Driving School Diary

FIRST WEEK

The ladies at the driving school, which is at the end of what should be a one-way lane but is actually two-ways, are very pleasant indeed. They informed me that the text book is available in English and the exam could be taken in English, but that they couldn’t vouch for the translation.

Here is kind Elena, and that’s my dossier in front of her

It seems there have been some questions. In any event, I opted for the Italian version of text and quizzes on the theory that if I’m going to live in Italy I should, perhaps, learn the language of the road. We’ll see.

There are three one-hour classes each week held in a small, comfortable room with a large computer screen mounted over the dry-erase board. Ms. Elena pretty much follows the text, repeating what is written there and putting the appropriate material on the computer screen. Right now we are studying the different road signs – signale – there are 305 of them. It’s not enough to know what each sign means; we must also learn if it’s a danger sign, an advisory sign or a sign with an attached obligation. While one can tell generally from the picture on the sign what it means, there are details to be learned: tonnage of vehicles to whom the sign applies, for instance. Elena then gives us spoken quizzes and warns us of possible sneaky exam questions.

The most exciting part of the school week was the eye exam, which was given in a nearby oculist’s office. This exam falls in the category of License to Print Money. There were 5 ahead of me, but I didn’t wait more than 20 minutes.

A very attractive and pleasant bearded man with a killer tan ushered me into a small room where another attractive, pleasant and less tan man was sitting with papers in front of him. After the niceties of where I’m from and why on earth I want to live here anyway, I was instructed to sit and look at the famous eye-chart. I have corrective glasses, but never wear them, so I took the exam without. One eye passed with flying colors. The other eye was not quite as successful, but Dr. Tan was terrific at supplying the correct answer when I fumbled. I passed! Yippee – the first hurdle behind me.

And all I needed for this was: 1) identification, the carta d’identita 2) a permesso di sogiorno (my (permission to be here in the first place) 3) codice fiscale (like ssn) 4) 3 photographs of moi which were attached to various pieces of papers for various files 5) a marco di bollo for E 14.62 (why? I have no idea other than that it’s a very attractive shiny stamp which is also affixed to an important document)(a marco di bollo is a stamp that you purchase at a Tabacchi; I don’t really know who gets the money, but I suspect the State) 6) E40 for Dr. Tan for which I was given an impressive receipt which joined a lot of other papers in my file.

It was a fairly exhausting and typical Italian adventure. And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go study.

SECOND WEEK

We spent the week learning more signs, but we are getting very near the end of them. There are a bunch of different signs for speed limits: a round white sign with a red outer circle gives the maximum allowed speed; a blue round sign gives the minimum allowed speed; a rectangular green, blue or white (depending on what kind of road you’re on) sign gives the ‘advised’ speed.

With a couple of exceptions the system is very logical and orderly, which makes it easier to learn. One of the exceptions is the difference between the sign which forbids a longish stop, a ‘sosta’ (as opposed to parking). It looks like this, and unless otherwise posted, in the middle of a town is in effect only from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Then there is the sign which forbids even a very brief stop, the ‘fermata’, as well as the ‘sosta’. It’s confusing enough that there are two kinds of stop, and it’s a little hard to know which is which. But to make matters worse, the sign that forbids the ‘fermata’ and the ‘sosta’, which looks like this, is in force 24/7, unless otherwise posted. Why? I guess it is put in places where it is dangerous to stop for even a moment, but still… it’s a bit confusing! However, now that I’ve told you about it I will remember because you will whisper it in my ear during the exam if necessary.

And so it goes.

Here are some of the kids in my class. Our numbers swelled to 16 on Friday, but will probably shrink again next week as a bunch will be taking their exams on Wednesday.

This is the front of the classroom. Whatever we’re studying is put on the computer screen over the desk, and Elena can mark on it with a red ‘pen.’ Very helpful.

Here is Elena going over a practice exam with a lad who will take the exam next week. There are stacks of practice exams we can take, and Elena will correct them immediately and help us understand any errors we’ve made.

