Thursday, November 12, 2009

“L” Stands for “Learner”

Driving is one of those luxuries that most of us look forward to doing when we’re young. In the U.S., we can’t wait to turn 16 and get that piece of plastic that shows that we are now free to cruise the world- or at least our town. We learn the theory, practice the annoying parallel parking over and over, take the test, pay the 25 bucks and we’re off, right? No big deal! Well, if it only were that easy in Spain…

Depending on how smart you are and how much time you can dedicate to getting this piece of plastic, the process can take months. First, you have to find an autoescuela (driving school) that isn’t going to rip you off so that you can learn the theory. Sure, you could study it on your own, but since the test tends to have trick questions on it, you’re better off going to the autoescuela to beat the system by memorizing these tricky questions. After you pay your $300 (if you get a good deal), study the huge book backwards and forwards, and take a million practice tests, you’re ready to take the theory test. Don’t worry, you have a total of three tries to use toward both your theory and practice tests. The worst that can happen is that you’ll have to dish out another few hundred bucks. So, you go take your theory test with a bunch of other strangers and anxiously wait for your results. Thankfully, I did pass this test with only one error, which meant I had two tries for the practice test.

It is now time to take your driving lessons. Never mind the fact that you’ve been driving for years. You are still a learner here and we like your money! The thing is that you have to use an autoescuela car when you take your driving test because it is equipped with the necessary pedals so that your teacher, sitting in the front passenger seat, can save you from doing something stupid. As you can see, this business is a money-making machine in Spain! So, you dish out more money (usually about 30€ for a 45 minute class), and practice until you’re ready. Now, the point here is not only to learn how to drive responsibly and safe, but mostly to learn the tricky spots in the city that your examiner may take you by on the date of your exam. So much for defensive driving. Fast forward a couple hundred euros later and you’re ready to take your exam. You get up early, wait in line with dozens of other students from other autoescuelas, and you hop in the car with your teacher, the examiner, and another student also hoping to pass the test. No pressure or anything! Thankfully, and I think because of my past experience driving, I was the only one out of the four in my class that passed the test. Relief!

So now I can legally drive in Spain and will soon get my official, Spanish driving license that I fought for with blood, sweat, and mostly money. There is no way around it and we knew that we would just have to suck it up and pay if we wanted to drive here. Now it’s B.J.’s turn. The only thing is that, for the next year, I will have to drive no faster than 80 Km/h (about 50 miles/hour) and with an “L” for “Learner” (not for “Loser”) sign on the back of my car to warn others that I am a novice. It reminds me that I am a learner at so many things in this journey of life, especially as new a missionary to Spain. I’m glad I’m given this year to learn more about how things work here and what things to avoid so that I am a light that guides people toward Jesus and not a blinding light. In the end, we’re all learners in this life, and it may not be a bad idea to warn people by wearing “L” signs on our back!