10 February 2009

Drive on

I haven't written in a few days because of good things and bad things. There was my mom's visit, which was fun and relaxed. It rained almost the entire time, which was bad timing, because that's not what it usually does around here, but we still had a good time and ate yummy food and had fun shopping and chatting and just hanging out.

Then last weekend my father-in-law fell off the roof while he was doing some spring cleaning, and it was very scary for everyone while we waited to hear what the doctors have to say. He will be in the hospital for a few weeks, totally immobilized, while the cracked bones in his pelvis heal, and then the recovery at home will be another couple of months. It will be hard for him to be still for so long, and hard for my mother-in-law in terms of juggling her work and his care and so forth. We'll of course help as much as we can; while he's recovering at home I may take my laptop and work from their house so I can be available to lend a hand.

This unexpected turn of events prompted the Mister and I to think about certain Big Picture things, which brought us around to the rather mundane topic of driver's licenses and cars and if we should get one and if so when. Right now I'm perfectly happy--more than happy, really--to be living without a car. Not only are we saving money by not having the expense of car payments, insurance, gas, maintenance, and parking, but we are doing the environment a good turn by relying on public transportation (and taxis in a pinch). I love that we CAN get everywhere we need to go with the metro, a train, or a bus. And we can always rent a car if we want to take a short weekend trip.

The reason this came up in relation to M's dad is that we do, however, tend to rely on him and his car every once in a while for, say, transporting big items like furniture, and he also did a lot of ushering of M's grandmother back and forth from her apartment (around the corner from us) to their house outside of the city. And that's something we can't pick up the slack on, although it would make sense because we ARE around the corner, because we don't have a car. And even if we could use M's dad's now-unused car, there's the pesky detail of neither of us having a license. (!)

You see, the Mister, who has lived in public-transport-friendly Europe all his life, has just never gotten his, and when I started investigating how to have my American license converted into a Spanish license I learned some pretty depressing things.

First of all, there's no "conversion" process. I have to get my license again, from scratch, just like when I was seventeen and ran a red light during my driving test. (You might imagine that I have no desire to go through THAT again.)

This would not be a problem if getting a license was like in the States--relatively cheap, easy, and painless--because after thirteen years of driving experience I am now unlikely to run a red light during my exam.

But it is not cheap, easy, and painless. It is expensive, hard, and painful.

Here in Spain, the AVERAGE (and now I'm going to get all-caps squealy because I'm outraged) cost of getting a license is 936 euros. NINE HUNDRED THIRTY SIX. That is ALMOST A THOUSAND EUROS, people. You have to pay ridiculous amounts of money to the "autoescuela" to teach you how to get through the ABSURDLY difficult written exam (which you pay also ridiculous amounts of money to take), which asks HORRIBLE questions DESIGNED to trip you up (I read some samples), and then do practice hours with an instructor in a car with dual gearshifts and brakes and then take the exam in one of those same cars. In other words, your hands are TIED because you have to pay the schools for the use of the stupid double-sided car, but they won't let you use their stupid car for the exam unless you sign up with them for a huge sign-up fee and spend a minimum amount of hours in the classes. Oh, and if you fail either exam within three tries (total, for both exams) you have to pay--surprise!--ridiculous amounts of money to take them again.

It's as if the autoescuelas and the department of motor vehicles are in CAHOOTS because they both earn OODLES of money from the whole setup. Harrumph.

You'd think that at least, with such a rigorous examination system, Spain would have good driving safety record. On the contrary. It is, with Portugal, the EU country with the highest highway mortality rates.

So you can understand why the Mister, with all of his traveling and living abroad, has never gotten his license. And you can understand why I am despairing of getting mine.

After learning all of this depressing information, I looked into getting my license in Belgium, because any EU driver's license is valid in all other EU countries. Belgium has an examination system much more like the US--a provisional driver's permit after the written exam, and then a driving exam in your own car, without requiring classes. They even allow you to "convert" your American license, but only within the first six months of living there. Oops. So I may eventually try to find a way to use someone's car for the test? Or buy a car there, when and if we decide to buy one? But then I may not have a legit Belgian ID anymore? Doing it in French would be extremely daunting, to say the least, but it beats boring hours of classes and the nightmare of getting a Spanish license.

I'm hoping a magic fairy will come and tell me something I failed to discover in my research, such as that there's a Vermont-Spain secret treaty and that Spain will recognize my Vermont license and will just stick a little A-OK stamp on it.

Sigh. At least I had lunch in the sun today, soaking up every little particle of warm oozy light that I could.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The way I do it: Keep getting my Int'l permits... yeah! yeah! it 'says' that after you are resident, blah blah.. just remember: you are in Spain (with all the pain) by some Spaniards account: a 1st world face with a 3rd world body... work the system girl!