Brian Blum
March 2, 2012, Updated May 14, 2012
Toronto's Pearson Airport

The woman at the rental car agency desk at Toronto’s Pearson Airport eyed my Israeli driver’s license suspiciously. She looked at the laminated card, then up at me, then back and forth several times.

“You’re going to have a problem if a policeman pulls you over,” she finally said, explaining her hesitation. “There’s no English on this.”

I pointed to my name and birthday in clear English. “I don’t see it,” she assured me with confidence.

“I’ll take my chances,” I replied and, a few minutes later, we were walking to our rented minivan for the week. “Anyway, since when have I ever been stopped by a cop,” I sniggered to myself.

Imagine, then, my surprise when I was flagged down by an officer just a day later while returning to the very same airport to pick up some late arriving family members who were attending the wedding that had brought us to the Great White North.

“What’s your hurry?” the policeman asked. His tone was less aggressive than conversational, in that agreeably polite Canadian way.

“We’re picking up my wife’s 93-year-old grandmother,” I replied, which was true. She was waiting inside the terminal.

“You know you were going 60 in a 30 kilometer zone,” he said. Courteous, just a simple statement of fact, right? Nevertheless, he took my license. As he held it in his hand, I saw him trying to make out the writing. “This isn’t in English,” he said. Wouldn’t you know – the rental car clerk’s premonition had come to fruition. Without fully thinking through the consequences, I pointed out my name and birthday. “Thanks,” he said, almost jovially.

But rather than giving me my license back and graciously wishing me a good day, he sauntered back to his car. For the first time, I started to worry (while trying not to curse). Would the fine I now imagined as a viable possibility be more than the rental cost of the vehicle? Would I have to appear in Canadian traffic court? Should we have taken the bus?

Now, if this were in Israel, my polite policeman would have been replaced by a 20-something snarly Israeli girl cop who would have ignored any attempts at charm. She would then sit in her vehicle for a good 30 minutes with no explanation.

It’s happened to me before, just for a random check, and I’ve never understood what takes so long. Do they have to run my name by the Interpol database using the same sporadic Internet connectivity that plagues my home computer? Are they just sitting and drinking coffee for fun? Are they actually ordering coffee?

The Canadian cop still kept us waiting, but for only half the time (it probably was even less, but time slows down when you’re watching your bank account virtually drain). When he walked back to my car, the long rectangular paper in his hand did not bode well.

Fortunately, my nerves were for naught: the paper was just a warning. Wow – either Canadians really are nicer, or issuing a ticket to a foreigner with a driver’s license in a language with squiggly lines, with the added high chance I would skip town without depositing a check (which would undoubtedly have been written with even more squiggles) was simply too much complication.

As it turns out, I had to circle the airport while Grandma made her way to the curb. As I returned, I drove at the proscribed 30 km/hour. Do you have any idea how slow 30 km/hour really is? And yet, all the other cars I saw were following the rules and crawling along. My thoughts returned to Israel again: no way an Israeli driver would go that slow – even a ticket would be better than being a freier.

For the rest of the trip, I stuck to the speed limit. I probably would have gotten another free pass if I were stopped again, but I wasn’t taking any chances – squiggly Israeli driver’s license or not.

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