MY FIRST DRIVER’S LICENSE
At 16, I was impatient to get my driver’s license and also confident that I didn’t need to study too hard. Road laws in Canada couldn’t be more difficult than trigonometry. Since I aced trig it was a no brainer that I would ace the written driver’s exam.
I went to ICBC, walked up to the machine that looks like a cross between an arcade game and an ATM machine and wrote my exam. I failed it. Ouch.
After eating my slice of humble pie, I studied well this time, passed and was ready to take my driving lessons. I took lessons with Bill: the calmest and coolest Egyptian driving instructor who treated me to mortadella sandwiches once in awhile. With Bill, I felt prepared for my driving exam but was still shaky in one area: parallel parking.
I kept practicing until one hour before my exam. I didn’t stop practicing by choice. The last parallel parking job I did landed my mom’s back right tire in a ditch. We were stuck. Thankfully, some friendly neighbours and passer byes helped push my mom’s car out. Even with my confidence levels shot, I still managed to get to my exam on time and pass it.
GETTING AN ITALIAN DRIVER’S LICENSE
Then I moved to Italy. Not only are the streets a third of the size of the ones in Vancouver, but no one drives with automatic transmission. I thought back to my problems parallel parking with an automatic car on the wide streets of Vancouver. Immediately, I dreaded the thought of having to parallel park with standard transmission onto half of a sidewalk while managing to leave just enough space for pedestrians and avoiding the panettone-shaped traffic barriers.
As Nelson Mandela said, “it always seems impossible until it’s done.” That’s how I felt about driving in Italy. Since I lived in the hills, I had to get a car. Otherwise, I would have to hop on the only bus that passes by the house at 7:30am and comes back at 7:30pm. Not ideal. The car had to be standard transmission unless I wanted to fork out two-thousand Euros extra to make it automatic.
In my first year, my Canadian driver’s license was valid in Italy. Instead of going to a driving school, I did the next best thing: have my mother-in-law teach me how to drive. All I will say is that she wasn’t Bill. I could write a blog post just about that. But I won’t. I have to give her credit, though. When she was finished with me, I was driving around the hills in my yellow Fiat 500 with no problems.
A year later, I had to get an Italian license. If I went beyond a year without one and happened to get pulled over by the cops, I would be in trouble. So, I signed up for driving school. Here we go again with the written exams. This time, in Italian.
The road laws and signs are a bit different from what I’m used to but that is understandable. However, the questions test your comprehension skills of the Italian language rather than your road knowledge. Half the questions just try to trick you with double negatives. Here are some examples of the true or false statements:
- The following sign indicates that you cannot not drive on the other side of this sign.
- The following sign indicates that you can drive on the side that is not the left of the barrier.
It’s already confusing in English, so, imagine writing this exam in Italian. Luckily, everything can be passed with some basic memorization. We were given a CD with all the possible questions that could have been asked on the exam and all you had to do was memorize the answers. The problem was that there were five thousand possible questions. Haha.
Writing a driving exam at twenty-five years old is different than writing it at sixteen years old. There’s more pressure to pass the exam especially when you are writing it together with a bunch of teenagers. To top it off, the exam results are publicly announced in front of everyone. Determined not to let the Italian language get in my way, I managed to pass the exam on the first try.
My five obligatory driving lessons were a waste of money because I already knew how to drive. My driving instructor knew I was wasting my money as well because he would ask me if we could drive here and there so he could run errands and pick up his friends. A couple times he corrected my hand positioning on the wheel but that’s about it.
Then, came the driving exam. The driving examiner sat at the back and instructed me to start driving as he opened my file. After he instructed me to make my first turn he exclaimed, “You’re from Canada? What part? You know, I spent some time in San Francisco, have you been there?” Apart from the two turns I made prior to him finding out I was Canadian, I just drove straight ahead listening to this driving examiner’s adventures in San Francisco. When he realized he was running out of time, he had me drive through a school zone and park once (not even on a hill). As we pulled up to the driving school, he said it was a pleasure to meet me and then handed me my Italian license.
Easiest driving test ever.
A BETTER DRIVER
Driving in Italy has made me a more confident driver. I have no problem exploring new towns by myself, stealing parking spots, parallel parking into tiny spaces on sidewalks or aggressively navigating my way in downtown Milan while avoiding prohibited “area C” zones.
While it’s true that I am a better driver because of my driving experience in Italy, I cannot say that Italy is full of safe drivers. I have witnessed some outrageous maneuvers take place on Italian roads and highways. The crazy part is that no one is really surprised anymore. For that reason, the last step in getting your driver’s license in Italy is to forget what you learned in driving school and teach yourself how to drive aggressively.
Cover photo source: pixabay.com