On the Road Again: Getting a Driver’s License in Spain, Part II

Miss the first part of how I fought bureaucracy and came out semi-victorious? Read Part One of On the Road Again here.

Miguel dangled the car keys to his Auris in front of me. Vamanoh, he said, inclining his head in the direction of the car.

I got in, doing the mental check I’d been taught to do in the car years ago: adjust the seat, adjust the mirrors, put on my seatbelt. Miguel got in and asked me to turn on the car. Easy enough, I thought, but the car roared forward as soon as I took my foot off of the clutch. Cuidaaaaaado, Miguel cooed, busy whatsapping.

After passing the driving theory exam, I’d have to do a few classes to learn stick shift and prepare for the practical exam. Miguel told me the median amount of classes he gives per student was 30; he gave me a limit of seven. Gulp.

I drove stick once when I was 17, an exchange for convincing my mom to give my teacher, a high school friend, a horseback-riding lesson. Being a visual person, Kike had drawn me a motor and explained how the gears worked to propel a car and control his speed. Still, I wasn’t prepared to actually get behind the wheel without so much as an instruction about when to ease off the clutch and brake. Cue my 15-year-old self, nervous and convinced I’d crash into the first tree that crossed my vision.

There are two words for the verb drive in Spanish – conducir, which refers to actually steering the car and controlling the pedals, and circular, which is used for obeying signage and giving way when necessary.

Miguel steered me towards Dos Hermanas to practice highway driving while I experimented with the gear speeds and got used to the car. I was immediately relieved that I was already ahead of the learning curve and knew how to circular, so I could concentrate on what my feet and right hand were doing.

Every morning at 11:15 a.m., I became Miguel’s chauffer, taking him to drop off paperwork at the DGT or test center, picking up other students and even driving my father-in-law to the doctor’s office, just like I did when I was 15 with my own dad. I began to feel more and more comfortable behind the wheel and remembered just how much I love driving. I learned on the fly that I’d need to be in second to enter a rotunda, that right turns on red are illegal and reason to fail the practical exam, and that it was in my best interest to not speak Spanish too well.

The day before I was slated to take my practical exam, Miguel explained to my driving partner, B, what to expect. We’d be asked first to show the examiner the insurance and circulation permission, turn the lights on and off, and open the hood to point out the different parts of the mechanics. The driver then gets ten minutes to drive “de forma autónoma” or by themselves, after which the examiner would steer him through different situations, asking him to parallel park (man was I thankful I’d finally mastered that) and safely exit the car.

The driver is allowed up to ten small mistakes and automatically fails if the driving instructor, who sits in the front seat, has to slam on the brakes.

I slept horribly the night before the exam, trying to map out possible routes in my head where I knew the signage and circulation rules, careful not to pass near a school, lest any kiddies dart out between cars. What’s more, I’d freaked out the day before when I made one mistake, which led to a whole string of them. As a former gymnast, it was like falling off the beam on a mount and falling ten more times.

Rainstorms were on the forecast for that Tuesday morning, but I was convinced this would work to my advantage. Miguel picked me and another student up and took us to the testing center to wait our turn. Waiting is something that I can’t stand about Spain, and it added to the nervous feeling in my stomach when I saw the amount of cars in the lot, all waiting for the examiners to point to them and strap into the car.

When I did my driving test at age 16, my dad forced me to drive four times the minimum amount of practice hours. I arrived to the DMV to a stern-faced examiner who announced she was getting a divorce and then failed me. The last thing I wanted was to have history repeat itself.

B went first. I could tell she was nervous as she pulled out the insurance papers and tried to turn on the lights, but got the wipers instead. The examiner, named Jesús (talk about final judgment), scribbled on a piece of paper and I prayed to Saint Christopher, patron saint of motorists, that Blanca would calm down and pass the exam.

Within five minutes of leaving the testing site and driving towards Dos Hermanas, she had been failed. It was then my turn, and I was actually glad I was in an area I didn’t know – I didn’t feel over-confident. All of the flubs I’d committed the day before didn’t even creep into my conscience as I navigated around curves roundabouts and yield signs. Jesus told me he wasn’t surprised that I drove well because of my experience, and I relaxed and started to enjoy the sound of the rain outside of the car and the swish of the wipers. When we pulled into the testing facility again, Jesus didn’t ask me to show him anything under the hood, instead having me sign a waiver and promising to have my name changed on the paperwork as soon as possible (it took several days, clearly).

