And Now We Wait

This morning I made my way to the Autoescula across town, where I have been taking my driving lessons. At 10 am we went to the starting ground for the practical driving exam. It was time.

On a wall I saw ‘Nunca sabras de lo que eres capaz hasta que lo intentes.’ by Charles Dickens. In Ingles it means ‘You never know what you are capable of until you try.’ I decided that’s all I really was there to do – try.

I agreed to go first. Someone else in the school was taking a motorcycle test there too. But he would go after me. I’m not going to say it was my best day. My usual clutch work wasn’t as smooth at I would have liked. In the US they don’t judge that part, but here it’s all part of the exam points so I’m sure I lost some for that.

I only had one real error and she explained it after. She said that alone wasn’t a disqualifying error, so I am not sure if I passed or not. But I certainly tried. My teacher thinks I still passed but he said we won’t know until noon tomorrow.

In the end, even if I have to take it again, at least I gave it a shot. I was very nervous and you could tell I wasn’t alone. Plenty of other people were pacing and biting their nails. Because, well, driving in Valencia – especially in the area where you take the test, it very difficult. Narrow streets, blind right of ways, zebra crossings aplenty, lights in roundabouts, go-rights-to-go-lefts, and more. My teacher said other people from Spain move here and they take lessons to drive specifically in Valencia, because it’s so crazy.

If I could have gotten some extra credit for learning ‘Driving Spanish’ I would have rocked that! Because I know I was the only person there who had to test with a language handicap today. Its amazing what you can understand when you’re stressed out. Suddenly, every direction I was given was crystal clear. It’s like my brain decided to help me out for once. It opened the secret room where it’s been keeping all the Spanish input I’ve received in the last year and decided to give me 25 minutes of free reign, before slamming the door in my face again when the test was over. That’s probably why my clutch work was so bad. My brain can only do 75 things at once. And 76? No, something had to give – the clutch.

Now I just have to wait. Tonight I have try outs for my second soccer team so I’m on to the next thing to focus on. Today is all about just Trying with a capital ‘T’. And just celebrating that. Tomorrow is a whole other day. And I’ll worry about it then. I figure – if I passed, it’s just what Forrest Gump said. ‘Just one less thing.’

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.

The Sun Also Rises

Time smooths out the rough edges of memory. Sometimes it makes the past seem rosier than, perhaps, it really was. We are home from Ireland. We were excited to spend Christmas in New Years in weather that felt like so many holidays of the past. Especially all the years we spent in Seattle. And it did.

But here’s the thing. Being back in Valencia it’s sunny and 65 degrees. And boy does it feel wonderful to be warm again. And Jeff, who really missed winter in Seattle (why, I don’t know) is happy to be warm too. Here, there is no bone-chilling wind. Hats and gloves have been put away. We can have our morning coffee without a coat and scarf again. It feels good.

We’ve hit the ground running too. We found a dentist and Jeff has already gone and seen them. I often hear that ‘socialized medicine’ means long lines and weeks of waiting for an appointment. We went yesterday to a clinic who had no idea who we were and he saw the dentist today. We anticipated it being much more difficult. So one more myth debunked.

This morning, I walked across the city to an Autoescuela that speaks English. Yes, these rarest of the rare actually do exist here in Valencia, like unicorns. You don’t see them and they don’t make themselves known. But my shot gun approach of talking to everyone I have ever met here about needing an English speaking Autoescuela to get practical lessons has paid off. Someone knew someone, who knew someone who once took lessons at a place where the instructor spoke English. And the lady there was surprised I got my theory test taken/passed all on my own without a school.

Next Tuesday morning I will be taking my first hour and half lesson to learn how to drive in Spain on a manual transmission. The woman who signed me up has as much English as I have Spanish (her husband – my instructor speaks English). She asked me what I was most wanting to focus on. I told her ‘manual transmissions and round abouts’. She nodded knowingly.

But at least I’ll be taking all my lessons in daylight. I feel very sorry for this man already and I haven’t even started. He has no idea what he’s in for. But his wife told me – via Google translate voice – that once I’m ready, passing the practical test in Spanish won’t be an issue. I asked her how many lessons she thought I would need. She said her husband would have to determine that, after a nervous laugh. Ugh.

I’ve also started gathering and filling out the paperwork for the residency renewal in March. Nothing like having a few balls in the air at the same time. But it seems like a much less arduous process than the original visa appointment. No Apostles – No background checks. Pretty straight forward. It seems the hardest thing so far is getting the government website to cough up an appointment time. It may require professional help to get it across the finish line.

