Life from an outsider's perspective…

Mission Impossible: Driving in Spain, a rite of initiation.

Learning to drive in Spain, the most difficult driving test in the world. Driving examination, driving test, spanish driving licenceIn many cultures, the passage of childhood through adulthood is defined by various types of initiation cermonies or “rites of passage”. In Vanuatu they exchange pigs, mats, kava, and other goods between a child’s father’s and mother’s families. In indigenous Australian and African tribes, they perform face painting rituals and circumcisions. Similarly, throughout Melanesia and Polynesia, tattoos are used to symbolise the same transition.

Here in Spain, that same journey is marked by the ability of an adolescent to endure the official vehicle licensing beauracracy. In a word, it can only be described as exasperating. Now I actually relish challenges, but I had no idea what I was getting myself into…

“There are few things in life as difficult or intimidating as getting a Spanish driver’s license,” says American expat Sal DeTraglia of Sal DeTraglia’s Virtual Tapas Bar. “It is a process akin to trying to solve Fermat’s last theorem while sitting on death row in a Texas prison. If you don’t believe me, just ask anyone who has been through it.”

The Spanish learner driving scheme is considered by many to be one of the most difficult of all European countries; while Tenerife is said to be the most difficult of all provinces! Hence it comes as no suprise that one local legend associated with this rite of passage has fostered. She is known to those all over the island who have ever attempted the spanish driving exam… behold, because what you are about to read is no myth: this female apparition is the most detested, most despised, most viled of all that walks mother Earth.

Colloquially known as “El Thacher”, local legend has it that no one, I repeat, no one, is known to have ever passed one of her exams on the first attempt. I suppose it’s not difficult to see where the name came from – the nickname being a reference to Margaret Thatcher, the ex-priminster of England, a hard-line woman if ever there was one. Just ask anyone who has attempted the driving exam in the last 10 or twenty years if you don’t believe me. Suspensions are frequent, rapid and without warning. 

No I’m not joking, I witnessed her with my own two eyes. Some only know her by name, but yesterday I happened to witness the infamous “El Thatcher” as I was about to start my own examination (all four of us in the car). Pen in hand, ready and waiting for the traffic to dispell. Wry little smile, secretly enjoying every moment I suspect. I even asked my instructor if it was true. He just murmered in the affirmative.

Now as a proud and triumphent ex-student (yes I finally bloody passed), my vote is cast: Spain, and in particular the province of Tenerife located in the Canary Islands, wins hands down when it comes to the world’s most difficult driving test. Hell, local residents even smuggle in comprehensive cheat sheets to help them pass driving theory test, which is set in a large examination hall just like a university exam!

This transition to adulthood is exceedingly difficult in Western societies because there are no systems of adulthood rites to systematically guide and direct the young person through this important stage in his or her life cycle.  In Western culture adulthood is seen as a status achieved at the age of 18 or 21, or simply when the person graduates from high school.  Unfortunately, in most cases there is no fundamental guidance or transformation from a child to an adult that is required or expected.  This “leave it for chance” approach to adulthood development is the root of most teenage and youth “adult” confusion, chaos, and uncertainty.  When the youth reach a certain age, somehow they are expected to magically transformed into an “adult,” eventhough they often receive very little guidance.On the other hand, African societies systematically initiate boys and girls.  They often take the young initiates out of the community, and away from the concerns of everyday life, to teach them all the ways of adulthood: including the rules and taboos of the society; moral instruction and social responsibility; and further clarification of his/her mission or calling in life.

7 Responses to “Mission Impossible: Driving in Spain, a rite of initiation.”

  1. I am currently trying to get my spanish driving licence, I passed the theoretrical a couple of weeks ago, and now will take the practical next week – i am 36 years old and have been driving for 18 years (in australia, a country whose licence is worthless here), and it has been an absolute nightmare, i really wouldnt wish it on anyone. The hurdles are endless, it is expensive (over 1000 euros), and after it all, spanish drivers dont even drive well.

  2. I too am Australian!

    Well done with the theory exam! But don’t expect to pass the practical test the first go, even if you have decades of prior driving experience.

    You see, you’ve probably picked up a load of ‘bad habits’ over the years which the driving schools will no doubt capitalise upon.

    But I like to look on the bright side… it makes you appreciate how difficult it is for all expatriates when they move to another country. No we’re seeing this from another angle. At least English & Spanish shares the same alphabet…

    But what I really don’t understand is why we don’t have more ties with England. We have the Union Jack printed clearly on the corner our flag after all… and yet any non-English speaking European can drive over there without any fuss at all. If we’re still part of the British monarchy, why can’t our license then count as being part of the EU?

  3. well i agreed with you i passed the theory exam and now since i have passed it i have not been able to pass the practical exam am going in for the third time

  4. Hi

    I live in tenerife and i also am trying to pass the spanish theory test, this will now be my second time in taking the course. What exacly do you mean comprehensive cheat sheets, even if they did smuggle them in how do they know what the questions will be.

  5. I don’t understand what that horrific cartoon has to do with driving in Spain.

  6. Absolutely nothing. That’s why I’m going to change it for you…

  7. You can take the Theory Exam in English, but its British english. Dual Carriage Way, Boot, Bonnet etc. A little hard for us Americans. You can purchase from the driving school books with 20 practice exams of 30 questions each. When you’ve mastered that you should passed the exam missing only 1 or 2 trick Questions. Th Practical Exam is all about the Luck of the Draw in getting a good examiner. My friend took it the week before me. They came to a point where in the right lane you could take the freeway to Gaualajara, in the left lane to Madrid. He stayed in the right lane like your supposed to. At the last second the examiner said go to Madrid. He changed lane crossing over the solid line and failed the test. The next week I took the test with the same examiner. At the last second when he said Madrid I jerked the wheel and got into the lane without crossing the solid line. I failed for jerking the car. Three weeks later I took the test with a sweet old lady and passed with out any problems.

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