I got out of the car and whispered to Miguel, “¿Me ha aprobado?” He eagerly nodded his head and I began the barrage of calls to announce the good news.

For all of the horror stories I’d heard about driving exams in Spain, I was surprised at my good fortune in passing both tests quickly. I’ve even bought my brother-in-law’s old car, a Peugeot 307, and can’t wait to be back on the open road again. And see that lovely green L? I’ll have that in my car until March 2014!

Have you ever considered taking the EU driving exam? Were you successful? Have more questions? Direct yourself to my sister page, COMO Consulting Spain for all things Spanish-red-tape!

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About Cat Gaa

As a beef-loving Chicago girl living among pigs, bullfighters, and a whole lotta canis, Cat Gaa writes about expat life in Seville, Spain. When not cavorting with adorable Spanish grandpas or struggling with Spanish prepositions, she wrangles babies at an English Language Academy and freelances with other publications, like Rough Guides and The Spain Scoop.

Comments

  1. Congratulations! Every time my husband and I see that “L” sign, we shout, “loser!” because, well, we’re not nice people. But, from now on, we won’t do that, in your honor. :)
    Nicole recently posted..Celebrating Madrid’s Semana SantaMy Profile

    • Sunshine and Siestas says:

      Thanks? If you saw me on the E1 heading towards Madrid all panicked, you totally have the right to call me a loser!

  2. Yaaay congrats! It will be so nice to have that freedom again.
    Christine recently posted..Springtime in Spain via InstagramMy Profile

  3. Well done, Cat.
    Matthew Hirtes recently posted..Pueblo CanarioMy Profile

  4. ¡Felicidades! I have an EU license, but you would probably kill me if you knew how much effort (very little) went into getting it. I don’t know if I would have passed if I had to do what you did!
    MeghannG@HolaMatrimony recently posted..A few tips on blending inMy Profile

  5. Love the Green ‘L’!!! I was thinking it was L for Learner, but that clearly makes no sense….what does it stand for?

    • Sunshine and Siestas says:

      I think it does mean learner! Just like a stop sign, they’re ripping off us. I get it for another 11 months and five days, haha!

  6. Sunshine and Siestas says:

    Thanks everyone! Driving a new car for the first time was insanely scary, but I survived!

  7. My dad made me learn to drive stick as a 15 year old. I hated it, but now I’m grateful! It always impressed the boys too, so there you go. Obviously everything I do is to impress boys …

    I’m not that interested in learning to drive in Spain. I don’t plan on staying here longer than necessary, annnnd we don’t have a car, so what’s the point?
    Kaley [Y Mucho Más] recently posted..Marrying a Spaniard in 7 Easy StepsMy Profile

    • Sunshine and Siestas says:

      Boy impresser! I never had an interest until my MIL offered to float the bill, nor saw much of a point since Kike had the car (automatic, mind you) and he took it to work every day. I ended up buying a car from my cunado wthat only cost 900 euros, so it just seemed like the right time to do it all.

  8. Congratulations Cat! I wish I knew how to drive stick. Maybe someday I will learn. Ironically, I just bought a car too, but it was from my Dad. It’ll be enough to get me around until I move to Spain!
    Mike recently posted..Spain and Its WalkabilityMy Profile

    • Sunshine and Siestas says:

      If you’re an auxiliar, you don’t need a car! It was just the oportune moment for me with someone paying! Good to have it, as I’ve already been caught and got off with a fine and a warning. If it had happened again, I wouldn’t have been so lucky!

  9. Congratulations!!! I failed a few tests in the UK and still don’t have my licence :(…
    Forest Parks recently posted..Keeping Fit and Healthy While Traveling: My Resources and AdviceMy Profile

    • Sunshine and Siestas says:

      I assumed I’d need little study time or practice. It all worked out for me in the end, but I know loads of people who have failed time and time again! You’ll get it!

