Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Is there a patron saint for passing the written exam for an Italian Drivers License?

If so, I will need their help. I might also call on Jesus, Mary, Joseph, God, The Disciples, (except for Judas of course).

Last night I went to the Autoscuola (driving school) to register, have the doctor check my eyesight ...ask if I had any health problems, and purchase my books.

Instead of spending hundreds of euros on those Prada boots I saw on sale, I spent them on getting ready for this test.

I hear it’s very hard. I felt I should just suck it up and get it over with.

My classes will be twice a week in Italian. However, I can take the test in English. I have been warned already that the wording is crazy.

I was skimming through said books and I came across Chapter 8. This chapter was all about the components of a motor vehicle. I’m sorry, am I training to be a bloody mechanic?! What kind of shenanigans is this?

Seriously, there are diagrams of the engine, the cooling system, drum brakes, dual circuit brakes, etc. My head was spinning.

I was speaking to a Spanish expat friend who said the test in Spain is just as hard and it’s even more expensive to get your license. As he talked about the process, I tried to look at the bright side.

I know folks like to clown Italian drivers and say there are horrible but technically my Italian friends are excellent drivers. They know the rules of the road but chose to ignore them. That is very different from not knowing how to drive, which is what I had to deal with in L.A. for ten years. My fear of getting shot was the only reason I wasn’t cursing folks out everyday.

I have been driving for over 20 years but I will look at this class as a way to unlearn bad habits. I should know more about how a car functions.

Oh yes, I forgot to mention I also have to learn how to drive a stick/manual. I could take the driving exam on an automatic car but then I would have a license for only automatics. Of course it makes no sense to have an automatic license in Italy given 98% of cars sold are manuals. Automatics are an option for some models but not all and are more expensive.

Why is it most Americans drive automatics while most of the world drives manuals? When I took Driver’s Ed in high school we could only practice on automatics. Manuel wasn’t even an option. Is this a recent thing? Growing up I remember several of my friends' parents drove manuals especially if they had a foreign car.

25 comments:

Mary said...

No patron saint, but here are a few tips. Buy the quiz book and do several quizzes a day (in Italian - don't take the test in English). After each quiz, look up the answers you missed. Then, if you finish the book, go back and do the quizzes again that you did really badly on. It's the best way to learn because you can focus on what you need to. (The computer program doesn't help as much.) As for driving the stick, practice, practice, practice. I don't know why they aren't as common outside of the US. I personally think an automatic is safer to drive, but that's my opinion...

milanese masala said...

Oh my! I'm having flashbacks from when I got my Italian licence way back in 2000. I studied theory in Italian and was able to do an oral exam (in Italian) because I was a foreigner. I don't if that's still possible. Anyway, the oral was a lot easier than the written. Then I took loads of driving lessons because I too had to learn how to drive with a stick shift. I have a Canadian licence but only knew how to drive an automatic. Well, after a few months and many lire later, I took my driving test and passed by the skin of my teeth, only because I'd taken so many lessons, the owner of the driving school kind of made it clear to his friend the examiner that I "had" to pass. I still remember the examiner reluctantly handing me my licence and saying, "Mi raccommando!" That was a real confidence booster.
Anyway, I'm much better now and drive 60km a day on the highway to get to and from work. If I can do it, I'm sure you can too!

Kim B. said...

This sounds about like what I've heard about getting a license in France. It's astounding to me how expensive it is to get a license -- I am definitely "formed" by the U.S. experience of taking driver's ed in high school with a bunch of friends, taught by the off-season coaches!! I haven't looked into it at all, but had a hard time understanding how a driving test could be so hard . . . but if one has to know how the car is put together, that would do it!!

On the stick shift front, I'm in luck. The car I wanted for "my" car in high school was my Dad's old Mercury Capri (Mercury's version of the Mustang), and it was a stick. My poor dad and the patience he had to summon to teach me to drive that car! But I'm so grateful as an adult to know how to drive a stick; thankfully it's never happened, but it's nice to know that in some type of emergency, not knowing how to drive one wouldn't keep me from being able to help someone.

Good luck, and I'm happy for the tips from your fellow Italian expats for you!

Lilacspecs said...

I lucked out here in that I could get my international drivers license just by turning in my US license. They changed that law like, a week after I turned mine in, so now people have to take the Belgian driving test.
But like you said, everyone here drives a manual and I only know how to drive an automatic so until we a.buy a car or b. can afford lessons for me, my drivers license will be pretty useless.

