Zen and the Art of Learning to Drive in Spain: ‘This is why we can’t have nice things’

I don’t know much. But one thing I have learned after two driving lessons is that driving a stick is no big deal. Yup – only killed the engine once in an hour and a half, after stopping at a light and trying to start forward in 3rd gear.

Another thing I learned is that I drive like an American. As a practical matter, this is not a bad thing. But if I want to pass the Spanish driving test I need to unlearn nearly everything I was taught in Driver’s Ed in high school and have employed for the last 36 years.

When we are taught to drive in the US we hear ‘Head on a swivel’, don’t just trust your mirrors. Use them, of course, but also turn your head and check your blind spots. But in Spain, you only use your mirrors when changing lanes. If you turn your head you’ll fail the exam.

Part of passing the exam is theatre – I was advised today. While not twisting my head, I must exaggerate my examination of any zebra crossing so that the examiner sees I’m observing my surroundings, without actually turning my head. All while taking instruction from the examiner in Spanish.

Next, now that I’m a proficient manual transmission driver, I shall never downshift. This would mean I would be taking my hand off the wheel. And keeping my hands at 10 and 2 are of a top priority. I will use the brake and the clutch and then shift into a neutral position – never using the engine to slow the car.

Turning left in front of other cars must be done on the axis point of intersection. It may feel like I am going to run into the other cars but this is ‘normal’. And making a right turn, no free right turn. Only turn on green, but then immediately I must follow a second set of lights to determine if I can proceed.

Speaking of lights, where is the stop light? It’s not the one across the intersection on my side – where it has been in nearly every country I have ever driven in. Nope. If I stop at the line, it will be directly above me or on a pole on the side walk on either side of my car so I’ll have to crane my head to see it.

So, after everything I was worried about, the stick was the least of my concerns. And we haven’t covered parallel parking yet. Here they like to bump the other car’s bumpers, while shoe horning their car into a space that could be smallish – or it could be huge. But either way, there will be bumper bumping. It’s just the way it is.

Jeff was looking out of our apartment window down to the street and called me over to the window.

Not close enough

‘See. This is why we can’t have nice things. I’m not buying a nice car here. Every bumper is dinged, scraped or punctured. I’d freak out if we had any one of the cars we had back home.’

After the lessons, we rolled into the street in front of the Autoescuela. The instructor said I did really well. Apparently, I drive like someone whose had 5 lessons, so after our lesson tomorrow he will inform me how many more I’ll need. Then he told me that tomorrow he was sure I would be able to ‘not run any red lights’. I was a little taken aback.

‘I ran a read light?’ I asked. If so, he never said.

‘Just one.’ he smiled. ‘That’s very good.’

Then he bid me a hearty ‘Hasta Manana!’

It gave me a whole new appreciation for those Autoescuela cars I see everywhere, and it’s a reminder to give them a wide berth in the future.

I’m deep into it now and I’m going to see it through. The instructor told me all I have to do is ‘Fake it for 25 minutes.’ All I have to do, during the practical exam, is forget everything I know about driving and do everything my instructor is teaching me now. And then I can go back to driving like I know how to drive – of course finding all the stop lights and such.

And then I can buy a car that I won’t care about at all. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing – perhaps that’s the Zen part.

6 thoughts on “Zen and the Art of Learning to Drive in Spain: ‘This is why we can’t have nice things’

  • Apparently “10 and 2” is old school. The new advice is “9 and 3” or even “8 and 4”, to avoid injuries if the air bag explodes. Here’s a link explaining why: https://www.nbcnews.com/businessmain/get-times-youre-driving-all-wrong-518710.
    But I bet it wouldn’t be a good idea to try to explain this to the Spanish driving instructor :):). Another case of “fake it for the examiner”, and then do what is best for you afterwards :). Love your blog!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, I hear u! It is a bit of a good refresher. If I’m honest, some of my driving habits have become a bit laize faire over the decades. So glad you’re enjoying our winding road. Just trying to stay out of a ditch on a daily basis. Cheers!


  • I was used to backing into parking spaces because I always did this at my job. For the test, I did it in 1 move She was impressed and so was I. LOL! Some of those type of spaces are angled to make it easier. It is good that your instructor speaks English. Will you have an English speaking examiner?


    • Not the examiner. But my instructor will ride w me during the exam. They said usually they will let him translate instructions to me but some examiners forbid it. I’m learning my directions in Spanish and u turns and parking. I’m hoping I pass on the first try.


  • Exactly. I was told the same thing by my instructor…fake it for the examiner.
    I didn’t have to parallel park for the test. I had to back into a straight parking space inbetween 2 cars. Apparently, the examiner can choose which kind of parking for the test. The night before my test, I practiced parallel parking in our car for an hour. 😃

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s funny about the parking. He told me the same thing. Last lesson I had to parallel park. He said i had 2 minutes. It took me less than 30 seconds. He was shocked. I told him when you’ve lived in San Francisco, where there is no parking and u have to move your car every day due to street sweeping on very very steep hills, u learn to park in tight spots quickly wo hitting the other cars or the curb. He seemed a little put out. What I do need to practice is backing into a straight space. We never do this in the US. Two more lessons next week. Then he’s scheduling my exam. We shall see.


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