  10. Congrats for the green L. I am sure you will have lots of fun driving again… and driving in Spain is not that bad.
    Laura @Travelocafe recently posted..Nara, Japan. A Day Trip in PhotosMy Profile

    • Sunshine and Siestas says:

      Gracias, Laura! I’m slowly getting used to it, but am thaknful to have already had practice driving around Sevilla.

  11. Congratulations for getting your driver’s license! Will you do more road travels?
    Jemma recently posted..Manna Sutukil Food HouseMy Profile

    • Sunshine and Siestas says:

      Thanks, Jemma! I’m planning on taking a few beach trips, exploring more of the smaller towns around Seville and eventually getting to Jaen this summer.

  12. Congratulations! I’m greatly inspired by anyone who moves to Europe and decides to take a driving test. Good for you for getting it done!!
    I don’t have the nerve to do it myself. Luckily, I live in a place in the Netherlands where for the last 5 years I haven’t needed a car (I walk most places). It helps that bicycles have some pretty cool accessories and have ‘right of way’ in many places.
    Gayla recently posted..Our Heroes are Back at Het RijksmuseumMy Profile

  13. Omg Cat just reading this practically gives me a heart attack imagining me having to go through all this driving school/test again! I’ve been holding off for now, but hate that whenever we take a road trip I know I wouldn’t be able to take the wheel if Ale wasn’t feeling well.

    But I hated the road test when I was 16 (failed my first one) and here it would be even worse. Good for you for getting yours out of the way– so inspiring!
    Lauren recently posted..Talos con Chistorra Recipe (Corn Tortillas with Sausage)My Profile

    • Sunshine and Siestas says:

      Thanks, dear! I know I would have put it off for ages, if it weren’t for my suegra forcing me!

  14. OMG, i am really scared now. we are in France and have been for over a year now and i am thinking of getting my license here.
    annie andre recently posted..Long Layover? How To Sleep In An Airport A Guide For BeginnersMy Profile

    • Sunshine and Siestas says:

      You’re still OK without one for another year, I think! I think people talked about how scary and hard it was, but in the end it was a lot easier than I expected!

  15. Congratulations! Having grown up in NYC, I’m not much of a driver. I don’t think Spain would be chomping at the bit to give me a driver’s license… Hope you take a fun road trip!
    Travelogged recently posted..The Wild Side of Tivoli Gardens: Roller Coasters in CopenhagenMy Profile

    • Sunshine and Siestas says:

      I never had the intention of getting it, as I can get everywhere without one! And when you see the way these people drive, you wisen up quick!

  16. WOOT!! congrats!!
    wandering educators recently posted..Transportation Around the WorldMy Profile

  17. I have an EU licence … although, when I passed my test, Britain wasn’t in the EU. (in fact, there was no such thing as the EU!)
    Keith Kellett recently posted..Back to Alice … in the Rain.My Profile

    • Sunshine and Siestas says:

      Well, darn! I’ve heard the law has changed for you, as well. Lisa Sadlier of Family Life in Spain said that you’d also need to renew your DL here in Spain when it expires…or does it? Not sure how long you have them for in the UK.

  18. Congrats! I don’t have the courage to drive in the Philippines where I’m from but I’m sure driving in other countries are better. If you’ve been to my country, you’ll understand why ;)
    Aleah | SolitaryWanderer.com recently posted..Of Eve Teasing and Solo Travel in IndiaMy Profile

    • Sunshine and Siestas says:

      I’ve been to Asia before and was nervous to cross the street! Europe is a bit more civilized, but my first time alone in the car was scary!!

  19. Congrats on passing! I’ve never tried driving when I travelled through Europe precisely because almost every car is stick shift and I’m the master staller. ;)
    Audrey recently posted..The Quest for Mrs. Pa’s Fruit ShakesMy Profile

Trackbacks

  1. […] also published a follow-up about the practical exam prep and driving stick shift (spoiler: they just threw me in the car and […]

  2. […] has really been my year, between a promotion, getting my European driver’s license and (fingers crossed) obtaining my master’s degree. Things may be coming up roses for me, but […]

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