What it feels like to be tricked by new businesses

What it feels like to be tricked by new businesses

In the past year the first two electric car rental companies opened up in Madrid. Last year, Car2go was launched charging customers 19 Euro cents a minute. This year, a similar agency called Emov appeared in our lives offering the same rate but with a couple more benefits. Both agencies let you pick up any of their cars with a drop of a hat and return the car anywhere within the perimeter they’ve set out in the city. The unfortunate part of this story is that the first agency, Car2go, increased its rates to 21 cents after Emov was introduced. By this time it had accumulated enough customers and won their loyalty so it was a wise business move, I understand. A 2 cent increment isn’t much, I know, but it’s the principle of it that makes me less inclined to use its services. In fact, I refuse to rent from the company. As if that weren’t enough, subsequently Emov increased its prices too, to a whopping 25 cents a minute. Call me a rebel for saying so, but what a significant hike that is in so short a time (4 months). I’ve lost all interest in renting out either agencies’ cars. Is this considered boycotting? Probably. I know businesses increase their rates all the time, but really. Really. It’s not cool to increase your prices shortly after¬†introducing your business and winning loyalty from new customers. From an opinion of a former electric car renter enthusiast, I must admit that I am disappointed.

I invite you to argue my point. If you don’t agree with me blacklisting those two companies, then tell me why. I doubt you’d be able to change my mind but I’d like to see you try ūüôā

Signing off-

Shamim Sobhani

 

Renting a bike is as easy as 1, 2, 3

Renting a bike is as easy as 1, 2, 3

The other day I wrote about how to avoid accidents with electric bike rentals in the city of Madrid.

So how does one actually rent out these bikes?

  1. Visit their website, BiciMad 
  2. Register and plug in your credit card information
  3. Receive a code in your phone
  4. Plug in the code into the machine at a physical bike rental station and a physical plastic card pops out for you to keep
  5. To rent a bike, swipe this card at any of the rental stations that has available bikes

You can rent from any station where there¬īs an availability of bikes as long as you have enough credit in your balance. Download the BiciMad application onto your phone so that you can see a map of the stations. It costs roughly 40-50 cents per half  hour and 1 Euros per hour. If you go over your time limit (2 hours), there¬īs a 4 Euro fine per hour from that moment onward. As long as you make sure you place the bike back when you¬īre finished with it into the slot at a station which has an available slot, and it won¬īt come back out, then you¬īre good!

Tourists can also rent out bikes but the rules are stricter and they go by a slightly different process.

Signing off-

Shamim Sobhani

 

What’s it like living in Spain…

What’s it like living in Spain…

I’ve got to follow up on my recent post, Expat Coffee Talk – these are the days of our L.I.V.E.S.¬†mainly because I promised you I would. But you have to read the post above, otherwise you won’t get any of what I’m about to share with you.

So what I can tell you is that the style of life in Spain is pretty much a completely different experience than that of Canada. I’m going to throw in the United States of America just because. I also happen to like the US (minus a few things to obvious to mention); it’s our sister nation so I don’t want to leave it out.

Before I continue, let me just say that I’ve been assumed to be American too many a time because people here me speaking English here. Because of that, too, I’ll be including the US in this post as well.

I’d also like to say that when I’m talking about Spain in this post, it’s always going to be about Madrid the city, unless I say otherwise. I live in Madrid, so I figure it makes sense.

One thing that pretty much differentiates Spain from Canada and most American cities are the beautiful¬†palm trees. Need I continue? I could stop right there because that’s a big difference in alone. I live in a city, a pretty big one, and there are actual palm trees here. It’s so nice to see them. I, as a “cold” Canadian, think it’s pretty cool.

Sun. Say the word¬†out loud, nay, merely think it, and you’ll have the sun at the back of your hands for days on end. You know what the even cooler thing is? That I’m not even talking about summer. In winter there is sun for what seems forever, day after day after day. Why call the season winter even, when my cold Canadian heart knows what real winter means in Canada? You want to talk about sun in the summer in Spain? Please, brace yourself because what I’m about to say is going to make you want to drop everything in North America and come here: The sun is around for weeks, weeks, and weeks on end. What does that look like? Come 8am, say good morning to the sun and expect it to stick around until the wee hours of night. I feel like it’s 5pm, as I’m originally from¬†Halifax, but when I look at my watch it’s actually 10:30pm Spain time. It makes me feel like there’s something wrong with that picture. Let’s give it up for the Spanish dictator “_______” for doing something interesting in a positive way. You know what they about sun: less seasonal depression in Spain because we see the sun all year round. I just made that up, but it’s got to be true.