Coming home to Valencia feels good. While we could speak the same language as the people in Ireland, it didn’t feel like home. It’s nice to be back to our grocery stores where we know we can get what we need. Where to get a haircut and our favorite coffee place. Poundland has nothing on our El Chino. I was disappointed in Derry when I didn’t get a gift with purchase beer upon leaving.

Our flight home was full of Irish students heading back to Universidad de Valencia after the break, and others like us. I think we all breathed a sigh of relief that at midnight when leaving our Metro station near our flat – it was still 55 degrees. Suddenly, the language barrier doesn’t seem so high anymore.

Teaching the Test

I’m all over this driving test thing. Every day I’m taking the actual Dirección General de Tráfico (DGT) tests online. In the beginning, I was getting discouraged. I was successful somewhere in the 70% range and it was a morale killer. But I have persevered and now I’m either passing the actual tests or coming very close with only 4 mistakes.

I have learned a lot and not just about Spanish traffic laws. I’ve learned that ‘should’ and ‘must’ aren’t the same as ‘mandatory;. And ‘can’t’ or ‘shouldn’t’ isn’t the same as ‘prohibited’. In English, these mean the same things. In Spanish (or the translation) there’s a bit of trickery that will fool you every time until you start to spot these words and realize you’re about to be duped for the 400th time. Damn you, DGT test! You’ll not get me again. Fool me 400 times, shame on you. Fool me for the 401st – shame on me.

And if there are two answers that look, and actually mean the same thing, the one that says ‘but can be modified at any time at the discretion or authority of the police or other authorized persons’, that’s the answer – no matter what other thing you think it might be. Because if the police or authorized persons tells you to stand on your head in the middle of the tracks, with the engine running and a train coming, and livestock on all sides of the road – even though there is no ‘Canada’ sign and other signs expressly prohibiting it – you will do it. It’s ‘compulsory’. No can’s, no should’s. You will follow the authorities.

I’ve also learned a lot about how the pictures in the test have nothing, whatsoever to do with the question. When they show wild horses running all over the road, on both sides, and then ask you if you can encounter livestock on:

a) the right side of the road.

b) the left side of the road.

c) the entire road.

The answer is a). And here’s why. The picture is meant to be a fun bit of misdirection. And you’ll notice the word ‘can‘ in the question. This seems to the layman that, based on the photo and experience, of course you CAN experience livestock on all sides of the road. But you’d be wrong. Legally, you can only experience it on the right side with the flow of traffic. But remember, when you encounter livestock arbitrarily in the road you must yield to them. I plan on shouting at them ‘You’re prohibited from being here legally! The law says so!’ But of course I’d be screaming it in English so they wouldn’t understand me. Anyway – in my experience you yield to things bigger than you.

I’ve learned a bunch of other stuff too. The Spanish driving test cares a lot about depression, fatigue and both prescription and non-prescription drug use. It cares about smoking in the car and GPS use. As I sit here taking tests, Jeff has been looking over my shoulder. Sometimes he’s been helpful, at other times he’s emphatically suggested something that I know is incorrect, because I’ve encountered it before. I just chuckle – how naive he is that he thinks he understands whether you ‘can’ use your fog lights in a light drizzle – silly man. So he’s learning too. But this one particular question threw us both for a loop. Take a look at this picture. Notice there is no D) NONE!!

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Now, I can learn all the facts and figures around when I need to have my car or motorcycle inspected by the MOT/ITV. I can learn right of ways for one lane roads and urban vs. interurban areas. But HOLY MOLY! Driving a school bus after a few drinks? When was that decided it might be a) an OK idea, and after that one bad decision, b) how much they should be able to drink?! This just seems wrong. We both shook our head and then remembered that none of our kids will ever ride a Spanish school bus so that’s one more reason to sleep at night. But then I thought about the driver of our Metro train and took a gulp.

Last week, I found the street in front front of the Jefatura Provincial de Trafico, and it was festooned with places to get my medical/psychological exam to obtain my certificate. I was waiting for Jeff in a cafe and asked the woman next to me about all the clinics that were lining the street. I asked her if it was cosmetic surgery or botox or something. She laughed and explained it was for the certificate to drive in Spain. So now I know where to go. They stand outside in lab coats like hucksters so I’m thinking I can negotiate the cost. And next week I’m getting my new town hall certificate and passport sized photos for my learners permit.

I’m starting to be more sure of myself, but not cocky. There’s no room in this process for over confidence. After a little more practice and gathering my documents, I’ll make the appointment to take the test for after we’re back from Brazil in mid-November. I’m hoping I pass on the first two tries so I don’t have to take an actual course and can spend the rest of my time learning in the car. I’d like to start the new year with my new license and a new car – ready to explore more of the country. Seems like a good way to start the year!