Note the disturbing array of automobile bits and pieces. I do know what the round black thing on the lower right is. Evidently we are to learn things about that confusing jumble under the hood of a car. Our book also has some first aid drawings, but I haven’t seen a mannequin yet that we can practice on, more’s the pity.

THIRD WEEK

Gak! I missed two classes during our trip and now I’m behind, in spite of having studied my heart out during our trip. We have moved on from ‘segnale’ to speed limits and Comportment on the Roads – what a laugh. I see every rule I read flaunted every time I go out on the street. Oh well. The rules are common-sensical, so in spite of having to learn a lot of new vocabulary I am making some headway. My main problem is understanding the sample test questions correctly. One little mistake with vocabulary and you’re saying it’s perfectly all right to drive on the left side of the road at high speed.

And I’m still having a few problems with signs, due to my poor visual memory. Round blue signs mean one thing, square blue signs something entirely different; when I look at them I see ‘blue’ and really have to focus on shape. But it’s all coming together.

There was a written exam last week and there is a new crop of teenagers in the class. On Weds. I was seated next to two gorgeous gigglers who spent the whole time chatting to each other and texting other friends – very distracting for poor old me, but who can blame them? They know all this stuff already, I’m sure.

FIFTH WEEK

There’s only one week left before the Big Test. I take practice exams after each class, and have finally crept into the ‘passing zone’. I hope desperately to pass on my first attempt. What foozles me most is coming across a word I don’t know in a question. It can lead to comical misunderstandings.

One expression I like very much that recurs has to do with driving in the style of a Cavallo, or horse; it means straddling the lines. Italians love to do it, but it is not allowed. I got a bunch of questions wrong until Elena explained what the phrase meant – I thought it had to do with horses on the road, of course. Silly me.

One has 3 tries to pass the two required tests. If you pass the written exam the first time, you have 2 opportunites to pass the driving part. If you fail the first written exam, you must pass it the second time, and then have only 1 chance to pass the driving part; if you fail that you’re out of luck.

The written test consists of 10 situations, or signs, or statements; for each there are 3 questions which you must mark either true or false (there is not necessarily one true statement, or one false one, they can all be true, all false, or any combination). As noted in an earlier entry, some of the questions are Trick Questions of the meanest sort.

Only this week I noticed that all the questions and the correct answers are listed at the back of the practice test book. That’s very helpful, but it’s a bit late for it to be a huge help.

Have I mentioned the expense of this enterprise? E 260 for the books and classes; E 40 for the eye quack + E 14.62 for a marca da bollo; E 70 for the theory exam; E 28 for a 1-hour driving lesson (to be sure I’m not doing anything really stupid); E 80 for the driving exam. That comes to E 492.62, which in ‘Murican money is about $665. Nothing to sneeze at.

SIXTH WEEK

It’s over! After six weeks of increasingly intense focus on ONLY the driving test, it is now successfully behind me. Am I relieved? You betcha!

Weeks ago I decided to take the test at my very own driving school, the Gilberto Machiavello Scuola di Guida. From past experience I know that being in a familiar setting can add points to a test score. This test was administered with the same seriousness as the last school tests I took about a hundred years ago: SATs and GREs.

24 of us had signed up to be tested and we all turned up more or less on time for the exam. We each had to hand over our Carta d’Identita to the driving school lady, who stuck it in our dossiers, which had mysteriously grown thicker since we registered. Turned out to be Test Documents. Only 12 could take the test at one time; we were summoned one by one into our classroom by Elena, our teacher. There we were met by a pretty young woman in high-heeled boots and slim jeans, and a burly man with a square face. The young woman assigned us seats, every other seat filled, staggered by rows. I was the third in and got to sit only a few places from my usual class position.

Mr. Burly then gave us a no-nonsense talk: this is how you make an X, under either the V (true) or F (false); you may make only an X, and it must be a perfect X. If you make any extraneous marks on your paper your test will be thrown out. Turn off your cell phone now; if it rings or vibrates your test will be thrown out. Take my advice, he said, once you have made an X, move on to the next question, because even if you realize you’ve answered incorrectly you may not change your answer.

