False friends might offer you licenses for lunch, says James Rodgers, so make sure you mind your language.
Last Wednesday, a 100-year-old Belgian ate his driving licence.
At least, that’s the initial conclusion I came to when reading Thursday’s edition of “La Dernière Heure.”
Now, as a journalist, I know you shouldn’t believe everything you read in the papers. Yet there it was: “Le centenaire a mangé son permis de conduire.”
I thought it must be a story of social deprivation among the elderly population. I thought the sub-headline might be along the lines of: “Impoverished war veteran dines on documents.”
In fact, it was the sad tale of Jules Brassart who had had his licence taken away by a court in Nivelles. He’d had an accident in 1998. According to the newspaper report, nobody was seriously hurt. The court nevertheless decided it was too dangerous to allow him to stay at the wheel.
Before coming to Belgium, we expats are warned about dangerous driving. We’re warned about the vagaries of the “priorite à droite” laws. I think it’s time we were also made aware of the fact that the inhabitants of our host country may also eat their driving licences.
Or do they? I asked a French friend about this use of the verb “manger.” It was new to him. So be careful before confidently adding it to your vocabulary. I’m not sure what the response at the police station would be if you went in asking to file a report stating that you had eaten your residence permit.
Whether or not Belgians lunch on licences, some do like to consume before taking to the road. Another report last week told of a survey carried out by law enforcement agencies to test drivers for drugs. There was better news for senior citizens here. Most of the drivers who tested positive were in the 18-25 age group. The most frequently found substance was ecstasy. So if another motorist crashes into you and then tells you how much he loves you, you’ll know why.
Poor Monsieur Brassart will now it seems be deprived of going “with his charming wife to the express restaurant in the Nivelles Shopping centre.” Perhaps he will end up eating his licence after all.
So if you find yourself stuck in a holiday traffic jam, or stranded after an accident caused by a drug fiend, and there’s not a ‘friterie’ in sight, remember: when hunger strikes, you have an option.
I suspect that the modern credit-card sized plastic licences don’t make much of a picnic. You might want to keep some mayonnaise or Tabasco in the glove compartment just to make it a little more palatable. Bonne route et bon appétit.
James Rodgers is the European Affairs Correspondent for BBC Regional News