The list goes on, quite well, I may add. Stay tuned.

Palm trees and sunny days. This is the Spanish craze.

Signing off-

Shamim Sobhani

 

 

 

Expat Coffee Talk – these are the days of our L.I.V.E.S.

Expat Coffee Talk – these are the days of our L.I.V.E.S.

This post has been brought to you by the Chronicles of LIVES – Living in Very Entertaining Situations.

I’m a Canadian who lives¬†in Spain. Forget about the “Canadian” part for a moment. I’m an expat who has chosen to live in a land far, far away that isn’t my home country. Are you American, Australian or from another part of the world and have always wondered why people like me leave their country of origin to go live somewhere else?

Maybe you’re that person that only travels to¬†other countries to spend time on the¬†beaches, a.k.a. all inclusive resorts. If you are then perhaps¬†you’ve¬†asked your expat friends when they’re planning on returning to their country of origin, because surely, they don’t plan on being away from “home” forever….right? “What about being close to your family?” “Raising your kids?” No? Ok, ok, well, I hope I’m wrong. One thing is someone¬†growing up with the same friends all their¬†life, getting married in the same town, having kids in the same town, and having the same job in the same town, but another thing is being presumptuous and expecting everyone else to do all that. There are friends who grow up in the same city and travel to places like Punta Cana and Riviera Maya, and believe that they’ve seen the country, or *cough* *cough* the world.

I digress.

It could be that our expat friends who live away from their country of their upbringing call their new residence “home”. Thank goodness for the existence of diversity of thoughts because I’m an expat and do not call my country of residence “home”. I’m fortunate to be able to call both Canada AND Spain my home. What, you think that just because I’ve left my native land I don’t think of it as “home” anymore? Or just because I’m a foreigner in Spain means that I can’t¬†call it “home”? I actually feel comfortable calling two completely different countries “home” because I’ve been lead to feel that way. Plus, it’s a complicated way of life and I like it ūüôā

Maybe you have expat friends who believe that there are no such thing as borders along countries, that if they feel like living elsewhere then they will go do it.

I always wondered how expats do it. Do they just wake up one day and say that they feel like picking up their stuff and moving to a foreign country? What if they don’t even speak the language? What then?

Do expats move to be adventurous? Or because they are adventurous? If by adventurous they mean that they’ve been treated differently because they’re not from that country, or misunderstood because it’s not their native language, then I’ve been there! Like I said, my way of living is complicated but I always feel like it was worth the move.

So, what’s it like living in Spain? I’ll have to leave that topic for another time now, so feel free to stay tuned.

Signing off,

Shamim Sobhani

 

Photo courtesy of Utomo Hendra Saputra

 

A Discourse on Coffee Break

A Discourse on Coffee Break

In a follow-up to my latest post¬†From Canada to Europe. Reflections of an expat,¬†I wanted to share¬†an anecdote about a cultural experience. Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you weren’t sure how to act? Living in Spain, I’ve witnessed that Spanish people¬†appreciate time spent with friends. It’s appreciated even more¬†when you’re a foreigner and you try to include yourself in social gatherings. It shows that you care about getting to know them. In my case it hasn’t been any different. I work at a job in Spain where my co-workers appreciate it when I spend¬†my coffee break with them, especially if they invite me. It’s almost a rule of thumb to not refuse an offer like that. “Coffee break” isn’t limited to coffee only. It’s more about drinking something or having a snack with them. To me this means that the Spanish value “people” time. Coffee breaks also provide a space for building and strengthening relationships. I’m all for that. However, I’ve come to face a small dilemma:¬†I’m a busy body and have recently been working on several projects simultaneously (and I enjoy all of them), and so¬†I like to take advantage of the little free time I have and work on them during my breaks. This doesn’t mean that I don’t like spending time with my co-workers; it just means that I like to be efficient. This is a¬†difference I’ve noticed between the Canadian/American culture and the Spanish culture. I’m aware that my¬†co-workers may¬†notice when¬†I¬īm not around during our breaks, so I thought a temporary solution would be to divide my free time or coffee breaks between my co-workers and my projects. I also thought of getting more data so that I could be around my co-workers¬†while working on my cell phone instead of having to use a computer in a separate office. I wouldn’t want to push anyone’s sensitive button! Is there anyone out there who feels like there could be a better solution? Do you agree with me? Your opinions are welcome!

