Monday, April 20, 2009

With a Little L

As promised, what follows is a no-holds-barred rundown of this morning’s practical driving exam.


Are you ready?




Ok, here goes. It wasn’t that bad. Seriously. It was amazingly similar to the driving test I took 13 ½ years ago on my 16th birthday. Change the diesel-powered, stick shift Seat Ibiza from this morning to the gasoline-chugging, automatic Buick LeSabre from 1995, add in a couple of roundabouts, and the test was literally the same. And, when you come to think about it, why should it even be any different? Barring, perhaps the idiosyncrasies of driving in the UK, in general, driving is driving, isn’t it? Turn signals, yielding to oncoming traffic, and parallel parking are the same the world over. The language is not even really an impediment.

Why then, the night-and-day difference between DMV of the States and the DGT of Spain?
Why was I, an experienced driver, shaking like a leaf as I climbed into the driver’s seat this morning??

It all comes down to perception. The Spanish DGT has set the price – both financial and mental - of getting your driver’s license at an exorbitantly high level. All in all I’ve probably spent 400€ getting my license. And that was doing everything the first time around, in the shortest period of time possible, and with 13 years of driving experience. One of the girls who also took the exam today told me she’s spent nearly 3,000€ getting to the same point. 3,000€. Mind you, that’s roughly 3 times the average monthly salary in Madrid. In setting such a high price for the license, people’s nerves get the best of them. They expect something infinitely more difficult than the reality, and in doing so, subject themselves to dozens of driving classes at 30€ a pop. When they finally get up the nerves to take the exam, they think of the hundreds of Euros already invested in that moment and the horror stories they’ve heard up until then and how on earth they are going to ask their boss for aNOTHer day off work. So many people take the exam expecting to fail. So they do. And then repeat the whole cycle again.

The drivers in the States are no less prepared. They are, in general, simply less freaked out. It’s $15 after all. You fail? You go back the next day and retest for another $15. And in most cases, you have learned the great bulk of your driving skills either through the Drivers’ Ed classes in high school or from your parents by way of a learner’s permit, not by pumping hundreds of dollars into private classes. Simply put, the Spanish DGT and its spawn, the driving schools, are a money-making machine that simply does not have an equal in the States. Their mere existence and the sheer way they go about carrying out their business is what makes their way-of-life possible. It is, indeed, a cycle that is not likely to change ever. Like so many things in Spain, it is done this way because it is done this way. A fresh crop of drivers comes through. They complain about the mafia-like mentality of the test-givers and the unfair, subjective, ranking scale used to pass the exams. But when they finally pass they are so happy to be through with it all that they push it out of their heads and move on instead of continuing to protest against such a system.

And mind you, it’s one thing if the perpetual test-taker is saying such things. I, however, passed.


JustMe said...

Did the girl who spent 3000euros pass? I hope so.

Katie said...

Congrats! But my parents spent nearly $300 on driving school in the DC area ten years ago... granted it's not 3,000 euros, but in places in the States private driving schools are also de rigueur.

Anonymous said...

Hooray, Amy! I taught our German foreign exchange student how to drive while he lived with us. Apparently, having a Missouri license allowed him to bypass the (then) mandatory lessons and take his German driving test. He says it saved him $1000 or so. I believe you should treat yourself to some really fine shoes to celebrate the fact that you didn't need to spend 3000e to get your license! Linda

Amy said...

Yes, the girl who spent 3000€ did pass. This was her 4th attempt!!

Wow, Katie, I had no idea people in the States paid for private driving classes! Everyone I've ever talked to either learned from their parents or in Driver's Ed in school!!

And, Linda, I like your thinking!!!

americana said...

hi! I, too, am an american living here in spain...galicia to be exact. I paid the high prices too. I took my first driving exam last week....was attacked verbally by the examiner because I am an american. Needless to say, I didn't pass because superman (a young boy running and jumping over a median with bushes in the middle FROM the street..not the crosswalk jumped onto the crosswalk)...and this happened right at the end of my lovely 40 minute driving around the town trip.everyone else drove 15 minutes but I drove 40...all the while listening to the abuses flow from the mouth of this racist idiot sitting behind me. I have a meeting with the dr. school soon to discuss this...I am searching the net trying to find out what I need to do and where I have to go to file a complaint. The school insists that I take the test again...because I can have 2 tries....HELLO!!!! They seem to be the only ones that don't see a discriminacion pattern.....Before I took the test, I thought that the stories that people told me about them (examiners) were only because they failed...boy, did I learn the hard, some or all are true. For those of you who passed without all this B.S...CONGRATULATIONS!!! for those of you who are in a similar situation, my prayers are with you.

americana said...

I don't want to file any complaint if I can help it...I am not that way. I am going to wait and see what the dr. school has to say first because the teacher who was with me in the car should have said something which he didn't.