Driving Me Crazy

Driving Me Crazy

As each year passes, less and less brown hair remains on top of my noggin, replaced by the silver locks of a distinguished gentleman. At least I can claim to have a full head of hair with no chrome domes making their presence felt.

Over the years I've never ever driven a Volvo (unlike those among us) or left a lawn bowling hat under the rear view window of any car. I've been legally able to be behind the wheel of a car since the Fine Youngs Cannibals first had the hit "She Drives Me Crazy". For the old and young among us, it was 1989. My first car was a milk chocolate (aka baby poo brown) coloured, column shift Holden Torana, with a very comfortable bench seat in the front. No fluffy dice though!!!!

An Australian's first car could be anything with four wheels. In years gone by, the humble tractor may have even been their first foray behind the wheel. An old beat up Massey Ferguson was actually my first ride and also my first crash of any sort when I kicked it out of gear and it rolled backwards down a steep hill into a water tank on a sheep farm. But hey, I was only 7 so its not recorded against my driving history. Going through the process of getting the right to drive on a road down-under, is the same right of passage every Aussie goes through over time.

Imagine our sighs of bewilderment in having to go through this whole process once again in our new adopted home of Spain. Yes, that includes a theory examination (in English) and a practical examination (in Spanish). The biggest mistake we made was thinking that 30+ years of driving in Oz would set up us well to allow us to explore the Spanish countryside.

First task at hand is to choose a driving school. Without one its very hard, nearly impossible, to get into the queue for exams or get the documentation processed via Traffico (the Spanish version of the Department of Main Roads).

After paying your hard earned euros to be part of the driving school fraternity, you need to have a medical, the older you get they stay the more and more challenging this is.

For us, it was a few questions like, are you crazy?

The obligatory eye exam is last on the doctors checklist. I got down to the lowest letters without an issue and even tried to say the letters as they are pronounced in Spain. For AJ, the doctor said "that's good enough". So we, to this day, don't know if it was the pronunciation of the letters or the inability to read the lower half of the eye sight exam.

After many, many WhatsApp messages with the driving school, we were able to secure our first driving theory test four weeks later. When I did my driving theory test in 1989 it was on a computer of sorts so it was a fairly simple experience.

In our nearby town of Motril the theory tests are offered infrequently for 50-60 students in a town hall-like room on old school wooden desks. You know the ones. When you lean too far forward on the desk, the top falls to the side with all the table top items careering everywhere beyond your reach. Yes this happened for me during my first theory exam, much to the examiners disgust. Or perhaps they were just frustrated trying to translate the instructions to a 50+ year old Aussie when the rest of the exam attendees (ex AJ) were 17-year old Spaniards who knew the road rules and processes all to well.

I think you know if you fail or pass a test about 30 minutes after the exam (maybe I've failed too many in my time to know this). You start to question yourself on the answers you chose, knowing when it was right or wrong but hoping you are right about your wrongs. More then 3 wrong out of 30 questions and you fail. On my first attempt I got 24 right, yay, I know some of the answers but not enough. AJ on the other hand got a score of 28 out of 30 so she was home and hosed. These results were not published straight away but more then 30 hours later, so that night not much sleep was achieved. During those 30 hours lots of second guessing was had by all. For any other future theory exam, I'd be going through the process by myself without AJ, only in the company of pimpled faced Spaniards.

I really did try to learn the rules. I even tried a few resources of information to find out a way I could best understand the rules but the 2nd try was another failure, this time I got 26 right.

On the third attempt I passed, but more due to good luck then anything. The third test was exactly the same as the second test so, knowing what I got wrong on the second test at least gave me a fighting chance on the third test. I still got one wrong though. I think they have about 30 or 40 different tests available to issue each student, so I'm leaning towards good luck against my level of intelligence.

Having driven on the roads under my Australian drivers license I have observed plenty of weird behaviors on the roads here, that are completely contrary to the theory part of the drivers license, but form part of how the Spaniards actually drive around this beautiful country. To name a few:

  • Double parking on a pedestrian crossing in the opposite lane of traffic to go grocery shopping.
  • Driving through roundabouts using imaginary lanes and no indicators. No one knows were anyone else on the roundabout is actually going. Maybe they should be called potluck intersections.
  • Driving in the middle of the road and taking the inside line around bends even on blind corners.
  • Driving on highways like it is an autobahn, 120 kms is the highest speed limit in Spain but it seems as though it is just a recommendation.

After passing our theory section, the next step is the practical test in Spanish. AJ's Spanish is getting better and better each day. For me, lets say ordering a beer in Spanish is of no help in understanding the instructions of the examiner and navigating the super narrow back streets of the towns used during the tests.

It has taken us about 4 months to get us to this point.

Our examiner was less then accommodating when we started our practical test. Lets say they bordered on being called a knob. Not because they failed us but because they were just rude, they weren't even French. Of all our experiences with the Spanish Government bodies and local public officials we have nothing but great things to be said.

Yes we failed. AJ for nearly hitting a parked car (nearly, but no impact actually occurred, the instructor applied the safety brake, so immediate fail). For me I was red flagged for glancing the curb when I tried to navigate past a double parked car on a one way street. If you look at any curb or even any Spanish car there is a very good chance you'll see that both have had multiple impacts over time.

All instructions were given in Spanish which we expected but our instructor was forbidden from offering any translation in fear of being fined 3,000 euros.

During our time in the Alpujarra, our friends and neighbors have really been great giving us some advice on how or when to do whatever, or via lessons they have learnt from like experiences.

In this case no one has been through this process before as they have all had the opportunity to swap over their UK or EU nationality license for a Spanish one. No free kick for us, as each license in Australia is issued by the state, although if you are Spanish then you can exchange your license for a QLD, NSW, TAS, etc license without issues.

We were on our own!

They say that the Spanish economy is still run on a few back handers and golden handshakes but this is a rabbit hole we are a little gun shy in pursuing.

Six months from starting the whole process, we had secured our second practical test. Knowing how the first experience had unfolded we were less then confident, we were actually packing it.

But hey, fortune favors the brave. Our second examiner was super nice and so accommodating of our language barrier that we felt we had a chance. About 10 minutes into my test, the examiner said "todo bien" - all good, yay I had passed even though the official results take over 24 hours to be published. For AJ, todo bien. Even though the examiner informed AJ that she shouldn't speed.

I can't dance, I'm sure those who have seen me on the dance floor can attest to this, but I'm damn sure I did the best jig I've ever down. Lionel Richie would have found it hard to compete against me when I heard those masterful words "you have passed".

Now I have the Spanish Drivers license in my wallet and even on my phone (yes, Traffico have an App whereby a legal version of your license is available) I have started to follow the Spanish driving style.

I'll leave this up to your interpretation.