Then he scribbled on some documents and called each of us up to the desk, one by one, verifying that we were who we said we were by looking at our Carta and at us. Then he returned our Carte d’Identita to us and gave us our dossier, first going to a back page, signing it in two places and stamping it. He also gave us a test, and a booklet with pictures of all the road signs in color (they’re pink and white on the test). After we had each been given our materials he instructed us to copy a number that was on the top piece of paper on our test paper and put our signature below it. Then, and only then, we were allowed to commence the test.

The test itself (described in Week 5) went alright; I was lucky, I was not given especially difficult questions. I had decided the night before that I would put my pen down, read each question and translate it to myself to be sure I understood it, and then pick up the pen and carefully mark my answer. I hoped that if I put the pen down between each question I wouldn’t make mistakes by going too fast; it worked.

As we each finished we carried our clutch of papers back up to Mr. Burly who put them in order by our seating arrangement. When all tests were in he called the first lad’s name. Then he corrected the test and announced how many errors the boy had made – only 2. Phew! He passed! He was instructed to leave and did so with alacrity and relief. Next was a young woman wearing fluorescent orange rain trousers who had not been to many classes. She did not fare as well and got too many wrong to pass the test.

What happened next was terrible. Mr. Burly took her papers, ripped her two photographs from the page where they’d been glued, and ripped apart the dossier, giving a couple of the pages to our Elena and keeping the rest for himself. It was as if the student herself were being torn limb from limb. She, however, did not seem overly concerned, and left the room as instructed.

I was next, passed, and left, so I don’t know how the rest of the class fared – I sure hope they all made it. The Captain was waiting for me outside, a wonderful surprise, and we went for a celebratory ice-cream cone.

Next: a driving lesson Thursday and then the driving test. After years of driving I hope to pass that with not much trouble, and then to receive a patente (driving license). Stay tuned.

SEVENTH WEEK

As noted in a recent post, the driving part of the license equation has not turned out to be as easy as I anticipated, years of practice notwithstanding. There’s nothing harder to break than a bad habit that’s been ingrained for many, many years.

I’ve had three driving lessons now. The first was dispiriting, the second left me in tears. What to do? Attitude adjustment, that’s what. So today I went to the driving lesson telling myself that it was loads of fun, that I was good at it, that I would pass the test, etc., etc. Was I convincing? Not very, but I was more relaxed and that helped me make fewer errors. I would not have passed, at least twice, if today had been the test. But today wasn’t the test, so perhaps there is time to correct bad mistakes. When is the test? November 14. If I pass, good. If I don’t… wait, that’s not positive thinking!

The good news is that I have not yet killed anyone.

EIGHTH WEEK

We’re getting down to the wire. The driving exam is a week from Friday. Gak. Ivo has opined with a waggling movement of his hands that as things stand now I have, perhaps, a 50% chance of passing. Much work to be done.

Yesterday he taught me how to back into a parking slot. Needless to say, every other vehicle was parked nose in — but for the test you have to back in. This requires the neck and head apparatus of an owl, because you must look over your right shoulder, never your left – I am not so equipped, and reaped a raging headache from the excercise. Bah! And I didn’t even park well. Must practice, must practice.

Ivo has given me a list of my four most pressing problems: 1) forgetting to signal 2) rolling stop instead of Full Stop 3) not always noticing the yield sign 4) shifting from 3rd to 1st without a brief visit at 2nd. All but the last are cause for concern; and Ivo assures me that the last will concern the examiner. So… more practice, and the need to make a final push to get the eyes speaking to the brain, and the brain speaking to everything else. oh dear, oh dear.

WEEK TEN – THE END

How to get through the day until the scheduled 3:15 driving-exam time?  Clean the house!  It takes just about the right amount of time and uses up all kinds of energy that might otherwise be put into a too-strenuous application of foot to gas pedal.  That took until lunch, but there was more time.  Exercises!  I haven’t done them in days – that took a while.  Meditate!  That took three minutes, but may have been the most important three minutes of the day.  Calm… centered…  I am the mountain… ha!  I am a quivering mass of nerves.

