I’ll be taking a break from blogging for the next few weeks. My son was born about a week ago and there’s no time for anything but making sure mom and baby are well-fed and taken care of. Expect more activity around the end of January. In the meantime, here’s a photo of the little guy:

Lucas Stresen-Reuter Ramírez

I passed my driving exam and am now a licensed driver here in Spain (and the rest of the European union). In the states such an event would not be worthy of a blog entry but the system here is so expensive and challenging it’s nearly worth an entire web site.

If you’re thinking of moving here and you do not belong to the European union, your current driver’s license will be valid for 6 months, after which time you’ll need to get a Spanish one.

Unlike in the states, to get one, you’ll need to sign up for classes at a driving school because to take the driving test, you need to use a specially equipped car (with pedals on the passenger side) and you need to be accompanied by someone authorized to accompany a non-licensed driver on a test, and the only reasonable way to organize that is by signing up for classes at a driving school, even if you’re already a good driver.

The written test is at least 10 times harder than the tests in the U.S. and written in such a way that it is easy to fail. The actual driving test is also quite stressful, although not nearly as hard as the written test.

In my case the total cost of getting my license, between school and testing fees, was around 360€ (about $400), and that is considered cheap for most people. Each time you go for a practice drive it costs 22€ ($25) and most people are required to take at least 15 classes before being allowed to take the driving test. I only had to take 4.

With all the schools and difficulty of passing the tests and the high costs involved one would think that there are great drivers here, but one would be mistaken.

Make it a tax instead

It has been my impression that the average driver here has much less respect for the law than the average driver in the U.S. They speed, tailgate, run red lights, drive under the influence, talk on their cell phones, honk and waive their hands uncontrollably and park wherever they feel like it, frequently double-parking or blocking the street entirely to take care of business. Furthermore, although I’ve never compared fatalities between Spain and the U.S. (or even just California, which would be a more realistic comparison), it is my impression that fatalities on the road are quite high.

My patience was put to the test when, on the morning of my written test I saw the following just outside the test center: (the square labeled “Tráfico Carcel” – which translates to Traffic Jail – because the place looked like it was once a detention center).

Wrong way down a one-way road

This is a graphic of a road with one lane temporarily closed due to the construction of a building on that side of the street. The dotted line shows the route drivers were taking when confronted with the lane closure. In the 15 minutes I stood outside waiting for the jail, eh, test center to open, I saw at least 20 cars drive the wrong way down what had become a one-way street.

I love the Spaniard’s practical nature: it was a short stretch of street (just over 100 meters) and the detour added at least 2 minutes to the trip. Maybe the authorities should have required the construction company control traffic. Just closing the lane appeared to be insufficient.

On the other hand, imagine my frustration at seeing such flagrant disrespect for the law just as I’m about to be fully subjected to it. Now that I’ve passed all the tests and jumped through all the hoops I don’t have a problem saying this whole process seems to be an obvious waste of everyone’s time and they should just charge a higher tax and follow a different, more direct system for authorizing drivers. The current approach is totally artificial and does little or nothing to imrpove the quality of the drivers or safety on the road.

Bottom line: If you are going to get your driver’s license here, focus, don’t get brought down by the reality of the situation, study, and try to do the whole process in as short a time as possible (which in my case was just under two months – which is also really rare – most people spend six months). You might also find signing up for this web site very useful: todotest.com I took my classes with Autoescuela Mutua where the people were very friendly and the prices affordable (but their web site could be improved). I can recommend them.

BTW, I had to wait between 15 minutes and an hour (which was the case when taking the driving test) before being allowed to take the tests even though I had signed up for a very specific day and time, days or weeks in advance, thus adding credence to the “Spanish are always late” stereotype.

Continue reading

From time to time I’ll be posting pictures and experiences of my life here on the island. The goal is to give you a sense of what it is like to live here, nearly 100 miles of the coast of Africa.

Don Pedro and one of his daughters, Carmelina

Don Pedro

Don Pedro passed away this year. He was 101 years old, on the brink of turning 102. He is survived by about 11 children. His wife passed away 30+ years ago. He was my neighbor for the first two years here and told me stories of swimming in rivers and riding bareback in Cuba in 1921. He was a veterinarian but, like most people living on the island, raised animals to help get by. With 11 children, that shouldn’t come as a surprise. He will be missed.

Pragmatism abounds

sweeping the street

One thing I’ve learned living here is to be far more conservative than I’ve ever been living in the U.S. Living on an island you’re much more aware of acute shortages, or potential shortages, than living on the mainland. This causes people to be very pragmatic. In this picture the woman is using a palm leaf to sweep the ground. In my personal life I’ve learned to turn the water off in the shower while I soap up, turn off the lights if I am not using them at that very moment, buy just enough food for the foreseeable future (so it doesn’t go to waste), and more (but I can’t remember at this time).

Yes, I’m right next to Africa

unusual bug

Having lunch at my in-laws one day we found this funny bug making a home on some flowers. I’ve seen bugs like this in magazines but never in person. He looks like a friendly fellow, but is clearly unlike anything I’ve ever seen in the U.S., which just reminds me the African continent is a mere 80 miles east.

Making do: funny translations

funny translation from spanish to englishchicken food to take away

A huge part of the economy is English-speaking tourism. I choose to believe that these signs are tongue-in-cheek, but they may also be another sign of people with limited resources doing the best they can to get by. After all, I think any native speaker gets the intent of the message…

Breakfast for Lunch at Dinner

breakfast for lunch at dinner

Mmmmmm…. The main meal in Spain is eaten between 2 and 3 PM. This meal, which seems more like breakfast to me, was served around lunch time, but since it is the main meal, it seems more like dinner. Thus, breakfast for lunch at dinner 😉

Bad Drivers 1: No Turn on Red

right on red is prohibited

In Spain it is illegal to turn right on red. It is also illegal to stop inside an intersection. Need I say more?

Bad Driver 2: Just leave it anywhere

parked in the intersection

This driver is parked in the intersection (illegal), but at least he’s not in the crosswalk!

Because there is no accord between Spain and Illinois, it turns out that I have to get a driver’s license from scratch. For most Americans this won’t seem like a big deal, but here it is. It costs at least $400 dollars, requires passing an exam with 40 questions (you can only miss 4) and taking a driver’s test. It also requires getting a certificate of health from a doctor, and the test questions are really, really hard; nothing like what we have in the U.S.

This would lead one to believe that drivers here are extremely well qualified. Nevertheless, as these pictures show, this is not the case. Do I seem bitter? 😉