Singing off –

Shamim Sobhani

 

The featured image is courtesy of Daria Nepriakhina.

10 steps to make the process of obtaining a Spanish driver’s licence easier for foreigners

10 steps to make the process of obtaining a Spanish driver’s licence easier for foreigners

I moved to Spain a few years ago not quite knowing my long term plan, but I thought, “Hey, why not buy a car in the future?” However, I discovered that¬†as a Canadian, I must, within six months of having obtained residency in Spain, get¬†a Spanish driver‚Äôs licence. ¬†I couldn’t just use my Canadian license to drive. “Isn’t that just great?”, I thought.¬†So, like any new driver, I had¬†to¬†comply with all the requirements for obtaining a Spanish driver‚Äôs licence which included passing both the written test and the driving test. This¬†permits me to legally drive in this country (and in the EU). I got motivated, somehow (thank you Groupon), approached a driving school in my neighbourhood and signed myself up (Autoescuela Gala). Driving schools are abundant throughout the country. All I had to do was sign up, read the theory¬†and take a few driving classes around the city. It all sounds easy, especially since I have a Canadian driver’s license, right? Wrong. So wrong. That’s why I’m going to help you lessen the stress in¬†obtaining¬†a¬†Spanish driver’s license.

Step 1: Choose a driving school

Walk into some driving schools in your neighbourhood. Your decision on which driving school is best suited for you should be based on customer service, meaning, the employees ¬†should treat you well and be patient with answering all your questions. After all, you will be spending a good amount of time talking with¬†them, making sure all your questions are answered and that you’re clear on the information. They will be the ones you will deal from the time you sign up until after you pass your practical driving exam (yes, there’s more after¬†obtaining your license which¬†I will disclose later on). In the end, all driving schools offer the same goal: to get your license, but decent customer service will make the process less of a headache, so if you get a good feeling from the secretary, then go for that school! If it weren’t for Groupon, I would have missed out on the great customer service from the secretary of the driving school, Gala.

Step 2: Inquire about study material language options

Before registering at the driving school, I inquired about whether or not it¬†offered the material and exams in English. English is the safest option if your level of Spanish is next to zero. Note: Whatever language you decide on will be the one you will take your written test¬†in. My particular school¬†offers study materials in both Spanish and English (and if I’m not mistaken, Chinese and other languages). However, the driving school themselves told me that their English materials were not a good translation of¬†the original Spanish ones, so I took the Spanish option, and because the level of my Spanish is adequate. The English option was more expensive anyway. If you’re competent in¬†Spanish, it’s more useful to study and take the written test in¬†Spanish because, after all, the signs on the roads are in Spanish (ok, except for the “stop” sign).

Step 3: Manual vs. automatic

Do you know how to drive a manual transmission? If not, ask the driving school if they have an automatic car available, because most schools are limited to manual cars only. My school had one automatic vehicle which¬†was shared between its franchises in the entire city of Madrid. If you want, you can choose to take your classes¬†with an automatic car provided your driving school is in possession of one. It’s more expensive, though. Whichever of the two you choose will be that same physical car on d-day (when you take ¬†the driving test).¬†WARNING: If you decide on the automatic transmission, however, your Spanish license will limit¬†you to drive automatic cars ONLY. If you decide on the manual transmission, then you will be allowed to drive both an automatic and a manual car.

Step 4: Inquire about a virtual driving simulator

Driving simulator.jpg
Something like this except you’d be sitting in a seat with 3 big monitors in front of you, a steering wheel, pedals, and clutch

More and more driving schools are beginning to have virtual driving simulator machines . This helped me tremendously because I never drove a manual transmission car so it soothed my nerves a bit because I knew that I wouldn’t kill anyone or actually crash into something real. Furthermore, taking classes on a simulator is cheaper than driving classes¬†in an actual car on the street. My first 10 lessons were on a simulator. By the time I began classes¬†in a real car, I knew how to handle the clutch and stick shift more or less. It can be tricky driving with a manual for the first time in Madrid due to the quantity of drivers and each one driving according to their own rules and regulations. The simulator is not meant to substitute real life driving. Use it only at the beginning.

Step 5: Fees, fees and more fees

We’re not made of money, but it appears that we are to driving schools. Let¬īs face it, they are money-making businesses. Make sure you know exactly how much the registration fee and exams cost. Driving schools will make you pay for the written and driving test¬†in advance –¬†at the time of paying the¬†registration fee. If you do not pass a test, you will be required to pay part of or the full price again. You will also be required to obtain¬†a medical and psycho-technical certificate which costs between¬†35-50 Euros. Usually driving schools include a few driving lessons in their package, and if they don’t, then call them out on it because with high fees like that, you deserve some free driving lessons.¬†Be prepared to invest between 700-1200 Euros in obtaining your license from start to finish.