How long does it take to learn that there’s no point in arriving anywhere in Italy early?  Longer than we’ve been here, I guess.  I popped into Scuola Guida Machiavello Gilberto promptly at 3:10 and was told, after leaving my E 80, to take a seat.  This turned out to be more entertaining than anticipated, as an ancient man, a true old Italian Vecchietto, came in to complain about not having his license.  La Signora gently explained to him that he had been there in August at which time she had given him a photo-copy.  “Non mi ricordo,” he announced to anyone who would listen (“I don’t remember”).  He had a lot of other comments which, alas, I didn’t understand, and finally left with another photo-copy of his license.  The wonderful Signora makes a copy of everyone’s license so if there’s ever a problem she can help.  My comment to self?  Man, if THAT guy can have a driver’s license, surely I can… or can I?

There were four of us waiting for the exam: a pretty young woman, an adorable youth with braces and pants that hung well below what were no doubt fashionable undies (don’t you always want to give the pants a tug? I do!), and a slightly older fellow with darting eyes who had nothing to say, and me.  Ivo summoned the kid to come help with something up where the cars are parked; 10 minutes later they both reappeared hidden behind stacks of highway cones which had been used for the motorcycle exams that had just finished.

Finally we were all invited to accompany Ivo to the cars, about two blocks away.  There we gave him all our documents: folio rosa (learner’s permit), carta d’identita,  a scooter license for the others, and for me a permesso di sogiorno (8 months out of date).  Ivo carefully arranged all the papers in neat stacks on the windshield; I was sure the wind was going to carry them off, but it didn’t happen.

Then tragedy struck: the adorable youth could not find his scooter license.  What to do??  I thought he would weep, but he took it like an adult.  Ivo made several terse phone calls and told the lad to take himself off to the police station and file a ‘denuncia’ for a lost license.  Only after doing that could he take the exam.  That left three of us.

Who would go first?  No one wanted to go first… except me.  I wanted to go first for three reasons:  I wanted to get it over with, and I wanted to drive before the light began to fail and before the streets got really crowded.  Well, the first worked out pretty well, but, with my typical Car-ma, I drove immediately into a traffic jam – and not just backed up traffic.  This was a great jam, with a police officer madly directing traffic, horns honking, the whole nine yards.driving-exam-002

Signor Lungo, according to his rap sheet, was not a very simpatico examiner and was very silent.  I was delighted with his calm and his quiet – just the kind of guy you want giving you your driving test, no histrionics, no jokes, no distractions.  He simply said, very quietly, “Right at the light.” “Left at the intersection,” and so forth, but of course he said it all in Italian. He was my idea of the perfect examiner.

He directed me up familiar routes, places Ivo and I had practiced for hours.  “Ha,” I thought – “I’ve got this covered.”  Then came the instruction to make an ‘inversione,’ where you reverse direction.  There are very specific requirements for where this can be done, mostly negative: not on a curve, not at an intersection, not on private property, etc., etc.  So clever Ivo teaches his students the acceptable places on all the possible routes out of town.  There we were, on the road across from the Library; I knew that when I got to the Jeep that’s always parked on the right I’d have it nailed.  Except I didn’t.  I have no idea what I did wrong, but I almost drove into a wall and put one tire in a hole.  I thought Ivo, who was sitting on my right, would throw up.  I thought I would throw up.  My throat tightened, I couldn’t speak – oh gak, I’ve let everyone down, plus I’ll have to lay out another E 80 for another test some day.  Oh woe, woe, woe.

Oddly Signor Lungo did not tell me to quit then and there.  He directed me down the hill and had me parallel park, which I nailed first try (I did learn some good tricks from Ivo).  Then he said, “OK, turn everything off,” and I knew I’d sung my swan song.

The cute ragazza changed places with me.  She blew her first parking attempt and then did a brilliant job on the second.  She did everything else perfectly.  I was green with envy.  She was going to get a license and I was not.  It wasn’t fair; I’m ever so much older than she is.  Doesn’t that count for something?  She didn’t even have to do an inversione – the traffic jam had eaten up loads of time, and that redounded to her benefit.