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

mary - thank you for the tips. I have some friends here who said they will let me drive with them. I've heard some say the manuals are safer because you are in more control and can't get as distracted. You have to pay attention and not zone out when driving. I assume it would be harder to put on make up (something I used to see women and some men do all the time in L.A.) when you're driving a stick. ha

milanese - no more oral exams. Now that the test is offered in several languages we don't have the option as foreigners to take the oral (tears!) An expat friend from the States already knew how to drive a manual so he didn't take any classes. When he went to take the test, the examiner asked the guy from the Autoscuola if my friend had taken any lessons. He didn't pass. Another friend, also knew how to drive stick but she decided to take the classes anyway. The day of the test she was told to drive around the block and park. She received her license.

kim b- you are so right. My "teacher" was one of the coaches. Ask one of your friends to look at their exam books. I don't know if the French test is as hard but I assume it is. I was getting a headache just from learning about the different roads there are. ha

lilacspecs - wow so your trade was for an automatic license. I guess that makes sense but what a pain.

Kataroma said...

Seems like a microcosm of Italian life - lots of expensive red tape and bureaucracy. Millions of rules. But everyone just ignores them. :)

It was kind of hard arriving back in Rome earlier this week after being in NYC where pedestrians are king and there's plenty of room for the stroller (and big elevators - woo hoo!). Here in Rome a woman with a baby stroller is target practice and I constantly get blocked in because cars are parked across pedestrian crossings and the stroller won't fit through. I wonder how the handicapped manage?

There is no way I'd drive here - you're a braver woman than I! I'm waiting to drive again until the beautiful day when we finally escape from Italy.

Anyway good luck on the exam. Like Mary I've heard it's a bad idea to do the exam in English as the translations are terrible and there is no consistency in the words they use. Do it in Italian.

Kataroma said...

ooops - I meant it's better to do the exam in Italian

Kim B. said...

Yes, ironically a few states (fewer than 20, I believe), have a reciprocal agreement with France where if your license is from that state (CO, FL and VA stick in my mind) you can just turn it in and get a French license. Of course tho I'd always lived in VA when living in DC, I actually moved *into* the District last time so rather than having a VA license I have a DC license now -- which, as you guessed, is no good and means I have to do the whole spiel!!! WHAT was I thinking??

It's so bad that my (gay) former boss, when he retired here, went to see his ex-wife in Florida to use her address to get his license so he could get the easy French license!!!!

carrieitly said...

You go girl! I'm milking my international licencse for all it's worth- it's up mid-July I think, and then I'm out of luck and will have to go to Autoscuola and start all over again! I want to hear how you get on!

I'm re-learning manual. It blows. It's what I originally learned on (12 years ago!), but soon after getting my AZ license I switched over to an automatic. My only foray into manual since was a shakey (PHYSICALLY shakey) road trip around Ireland a few years ago. I can't believe I didn't kill my best friend and myself, driving stick, on the wrong side of the road and shifting with my left hand!

FI is patiently "relearning" me on a manual. Most sessions end close to tears. I'm frustrated that something I got the hang of when I was 15 is not coming back to me now!

anna l'americana said...

S. Francesca di Roma as decreed by Pius XI. Ironic, huh? ("Donna al'volante, pericolo costante" they say in Rome). Traditionally (in Rome) St. Christopher for drivers, S. Giuseppe da Copertino for students and test takers. Start saving up for candles!!!!

Oh, boy, I wish you the best of luck. I never passed the exam - even after autoscuola and studying my culo off and after having lived in Rome for 16 years and speaking Italian like a native. I took the written test in Italian, because, after all, I spoke like a native. I missed 2 questions, which was a fail - and here's why. There were colloquialisms that even I didn't understand. When asked, "quando in dosso, e in curva, quale e la mano da tenere?" I didn't understand what was meant by "mano da tenere". They even brought me in and re-asked that question orally. I still didn't get it. And I failed (the other question I missed was a trick question and mechanical in nature). Of course had I known what that meant, I would have answered "a destra" but there you have it. So taking it in Italian may not be the answer for you as you are so new to the language. Because unfortunately, not only do you need to be able to dismantle and re-assemble a vehicle to pass the test, they load the test with trick questions. And ITALIAN colloquialisms (not Roman ones). They even gave me a second chance to answer correctly - this time orally and I still didn't get it and the examiner wasn't about to explain what "mano da tenere" meant, even though I asked.
For those of you non speakers: "When on a hill, in a curve, which side of your lane do you need to hug?" The illustration next to the question showed a single lane road curving to the right. The answer: Hug the right side.
I ask you, what kind of question is that? If you are in your lane, you are in your lane, right? WRONG. The differences are not only in colloquialisms, but the mentality as well. So you may want to take it in English, but I have no experience with that. If you can find the official driver's test study book in an English version it might give you a hint as to how unintelligible the test will be in English.
I ended up stopping in at a AAA office my next visit to the US and picking up an "International Drivers License" which you use with your regular US license and allows you to drive for a limited time - which no one checks. Most vigili have a hard time understanding their own traffic laws much less anything to do with licensing. And if you get picked up or stopped for anything other than a driving violation, no one is going to care if you have a legitimate "patente." It worked for me until I moved back to the US 4 years later - and I OWNED CARS - with insurance - during that time! As of 5 years ago those Int'l licenses were still in use. Don't know about now.
In bocca al lupo........Let us know how it turns out.

