I read someplace that if you have enough desire, and put forth enough effort, you can succeed at just about anything.  For most of my life, I would have agreed with that statement.  But for certain things I have experienced lately, I would have said ‘bollocks’ to that statement.  I may have just changed my mind.

When went to purchase Amelia a few years ago, I found out that you cannot purchase a car here in Spain unless you have a valid drivers permit.  That made sense to me, but it was then I discovered that my driver’s permit was not considered valid for this type of purchase.  This seemed to be one of those diabolical governmental rules that plague mankind: I could drive with my existing permit; I could even rent a car with my permit, but I was unable to purchase a car.

The reasoning behind this regulation is that my permit – first obtained by myself when I was 16 years old – was issued in the United States.  This means to those who are uninitiated in the intricacies of law, it was issued by a state government and not by the federal government.  In most of the world, driver’s permits are issued by federal governments, meaning that there is some standard of conformity between them, but permits issued by individual states potentially have variation in qualifications, and therefore, are not considered valid here.  Bear in mind, the absurdity comes from the fact that it is okay to use a U.S. driver’s permit to drive, just not okay to purchase a car.   To me, at the time, this seemed like one of those daft regulations that only a bureaucrat could come up with.  But it is Spain, and I am the one who chose to live here, so I did what any other self-respecting ex-businessman would do; I figured out a way to game the system. 

After a bit of checking, I discovered that I could purchase a car with an international drivers permit.  I made a few phone calls, and within days, received a FedEx packet with my international drivers permit in it and trotted off to buy Amelia.  After about a year, I thought that, as I have chosen to live here in Spain, I should actually get a Spanish drivers permit.  My first step was to simply exchange my existing permit for a Spanish one, but that wasn’t to be.  If it wasn’t good enough to use to purchase a car, there was no way the government would accept it in exchange for a Spanish one.  I tried to have it exchanged in the United Kingdom as well, but apparently they (and the French, Swiss, Germans, and just about every other European country) had the same view of the validity of a state-issued permit.  Okay, not to worry, I would just take whatever test was required and would be on my way.  Well, this brainstorm blew up in my face when I took the written test.  Forty questions, of which you can only miss 4, and I mucked up 5 of them.  As my existing (and apparently valueless) permit didn’t expire until my birthday in 2009, I decided to just forget about it.  After all, I was legal to drive my car with my permit – it was only a problem when I tried to buy it.

Let’s fast-forward a bit.  In mid-summer this year, and the whole driver’s permit thing was on my mind again.  So, with a massive sense of trepidation, I decided I had better resume my attempts to finally get a Spanish drivers permit.  I registered at a driver’s school.  I bought the study books.  I studied my little head off.  And then I took the test.  The test has changed, and is now only 30 questions, but the bad news is that you can only miss 3 or you fail.  I missed 5.  Buggers.  I rescheduled for another test appointment, and proceeded to study harder. 

I had never really learnt how to study whilst in school.  I can remember doing exceedingly well on tests with innocuous questions abut current events but when it came to serious exam’s about things that a teacher thought were important (like the synopsis of Silas Marner, or doing partial differential equations), I usually only squeeked past, if that.  I can remember one time being banished to my room by my parents to study for a big exam, only to promptly fall asleep at my desk.  Several hours later, I awoke and crept into the sitting room expecting a proper bollocking, only to find out that my parents weren’t aware that I had been sleeping and not studying.  I think I barely managed to pass that exam.  But now, far older and (hopefully) a tad wiser, I knew that I had to really buckle down and learn the rules for driving in Spain if I wanted the pass this test.