Back we went to our starting point via various narrow streets which La Ragazza navigated expertly.  She stopped about where we’d started, and we were asked to sign some scrap of paper, which we both did.  I was still expecting the hammer blow, but no, kind Signor Lungo opened up his folio and gave us each a license.  I couldn’t believe my eyes!  I wanted to embrace him, but didn’t.

And there was droopy drawers looking all perky because he had his denucia and could take the test after all, along with won’t-meet-your-eyes.  I was so happy for the kid – he was so nervous, and to lose his first chance would’ve been mean beyond words. I hope they both passed, and I bet they did, because Ivo is a terrible task-master, and Signor Lungo is, in fact, a gentle and fair examiner it seems to me.

Best of all?  The Captain was waiting for me nearby, giving our private whistle.  I waggled my license at him so he would know right away, and then it was over.  Back to the Scuola for the requisite photo-copy, and then on to other errands, and life picked up its familiar pattern.

This will be the first night in ever so long that I won’t go to sleep with driving rules and methods in my head.  It feels great!

driving-exam-001

Here some of us are.  Adorable has gone for his denuncia, so he’s not here.

It’s over.

10 thoughts on “Driving School Diary”

  1. Is the Italian driving manual online some place? I would love to peruse it.

  2. I enjoyed reading about your driving licence experience. I’m glad that I didn’t have to go through the same ordeal !
    But It seems that Italy doesn’t want an understanding with any Country. I’m from the UK, a part of the EU, so we have identical driving licences, or so you would think. The only difference being we drive on the left.
    Anyhow, my UK driving licence needed a new photo so I contacted DVLA in the UK. They told me that as I now lived in Italy I had to transfer my licence. I went along to one of the driving schools to be told that a UK licence cannot be transferred ! I told them that was B***S***.
    Cutting a very long story short, I received my new Italian licence, after a whole years wait, to find that there were no dates on the multitude of entitlements. Plus it was going to cost me €150.
    I now have to wait, probably, another year for the replacement.

    The joys of living in the Third World !

    • To me E 150 would have been a bargain price for the license! But it does seem odd that your UK license wouldn’t have been easily transferred. Good for you for fighting the buraucracy. I hope you don’t have to wait a year – maybe licensing procedures will be streamlined along with so many other things. We can only hope. And, in your case, wait.

  3. This brings back funny memories of when I had to get my license here. I have to admit that some of my interpretations of European signage had been incorrect before actually studying the books, but the whole situation is quite ridiculous. I think it’s only been like this for a few years. Once massive numbers of immigrants started arriving in Italy, the DMV had to take actions to verify the quality of foreign licenses since some places in the world, like a few African countries, have dubious tests to perceive real driving skill.

    As for others who are about to do the whole licence thing, shop around for the best hourly rates offered from the driving schools and try to study on your own rather than take their driving school classes, if you want to save as much as possible. Also, do the eye exam not through the driving school but the public health system.

    • Good advice which I wish I’d had a year ago. Will remember about health system eye exams for license renewals, though. I can understand why licenses from some countries aren’t accepted, but the US?? We may not be the best in the world, but were surely not the worst. That honor goes to… (fill in the blank).

  4. It turned out not to be as bad as I thought, Whimsical. I think I overdid the anxiety a bit – I hate performance of any type. The teacher was a lot harder than the inspector, who turned out to be a lovely guy – very simpatico. You’ll do fine, I’m sure! In boca al lupo…

  5. whimsicaljottings said:

    OMG, Im gonna faint. I came across yr blog via “driving in italy”. I will have to sign up for driving lessons soon, and your account sounds so so scary! :(

  6. farfalle1 said:

    Ouch is right! I don’t know why the US and Italy don’t have an understanding regarding licenses, but there it is.

    Having said that, I did attend classes 3 times a week for 5 or 6 weeks – and they have to pay the teacher something, so. Anyway, it is what it is, and it’s over… almost.

    Thanks for the comment and for reading!

  7. Congratulations on passing the test. Driving should be a piece of cake.

    I was anticipating the total cost — 492.62 euros!!!!! Grrrr…which is exactly what a friend of ours had guess-timated. Ouch.

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