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Sunday, May 10, 2009

This place is driving me insane

I've been an idiot all these years.

I didn't realize that never driving a car over here has influenced my sense of freedom and has made me feel trapped amidst this cobblestone and these walls on all sides and the rot iron always, always hovering over me. No sunsets, no air, no views of any kind, just a maze of tiny madness.

While it can be beautiful, over time it can suffocate you, especially if you grew up with this as a reference for how space is supposed to be organized:

I used to sort of take pride in not using a car or needing one. It can be more time-consuming to take a car somewhere than it is to just put on some comfortable shoes and walk there. It also keeps your ass from looking like ricotta cheese (they don't have cottage cheese over here, so my ass can only look like cottage cheese in America; here it's a smoother ricotta which obviously isn't as bad).

When you walk, you stop along the way and you buy your baguette, your cigarettes, and you have a cup of espresso in a teeny tiny cup and then you say buenos dias to a construction worker...oops wait a second, I think I just confused my reality with a Mentos commercial. I actually really do all of those things, except for say buenos dias to construction workers*, as a general rule, because I'm nice, but not that fucking nice and believe me, Spanish construction workers do not need another reason to catcall.

My point is, I don't use a car -- I walk, and I'm all European 'n' shit, okay? And I thought it was cool at one point and now I'm sick of it and I want my Nissan pick up truck back, and no I'm not gonna help you move your shit.

When I go home I drive everywhere and I derive unusual levels of pleasure from the experience. I roll the window down, I blast the music, I swerve in and out of lanes like an asshole and generally drive like it's my last day alive and I give every driver within a ten mile radius reason to consider road rage as a viable option for dealing with me even though I'm on vacation and I'm not even remotely in a hurry and I stop at five conveniently organized places of business with gigantic parking spots close to the entrance where I can piss all my money away and then get a Starbucks and do my banking through easy drive-thru windows that just make my life exemplary in terms of time-management and then get Taco Bell on the way home. (That run-on sentence was meant to make you feel like you were on a Phoenix freeway and you didn't know what the fuck was gonna happen next, because someone like me just made your life flash before your eyes).

I miss that life. I hated it at one point, and thought it was lame and socially isolating and dispiriting but right now I would trade a day of dicking around sipping Espresso out of ridiculously small cups for running errands in a giant hurry in a traffic jam in America any day.

You just never know what you'll miss when you leave home.

(No, your eyes do not deceive you. That is, in fact, corn dog pizza. I don't really miss it, I'm just making a point, okay?)

Well, it seems so easy then, Blues, just get your Spanish driver's license. How bad can it be, you speak Spanish, right? Get your license and drive off into the Spanish plains, where the rain apparently falls gently.

Right, but unfortunately, this isn't America where the worst part of getting your driver's license is having to mingle with the masses at the Department of Motor Vehicles for an hour or two and getting yelled at and humiliated by some disgruntled civil servant because you failed to fill out your form correctly.

Luisito got his drivers license in Arizona. It cost him $25 and about 3 hours of his precious time (one hour to study the little booklet and two hours of waiting in lines and taking tests). I was with him from start to finish and it felt like one gigantic fucking inconvenience to my day at the time. But now, if I could, I would hang out all day at the DMV; I would camp there for two days and then invite all of the masses over to my house for a potluck if that meant I could get a Spanish drivers license at the end of it all.

Here in Spain you can't just go to the DMV and take the test. Only privately owned driving schools can sign people up for the tests (European socialism, my ass). So, you have to enroll at one of these blood-sucking-ass-boning driving schools, complete their curriculum (which amounts to no less than 20 hours of theoretical classes at a cost of 100 euros), then pay 40 euros per practical driving lesson, and of course, since the school has to sign you up for the test, it's really only when they say you are ready (i.e. have sucked you for every last penny) that you can take the test. Oh, then you have to pay the 80 euros written test fee and the 20 euros medical exam fee, then the 100 euros practical exam fee.

I will be lucky if I walk away from this thing for under 400 euros, and that's if I pass my practical exam (I'm told it's rare that they pass you the first time you take the exam, and I have a hunch that this is because the car schools are in questionable collaboration with the state examiners and both make a killing by failing people).

Who would have thought you'd have to climb mafia ropes to get your damn drivers license? Welcome to my world where up is down and down is up and you don't get what you want when you want it, because this ain't Kansas anymore and you are now at the mercy of Spanish bureaucracy and when they decide I have paid them enough money, they will allow me to drive in their country.

I just passed my written exam, which actually did take quite a bit of studying. Signs are easier to read in the states because they are designed assuming that everyone speaks English. Here the signs do not. Why don't you take this little quiz and see if you understand what the signs mean. In a matter of time and a whole lot of patience with this system, this will be me:

*I don't really buy cigarettes either, I'm still cigarette free, going on two months now. You might be able to tell that I'm still a bit irritable.

Streets / Callejuelas by SamwiseGamgee69 from Flickr

Big Yellow Dot by phxpma from Flickr

Corndog Pizza by lason from Flickr

Chevy Chase caught in the roudabout from Youtube

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kate May 10, 2009 at 12:56 PM  

Yeah, it's a huge pain. I passed mine on the first try, barely, and to be honest I think the driving instructor actually helped me out-- I came to a corner I had to stop at and I was actually going to stop, but maybe he thought I wasn't-- anyway, I'm pretty sure he started to brake before I did (they have the double controls and the instructor sits next to you in the front seat, tester in the back.) They say that there is some kind of bell that goes off if the instructor intervenes during the test, but not in my case. Plus, they really did do their best to make sure people were prepared to pass on the first try. (This is all in Madrid-- maybe the system is different down there.)

