems were ignored and no recommendations were made (like getting a new lens prescription, something I have since sorted out myself).

The other paperwork required was a copy of my ID (in this case my passport and residence permit) and a copy my highest level educational qualification. Normally, that would be easy enough but there was a catch. As my passport and university certificate are in English, I had to get them translated, and not just any translation job either. I had to go to a yeminli tercuman (literal translation: a ‘sworn’ translator), that being someone who is officially authorised to swear that the translation is accurate before taking it to the notary office to be rubber stamped. What made this especially perplexing in that way that only bureaucracy can be was the fact that I have to submit my passport and university certificate every year for my residence permit to be renewed and I have never been asked for translated versions. Yet, for some unknown reason, it was a requirement here.

And so, after paying for an official sworn translation (during which I had to help the translator do his job…) I went to the noter. That was like stepping back in time - an office filled wall-to-wall with filing cabinets and old paper dossiers. After asking several times, a grumpy old man begrudgingly took my papers, signed them without really looking at them and gave me the all important rubber stamp.

One last item remained - the sabıka kaydı, meaning an official document obtained from the Ankara Adalet Sarayı (‘Palace of Justice’ - love that literal translation!) to prove I have no criminal record (in Turkey at least). That was a day-long adventure in itself requiring me to write an official request stating for what purpose I wanted my background checked (in an equally ridiculous and helpful way, there is whole mini industry that sprouts around these things meaning you can purchase a standard copy of this letter from a guy on the street nearby, fill in your name and the date and then hand it in). Luckily, this is one place where computers do exist and it only took a quick search of the police database to prove I was squeaky clean (it seems my first six months of working here illegally back in 2000 was not recorded). Unfortunately the quickness of this phase of the paper trail was somewhat negated by the fact that I had to wait in a queue for two hours beforehand. But wait! Not done yet! I then had to go and see an official looking gentleman who needed to double check and rubber stamp my paper. That was an experience in itself as I witnessed his luxury leather arm pad, fine gold-plated pen and possibly one of the most beautiful signatures I have ever seen - impressive dedication considering he was to produce that signature thousands of times a day (personally, my signature quickly degenerates to a squiggle when I have to apply it many times in succession such as with end of term reports).

And finally, after using several Wednesday afternoons (when I could have been joining #ELTchat), it was done and I took it all to one of the many Ministry of Education approved driving schools (yes, this is all done under official auspices). I had to hand it all in 4 weeks before the course began. Why? Well, because all those rubber stamps and signatures had to be checked and double-checked of course! Only once that was done could I officially begin. After that, learning to drive will be a piece of cake!

So, paper is very much alive and well here as are official rules and regulations. This all serves to give me the impression that my learning experience will be somewhat rigid and a case of ‘covering the syllabus’ more than anything else. But how else could it be? A dogme approach to driving might be taking it a step too far!

Next time - the first theory lesson. How does it compare to the ELT classroom? What will we do as an introductory ‘warmer’? All that and more in the next post…


  1. Reading this, it's amazing that so many people bother to learn how to drive properly in Turkey... oh, hang on a minute, maybe that explains a lot!

    1. Well, the course so far has been full of 'rules' explained while we sit and think 'but nobody does that!'

      I think the written exam is going to be straightforward enough as will the pratical... ıt's the actual driving that comes after it that I'm worried about!!


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