Buckle up, readers, and set your minds on cruise control because you are going on a long journey with me today, one that begins with excruciating pain, witnesses two Spanish miracles in one day, and ends with a scathing rant, complete with pictorial guide, thereby undoing the preceding milagros. What can I say? Self-control does not come naturally to me, at least where driving in foreign countries is concerned.
As I have mentioned previously, Mr. Understanding and I are both in the process of obtaining our Spanish driver’s license. Unless one already has an existing EU license or a “laundered” license (i.e., an American license with which one obtains a Swiss license which is traded in for a German which is eventually traded in for a Spanish, a fifteen year process), one must undergo both written and practical driving tests. The failure rate is high the first time around. I am not telling tales out of school by telling you that Mr. Understanding failed his first written test. In an attempt to outdo him, I have been studying hard. It is one of the most painful mental ordeals I’ve encountered since taking the bar exam.
Below are examples of some of the more absurd test questions. I’ve already treated you to the “submarine effect” question but here are a few more for your amusement.
Q#1: Are you allowed to drive an agricultural tractor with more than 3,500 kg. of M.M.A. with a class B license?
A: Yes, when you carry less than nine people, including the driver.
B: No, as it exceeds the 3,500 kg. of maximum authorized mass.
C: Yes, as long as its maximum allowed speed does not exceed 40 km. per hour.
Q#2: Which illegal drugs are most common in Spain?
A: cannabis, cocaine, ecstasy, hallucinogens, and amphetamines
B: Tabacco [sic].
(Trick question: “A” of course – and my, aren’t there a lot!!!).
Q#3: The alteration to the organism produced by the drug “LSD” can continue for ….
A: up to an hour after taking the drug
B: between 10 – 12 hours
C: between 24- 30 hours
(Hello, maybe we do have a serious drug problem here …. I won’t even address that whole “organism” translation).
Q#4: If you are sleepy …
A: It is more difficult to be dazzled.
B: movements are quicker and less accurate
C: you may feel eye fatigue.
Q#5: Can psychotropic drugs alter the ability to drive safely?
A: No, except if they are taken with alcohol.
B: No, because they have no influence over driving.
C: Yes, seriously.
Really? Driving under the influence of LSD can impair your judgment? Driving skills? What I find interesting is that the Spanish government finds it necessary to hammer in these points to their driving public. In America, we just concentrate on booze. Cocaine? We thought that was only reserved for the likes of Lindsey Lohan, not the common folk!
Then there is the practical driving test. It can only be given on Thursdays, according to our driving school.* If the examiner gets in the front seat, it’s bad news because then the driving school instructor, who also accompanies during the examination, cannot make subtle hand signals to the driver. Mr. Understanding took his yesterday and the examiner got in the front seat. Not a good sign. But he passed! The instructor was quick to point out that he could have failed him for not having both hands on the steering wheel the entire time he was reversing to parallel park, but since Mr. Understanding corrected himself midway, the instructor cut him some slack. This qualifies as the first Spanish miracle of the day, on several levels.
For an entire year, a newly licensed driver must post a government issued green sign, sporting a giant white “L”, in the lower left side of the rear windshield, the dimensions of which must be 19.5 cm x ???? (I only memorized the 19.5 so can’t really tell you). Why an “L”, I don’t know. Learner? Loser? Both words are in English and I can’t think up a word in Spanish with an “L” that applies. All I know is that Mr. Understanding didn’t get a greenie which would have been really embarrassing – you can only drive 80 kilometers per hour for the first year.
So yesterday, fresh from bible study and joyous with the news of Mr. Understanding’s driving school victory, I was in an optimistic mood when I pulled into the El Corte Ingles parking lot. After one man stole a spot I had been waiting for for five minutes, I counted to ten and decided to go to the underground section of the parking lot. Eventually, I found a spot and pulled in, but on further assessment, reparked in the vacant spot next to it because I was sticking out too far. Reason why? The jack@ass in front of me had encroached into my spot by a good two feet. I was a little close to the white line but that could not be helped as the person to my right had encroached a bit on the other side of me. Breathing out, my cheerful attitude only slightly diminished, I prayed (literally) that my mission inside the store would be successful.
Slinging a bag containing my now defunct Cadillac SUV of steam irons over my shoulder, I went inside, up into the houseware department. As with ticket counter agents, I scanned the area for a friendly face. Grumpy Frumpy Little Old Cashier Lady was behind the counter helping another customer. Not good. A male cashier came to the register and rang up the man he was helping. He looked younger and in a better mood so I was prepared to wait for him, even as I looked for Paloma, the girl who initially sold me the iron.