J.Doe said...

That's too bad to read that the oral driving test is not given anymore. It was definitely easier then the written. I failed the driving part - not due the car being a manual transmission - but because I started the car wrong. Good luck to you anyway.

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

kataroma - I wonder about the handicap as well. I see in some older buildings (which would be 90% of the ones in the Center) they have a special chair if there is no ramp or elevator. I noticed them on some of the bridges in Venice too. I know how much you hate it here. Do you know when you're leaving and which country you're moving to? In bocca al lupa. I know it's a pain to move internationally. Thanks for the encouragement. I don't know how much I will actually drive here. It's more about getting it over with since my American license will expire and I have no plans to move back to the States.

kim b - I used to have a DC license and dealing with the DMV used to drive me crazy. The folks there were not happy. ha. I don't blame your boss.

carrie - my Int'l license is up in May. I haven't driven once since I arrived in April. Wait a minute you had to shift with your left hand? I guess that makes sense with driving on the other side of the road. The more I think about this driving thing I wish I had bought the boots instead. ha

anna - grazie. I'm thinking S. Giuseppe will make the most sense while I study for the test. Okay your comment had me alternately laughing and freaking out. The textbook is in Italian with English translations. I just looked at the test quiz book, which has questions from the actual test and it's in English with the Italian translations right underneath each question.

Are you telling me that getting only two wrong out of 30 fails you? I think in L.A. it was five out of 30. I can't remember.

j. doe - Yes I've heard the oral was much easier unless you happened to get a very intense examiner. Now that the written is offered in several different languages there is no need for it. What do you mean you started the car wrong? They failed you for that? They wouldn't let you try to start it again?

elizabeth said...

From hearing the travails of my expat friends and the troubles that are inherent in getting international licenses, I can only wish you good luck! :-)

LuLu said...

In bocca al lupo!! :) Please keep us posted on this journey. When I move to Italy I will be looking at getting my license there as well. Would love to know how the experience is for you! :) You will do great!!

glamah16 said...

Ok my comment was lost/ You are brave. Good luck.

anita ovolina said...

Good Luck - I'm from Italy but live in the US now for many years. I'll tell you that test is crazy! Hope it goes well any way!

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

elizabeth - thank you. I need all the positive energy I can get. ha

lulu - grazie. I will be posting about the experience.

glamah16 - thank you.

anita - sigh. I am really going to study and hope for the best. :)

Diana Strinati Baur said...

I will tell you how i passed the german driving test (even harder than the italian).

I got the books and took the test in English. Why put yourself under language pressure for a test like this?

I put every single question in the book on flash cards with the answers on the back. There were 500 of them.

I memorized a group of them a day. i had someone test me daily. The ones i got consistently wrong, I put to the side.

i drilled the ones I got consistently wrong, until I got them consistently right.

I dedicated 6 weeks to this, every day.

of the 700 questions, 30 appeared on test, and i got a score of 30 out of 30.


I learned on a stick, and with the exception of company cars which i drove in LA have always owned standard transmission cars. They are in reality much safer because you can control your speed with both the brakes and by downshifting.

The most important trick to passing the practical is (besides learning to handle the transmission without hanging on the clutch too much) is self confidence.

Taking a test for an an experienced driver is that you have to unlearn your bad habits -- all the little things you do automatically which are not necessarily correct driving practice. I was driving 20 years when I took the german test. While i aced the theory the first time, I flunked the practical the first time beacause my confidence was so low. Don't take the test unless you are feeling really good about yourself!!

good luck....

Diana Strinati Baur said...

sorry, I wrote 700questions in that second point, when i meant to write 500. Five hundred was plenty enough.

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

diana - thank you. The flash card idea is great. Just writing down the questions will help me remember. I'm thinking maybe it's a good thing I haven't been behind the wheel of a car for a while. It might be easier for me to learn on a manual.

Kataroma said...

Diana - that's exactly how I passed the NY bar exam!

Moi said...

I've also heard it's difficult but I'm sure you'll do fine! I remember getting my first car too...I insisted on a manual car and I can't even tell you how many people showed me an automatic just because I was a girl! It made me so mad!!

Jen of A2eatwrite said...

I had to learn to drive manual on the fly (a friend who broke his back needed me to drive his car to get supplies, etc., for him) and it wasn't pretty.

I think the reason we have the focus on automatics is to need more gasoline and make Exxon and Shell happy campers. Ugh.

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

jen - do automatics burn more gas? Hmmm

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

moi - that is very annoying. thanks for the positive vibes.

kataroma - I hear the New York bar is one of the toughest in the country.