Part of the problem is that many of the questions on the tests (there are God-knows-how-many variation of the tests) just don’t make any sense.  Like the question about the sign that a vehicle must display when carrying a load that sticks out beyond the back of the vehicle.  I knew the sign is diamond-shaped, with alternating red and white reflective stripes.  I had seen this in the book and knew that it meant that something was sticking out at least 1 metre beyond the rear of the vehicle.   But when I encountered a question about it on the test, I was flummoxed to find that the question asked how big the sign was.  Who cares how big it is?  Wouldn’t you think the appropriate question would be something like, ‘what does this bloody sign mean?’  I thought so.  Another fun question was ‘In a four-wheel drive car, which wheels do the driving?’  The answer choices were, A) the front wheels.  B) the rear wheels.  C) all four wheels.  Well duh…it is a four-wheel drive car, so the answer would be C, all four wheels.  Right?  Wrong. 

Okay, so I took the test again and again mucked it up.  I began to try to figure out how difficult it would be to obtain a UK drivers permit.  Of course, as they wouldn’t exchange theirs for my existing one, I would have to travel to the UK.  And then I would have to get a provisional license, so I could take a written test, so I could take a practical (behind the wheel) test.  And of course, I couldn’t do all this the same day, or even the same week; so that meant multiple trips to the motherland.  This was getting rather depressing.  I actually thought about turning on my computer and opening Power-Point.  I could whip out a passable facsimile of the needed permit in about an hour, but that seemed a bit tacky.

I have discovered that the whole drivers testing system here is a bit wonky.  I recently heard that one ex-pat who was attempting to obtain his permit and after several attempts, was convinced that he had passed.  This was even though each time he had been told that he had failed.  Because he was so sure that he had done well enough, he actually found an abogado (solicitor) and marched in to see the Head of the Driver’s Testing Bureau.  After the abogado was finished explaining the law, el jefe (the chief) turned over the man’s results and guess what?  He had passed the tests…all of them.  I was tempted to contact the abogado myself to do the same thing, but then realised that this might not be the smartest of moves as long as I want to live here – not a smart move to piss-off the authorities.  Instead, I decided to resume studying the Spanish drivers code. 

I think (I hoped) part of the problem was that initially, I was just studying the ‘Test Sample’ book, but after two attempts, realised that there were so many potential variations of the actual test, that many of the real questions were not in the sample book.  I began to read the “Learning to Drive Manual.’  Oh my….only 224 pages to memorise.  Give me an interesting book on some random topic that interests me, and I will remember the contents forever.  Force me to memorise something that I am only reading because I have to will usually result in a good demonstration of short-term memory loss. 

This week, I had another go at the test.  Feeling totally screwed by this system, I hadn’t even opened the book in the past month.  As a matter of fact, I was becoming so apathetic about the whole permit thing here I was ready to make plans to fly to the UK in the near future.

There I was, standing outside the Driver’s Testing building along with the other 100 or so people who wanted to obtain their permits as well.  As I was wondering how many of them had been here multiple times as well, the test proctor came out and began to call names.  As I heard my name, and went up to collect the test form, I felt like saying hello again to this very familiar face, but I thought that was tasteless so I simply took the one page form and went into the queue at the door.  Just before you step into the room and are told where to sit, a test administrator checks your identification – probably to make sure that someone who actually could pass the test wasn’t taking it for you.  Because I am a foreign national, I have to show my residency permit (original) and my passport (original).  And because I wasn’t really expecting anything other than another psychologically devastating result, I only had photocopies with me, but I think she was taking pity on me, so I was shown to a seat. 

There they were…the evil thirty questions, some of which I had seen before.  Some of them I would swear are not even in the bloody book.  Screw it.  I checked which boxes seemed to be rational, and drove home.  This morning I went online to check my results and there it was, written in a little box that explains the test results, ‘apto.’  Oh my…I passed the test. I had actually passed the flippin’-mentally-torturing-non-sensical test. At first, I was incredibly excited.  And whilst I had actually gotten past this major stumbling block, I realised that now I get to experience the road test part of getting my driver’s permit.  Having driven for God-knows-how-many-years, this test will have to be easier than the theory test.  Right. 



neighbourhood plants




an autumn morning at Sol y Mar




nautical contrasts in front of the house last week





thinking about Petra (still)




the book from Hell




I thought I already knew what a road was




more stuff to memorise


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copyright 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, James B. Rieley