Adventures in Italian DrivingGood news from Macerata...after months of preparation, long hours of driving, stalling, learning to use the stick shift, and apologizing to my driving instructor as he yelled "sinistra, sinistra!" (left) and I turned "destra" (right), I took the driver's exam today. No one was injured, no pedestrians were killed and, get this--I passed! Yes you read that correctly: I really did pass my driver's test Can you believe it?
A week ago my driving instructor told me, after a half an hour of bad parallel parking, "If today had been the test, you would've failed." What? Huh? I'm a week away from risking my life on the Italian streets for a lousy Italian license, and THIS is all you have to tell me? So these past couple of weeks, I've been intent on proving him wrong, and last Friday, one of our final driving lessons, he changed his tune. "Today was almost--could it be?--nice! You're getting better."
Monday and Tuesday were my final two driving lessons, and they went by without a hitch. I even managed to teach my instructor how to play "Punch Bug" without running anyone over in the process, and I began to improve my chances of not stalling on hills (which, incidently, Macerata is famous for). So today I felt ready, yet still severely nervous. Antonello, being the wonderful husband that he is, accompanied me to the driving school, dropped me off, and made me promise to call once the test was over. There were six other students taking the test today, and here's how it works in Italy: the student taking the exam gets into the school's car, while the rest of us pile into a big van to follow the car around the city, waiting for it to stop and one of us to change places with the student driver. It's like the peanut gallery in that van: we murmured and commented and tsked as the first student driver took off, forgot to put on his turn signal as he merged into heavy traffic, and proceeded to later go down a "No Entry" street in the city centre. And he still passed!
So, as I volunteered to go second, I figured my chances of passing had just gone up a notch, and unless I did something really stupid--like run someone over--I was in.
And that's when I stalled the car.
Still, I don't think my examiner was even paying attention: I had just gotten into the car, barely touched the clutch, and managed to stall the car in a mix of nerves and sweaty palms. Next to me was my instructor, who basically rolled his eyes when he saw my error, and behind me, in the backseat, was my driving examiner. And she was busy chatting away on her cell phone. I sighed and tried again, made sure to put on my turn signal (I could almost hear the "tsks" from the van behind us), and off I went.
After ten ten minutes, it was all over. I barely did anything--no parallel parking, no stopping at a stop light, no up-hill struggles--just straight on, a couple of yield signs, and passing a bicycle who I carefully managed to NOT run over (whew!). My driving instructor and examiner chatted away the whole time and finally had me pull over and stop the car, getting ready for the next driver to come aboard. They handed over my pink licence right away, and I have the sneaking suspicion that, if I hadn't passed the test, a 100 euro bill would've gotten me my driver's license just the same. They had me sign something and they told me to skedaddle. I grinned, ear to ear. Here I was, an honest-to-goodness Italian driver's license-holder!
And as I got out of the car, I made sure not to stall it a second time.