For me the hardest part was learning to drive a stick shift, and parallel parking (as you noted, no huge parking lots here...)

Anyway, good luck. I'm sure you'll be fine.

Denise May 10, 2009 at 1:11 PM  

That quiz was sooo funny - but I shouldn't be laughing, I should be noting down the correct answers because I DO drive here, and I don't have a fucking clue about most of them.

Mind you, I don't think Spanish drivers are all that wise to what the signs mean, either. Or if they are, well, rules were made to be broken, no? Because these people are absolutely lethal in the driver's seat.

Honestly, do other countries have PSA announcements on the radio, telling listeners how to use their indicators, or explaining the benefits of looking in your mirrors (as opposed to looking at your passengers whilst conducting an impassioned conversation)?

Good luck with the exams, and once you're out there on the road, PROCEED WITH CAUTION!

~Mountain Lover~ May 10, 2009 at 6:32 PM  

The signs in South Africa were the most confusing I have ever seen in my life.

Me: What does that sign mean? There are no rivers, no bridges. Is that a crocodile?

Friend: That means you're entering a highway.

Me: You have crocodiles on the highway?

Friend: That wasn't a crocodile.

Me: I think we better keep watch, just in case...

Captain Steve May 10, 2009 at 7:00 PM  

Unfair! I can't tell my left from my right! In our next driving quiz might I kindly request we use "driver's side" and "passenger side" respectively?

Anonymous May 10, 2009 at 8:29 PM  

Holy crap, what a god awful number of hoops to jump through!

(And thanks so much for the video. To this day, whenever someone in my family fucks up in traffic, someone else in the car will say, "Look kids! Big Ben! Parliament!")

Mongoliangirl May 10, 2009 at 10:16 PM  

OK, that test simply was.not.right
Of course, it did closely resemble the way my brain works, so maybe I would drive fairly well in Spain.

neil wykes May 11, 2009 at 9:58 AM  

It's that strange circle of logic that the bureaucracy here seems to create. You can only get a resident's bank account if you have a certificate of residence and a resident's number, you can only get a resident's number if you have a resident's bank account. You can only get an abortion if you were raped or mad, only a raped or mad woman would want an abortion..

Although I've asked around and the opinion seems to be you don't need a driving school's piece of paper to attempt the test, but if that's what you've been told, one of us has been lied to. You do however, need to take a test in a car with dual controls and who are the ones with them?

Luckily driving licenses issued within the EU are valid across the EU so even though the British drive on the left hand side we can drive in Spain sin problemas. As the British well know know ,driving on the right side as they do in Europe is in fact the wrong side.

Y todo del mundo ya lo sabe que el lado correcto es vainilla.

In Britain we can also get an automatic gear box license rather than a manual/stick shift one if we choose, although manual license holders can drive either type of car after passing. The city where I learnt there was only 1 one way sign and 1 stop sign. They do have 100s of roundabouts though, some of which are double, or two overlapping ones. Gratefully we don't have any magic roundabouts nearbyThere are business opportunities here; First, a dual control car hire company or secondly, a driving test holiday to a country quieter roads, calmer drivers with automatic driving licenses!

Anonymous May 11, 2009 at 10:17 AM  

The urban signs in Spain remind me of the markers in rural Ireland. Imagine two arrows pointing in opposite directions, both labeled Cloghran or Dingleberry or Ardtully. Just proves there's always another choice I guess.

Xbox4NappyRash May 11, 2009 at 12:06 PM  


I'm still using my Irish licence 8 years on....

ghost of keywork May 12, 2009 at 9:41 AM  

Must have corndog pizza.

A Free Man May 12, 2009 at 4:14 PM  

I loved living without a car in Britain. But then Dr. O'C got pregnant and I started to have to be responsible and shit. So I sat the British driving test - similar to the Spanish one - and failed. I had to take driving lessons. I'd been driving for close to 20 years. That was humbling. And annoying!

Unfortunately, Oz is more like 'Mericuh. You really have to drive most places. I miss cycling to work...

A Free Man May 12, 2009 at 4:15 PM  

Oh, and that European Vacation clip. That's still me on roundabouts.

The Unbearable Banishment May 12, 2009 at 7:08 PM  

One of the main reasons I stayed in New York City for almost 20 years is that I didn't have to drive or own a car. It was glorious! My friends back in Ohio couldn't understand how I could live without a car but it was quite easy. And quite a pleasure. I can't stand being behind a wheel.

the cubicle's backporch May 13, 2009 at 4:56 AM  

Um. Holy crap. It does sound like they are in cahoots to get all the money they can. Maybe you could just promise them your first born child?

globalgal May 14, 2009 at 8:02 AM  

So, um, Spain doesn't just validate a US driver's license? My sister-in-law got her driver's license in Utah when she was 16 (foreign exchange student) and later in Spain, she just exchanged it for a Spanish one. At least, that is what she told me. Is this not possible? Was it possible 15 years ago? Looks like I'm never gonna get my driver's license in Spain. I hate driving and have an irrational fear of the stickshift thanks to my father. But that's another story.

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