This is important because I could not find my receipt for the wildly expensive appliance, an appliance even more valuable to my household than a Kitchen Aid Mix Master. No receipt is pretty much the kiss of death, in any country. At $5 a pop to launder a shirt, the Cadillac iron has paid for itself already but I was loathe to purchase another one. Miguel the Electrician, whom I’d already speed-dialed, had come ‘round and verified that the electrical outlet was actually working so unless it was a one-off “subida de tension”**, it had to be the iron. (Ever the sweetheart, he changed the plug on my old Chinese iron and Esmeralda was back in business). .
Now, one might say to themselves, the Expat Princess is certainly tilting at molinos here. Who does she think she is, waltzing into El Corte Ingles and thinking she can talk her way into a repaired iron? A fool’s errand if ever there was one! This is what I was thinking: I have got to try. It cost $500. Lord, have mercy.
Suddenly, as if descending from the clouds, Paloma made her way through the aisles of coffeemakers, toasters, and humidifiers, saw me, and went behind the register. At this point, I could barely breathe. My tongue grabbed hold of the Spanish language and out came my sob story. Paloma looked a little dubious. She paused, thinking, and said, “Momentito” and left the counter. Oh my God, if she has to get the manager’s approval, I thought, it’s all over. Maybe I should just leave now?
But then she came back and swung a heavy box onto the counter, popped open the industrial staples closing it, and pulled out a new Cadillac.
“Here,” she said, “put this in your [Carrefour – CRINGE!] bag. I remember you. I think I did sell you this iron.”
And this was the second Spanish miracle of the day.
“Tu eres un angel!” I said. I almost cried leaving the store, wending my way through the maze of escalators and underground parking, so grateful was I, my faith in humanity restored. If I were Catholic, I would have driven to the closest church to light a candle.
And then, POOF! Just like that, the joy of the miracle nearly evaporated when I got to my car.
Parked next to me, at an angle, was a pickup truck. It was sticking out 5 feet. It’s back bumper was 10 centimeters from mine. I could not get into the driver’s seat, even going around the front. The only way in was through the passenger’s seat. I’d had to do this once before. Mrs. Nato has had to do it 6 months pregnant. Talk about a subida de tension!
What to do? The pickup truck had a website address plastered all over it, as well as a telephone number. I could a) send an email b) make a phone call c) write a note and leave it on the windshield or d) do nothing. Having just received a miracle, I felt it behooved me to turn the other cheek and not push my luck. I mean, that was one big $500 miracle up there in housewares. Option “d”, I felt confident, is what both the Lord and Mr. Understanding would want me to do. So, I bargained with myself and told myself that if I still felt angry when I got home, I would go with option “a”. Then I took a few photos on my iPhone, photo below.
Add this to my collection of other Bad Parking Examples:
A Mexican recently lent Mr. Understanding a copy of his book, “Xenophobe’s Guide to the Spanish,” written by Drew Launay. The Xenophobe’s Guides are an “irreverent look at the beliefs and foibles of nations, almost guaranteed to cure Xenophobia.” The Xenophobe’s motto – “forewarned is forearmed”. “The Spanish,” Mr. Launay writes, “do not particularly care what other nations think of them, nor do they care about their country themselves.”
This pretty much sums it up. Having obtained their driver’s license, they seem to just sh*t on it. Your “B” class license qualifies one to drive a CAT tractor (as long as there are not more than 8 other people on it) but you can’t bring yourself to station your vehicle within the painted lines? But maybe I am making too big a deal of the whole thing and should just be compassionate. Maybe it’s me, the American, who is too rigid in her thinking. Or, perhaps the Spanish cannabis/LSD/ecstasy/cocaine problem is larger than I thought. (Yes, seriously). After a half-minute of self-reflection, I came to the conclusion that the problem is not mine. Don’t you agree? In the meantime, my written test is set for a Thursday in March and this xenophobe has been forewarned. I am hoping for my Third Spanish Miracle.
And P.S.: the new gym is working out well for me (ha, ha) but I am getting a mite tired of the whole fur-coat-over-Lycra-pants get-up. Come up with a new look, Spanish divas!
*Again, not really sure if this is the truth, but it’s what I was told. How can this be??? Ridiculous.