(For those of you who thought I disappeared over the last few months, the following is why!)
I was getting a driver’s license in Spain. It has taken me 5 months! Any person within the European Community and about a dozen countries in Latin and Central America can trade their licenses in for a Spanish one regardless of any differences within their own country. But a new Spanish resident from the US or Canada – whoa….. Within 6 months you must subject yourself to being retested – both theory and a road test.
Getting a license in Spain is a very, very expensive process, costing approximately 1200 to 1500 Euros per person! That’s about a bazillion Canadian dollars and somewhat better in US Dollars. Then add to this a really good doze of humiliation as you jump through all practical, theoretical and bureaucratic baloney.
First one must literally MEMORIZE a 267 page long manual – 2/3 of which consists of information that a driver of a car will NEVER need to use. You’re allowed 3 fails between the theory test and the road test, but only 2 fails per type of test (road or theory). And should you fail a second time (or third time) to recall the maximum speed of an electric lawn-mower on a dual carriageway in the fog, you must automatically pay a second fee – around 200€ – and start over!
We were able to procure a manual in English for 180€ – it was, however, translated from the original Spanish AND uses “British” English terms. So you’d better learn fast that a dual carriageway is a “highway”, dipped-beam lights are your “headlights”, main-beam headlights are your “brights”, position lights are “parking lights”. And you are repeatedly reminded to be careful not to “dazzle” other drivers.
You are quizzed on such things as:
“May a one-piece load overhang from the back of a vehicle not used exclusively for goods transport?” a) Yes, up to 15 % of the vehicle length b) Yes, up to 10% of the vehicle length c) no.
“If you hold a B-Class driving license, are you allowed to drive a 125cc motorbike?” A) Yes b) No c) yes, but not taking a pillion passenger. (WTF is a “pillion passenger”????)
“When driving a lorry that is over 5 m long, how far can your load protrude forwards and backwards?” The choices were really too long to print……. So if you really want the answers to this nonsense, let me know and we’ll do a “pop-quiz” in another blog!
In order to pass the theory, we went EVERYDAY for over 3 weeks, 5 days a week for 3 hours a day to take computerized multiple choice theory tests, hundreds of these tests from previous exams. Then we would quiz each other for another hour or so at home.
Then the big day. We were allowed to take the theory in English thank goodness and we both passed first time!
Then we met our driving instructor. Let me preface this by saying I have driven for 50 years. I’ve driven in Nassau, Bahamas, New York, Los Angeles, and MONTREAL. For those of you familiar with Montreal, that says it all. I can’t remember when I last had an accident.
The instructor was Mr. Macho. He delighted in grabbing the wheel as he said it wasn’t exactly in the right position to make my turn; he yelled at me when I came to a STOP sign as in Spain you must make a complete STOP every time you inch forward to look for oncoming cars; he patronized me when I couldn’t figure out which lane I had to be in to make an “indirect turn” within a round-about. (Start in the right and then immediately switch to the left – but only if there are 2 lanes in the round-about – if there are three then you stay in the middle unless of course, you’re making a U-turn and then you take the left lane – honestly!) OH, and did I tell you – the instructor did NOT speak ENGLISH – only Spanish. So asking him WHAT I did wrong or WHY this was done this way, was impossible. And there were two main variations to his theme: the affectionately chiding “Ay niña”, meaning, “What are we going to do with you, you useless little thing, you?” And the plainly exasperated, “Pero qué haces, niña?” More of a, “What the f___ are you doing, you idiot?”
So I cried – almost all the time. I cried with him in the car. I cried at home. I just cried for 5 months! I went from driving lesson (14 in all!) to driving exams – 3 fails. Once you fail a driving exam you MUST wait 3 weeks before taking the next one. The last fail was just 3 weeks ago. I was devastated, humiliated, cowed and just a blithering idiot. My husband, Jack, didn’t know what to do with me. (He passed the exam the first time of course….. he’s a guy – but only after taking 10 driving lessons. It IS a business after all.)
And one morning after the last fail I finally pulled myself together and said “ENOUGH”. I researched driving schools that gave courses in English. I found two – one about an hour drive from here but I’d have to start over – and one in Barcelona (about 700 miles away) with a 2-day intensive course and the exam on the 3rd day – and it was available the very next week.
DONE. ORGANIZED. Papers retrieved from the current “Autoescuela”. Hotel and train reservations made. Three days later, on a Tuesday I arrived in Barcelona. I met the instructor, Javé, (Autoescuela Corsa – www.autoescuelacorsa.com) the son of the owner. We drove for 1.5 hours on Wed and another 1.5 on Thurs. He was soothing, he was comforting, and he spoke English. He was professional.
It’s Friday and Javé is driving me to where the test will begin. Barcelona is comparable to driving in New York rather than small town Cartagena town where I failed my other three road tests. Could I do it? Javé was confident.
The test itself is a group outing. In the back goes the examiner. Beside you sits your instructor who is not allowed to say anything, but has a set of brakes, clutch & gas pedals in case the “student” is going to get everyone killed! Squashed and nervous in the back sits a second, and sometimes third, candidate: It’s all rather grim. The test takes 25 minutes unless you do something like go through a red light and then it’s all over and the musical chairs start.
I began first. The other “student” was an American guy from Texas – probably in his 30’s. The car is a standard shift car (in Spain your license specifies Automatic or Manual and you can only drive one or the other!).
The road test is always in Spanish, but figuring out Left, Right, Straight, etc. in Spanish is not a complicated thing. As mentioned, the road test is 25 minutes long unless you do something that automatically qualifies as a “FAIL”. After 15 minutes of following directions, the examiner asks me to parallel-park and then he says “cambio” – change with the American in the back.
He had “Texas” drive for a good 25, maybe 30 minutes and I was nervous. Why would he cut my time short if I didn’t make a “fail” kind of mistake? When we returned, I was very unhappy. We got out of the car and Javé delivers the news to “Texas” first. He passed. I looked at him in trepidation and said “I failed?” “No” he says, “you passed!”
I burst into tears and Texas took me in his arms and hugged me and hugged me. And Javé hugged me.
The examiner was also a sweetie. When I came in the back seat, he said (in Spanish but I understood) “So you already took the test in Cartagena and came all the way to Barcelona for the pleasure of seeing me?!” I looked at him, smiled and said “Si, senor”. He obviously took pity on this old woman who was determined to drive in Spain! Nice man!
Our total costs at this point for us both have reached about 3500E with the hotel, train and new registration fees. A mere pittance for my sanity and peace of mind.
And, herein endeth my “Epistle to Driving in Spain”. It wasn’t fun. But they do say, what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger! What a tough “B” I am!!!