Step¬†6:¬†Avoid delaying once you’ve started studying

procrastination.jpg

The time it will take you to obtain the license purely depends on you and how much time you are willing¬†to dedicate on¬†studying for the tests. I got the license in a span of several months because during the summer there are less tests¬†and the driving school and the place where tests are carried out¬†shut down¬†in¬†August. It could get ugly if employees don’t get their beach time. Once you’ve started studying for the written test, take the exam as soon as you feel prepared, because you still have the driving test¬†to pass. Plus, you’ll need to remember a few things from the driver’s handbook for the driving test.

Step 7: What you need to know about the written test on the day of your test

Desktop written tests.jpg

The written test¬†is taken on a computer in a room filled with a couple hundred people. If you consider cheating, forget it, because the people beside you will have a different version of the test. The computers are touch screen, meaning, you use your fingers to maneuver through the questions. There are¬†30 questions and your time limit is 30 minutes, which, if you know your material well enough, should be more than enough time to complete the test. If you get stuck, try your luck and raise your hand and ask one of the invigilators walking around¬†to clarify a question for you. They¬†usually have no problem with this, and they almost feel sorry for you when they notice that you’re not Spanish (from your accent), so they may be nice enough to give away a hint, discreetly. If you fail the written test, once, twice or more, don’t worry, this happens to many people. Some questions are structured to trick you, and it could be challenging even if your mother tongue is Spanish.

Step 8: Congratulations! Now, practice driving.

After you pass the written test, the next step¬†is to prepare for and pass the driving test. I recommend on taking some driving classes in the city of Alcorcon or M√≥stoles, since they are¬†where the tests take place. They’re about 30 km from¬†the city of Madrid. You can take public transportation to get to one of your driving school franchises there. You will never be examined in the city of Madrid. Not only will it be a tad easier to practice driving in those areas because they are much smaller than Madrid, but you will get to see the roads and experience driving in the areas where the actual tests¬†take place. For instance, the test¬†areas (Alcorcon and M√≥stoles) have lots of roundabouts (rotaries and traffic circles), whereas the city of Madrid has more stop signs and traffic lights. If you fail your driving test¬†once or multiple times, keep trying. Each examiner is different and they are infamous for their arbitrary ways of grading you, plus, it depends on their mood. Driving tests¬†is a business in itself, so it’s to their benefit that they fail students. What’s that you say? You know how to drive and you already have a driver’s license from another country? I’m sorry, but that doesn’t mean anything here. So buckle up, and put your pride aside.

Step 9: Getting to the driving examination location (DGT, 

Centro de examenes de Móstoles) from the city of Madrid

Screen Shot 2016-12-10 at 8.54.10 PM.png
This map shows how you can walk to the nearest bus stop to return to Madrid

Don’t forget to check that you’re wearing pants before yo leave your home. It could¬†be quite embarrassing; at least it was for me (I’m kidding – that never happened to me). I did, however, lose a heel from my boot on the morning of my exam, but luckily I had an extra pair of shoes¬†at work (I’m not kidding about this). It popped off while I was catching the subway.

The examination centre, otherwise known as DGT, is located¬†in¬†M√≥stoles. If you’re departing¬†from Madrid, the easiest and most straightforward mode of public transportation is to catch an intercity bus, number 522, from a bus station called Principe Pio, and your stop is called “Pistas DGT”. If you’re looking for directions on how to get there by car, then what are you doing reading this post? It’s a¬†20 minute bus ride. You know you’re close when the bus goes through the famous¬†roundabout called “Plaza de Toros”. Ring the bell as soon as the bus gets on the bridge and get off at the first stop after the bridge. You¬†have to follow a path that looks like no-man’s land. 5 minutes later you’ll arrive to the DGT building. You’ll notice a lot of parking lots. If you get lost, ask anyone where “DGT Centro de examines” is.

Step 10: What to expect during the driving exam 

You will be taking the test in the same car you will have been practicing in (hopefully not more than 2 months will have passed by since you started driving classes), except that on this it will be crammed with people: the driving examiner, your instructor, and another student or two. Yes, you¬†will witness other students’ tests. Before the examiner asks you to pop¬†the hood and challenges¬†you on the mechanics of the vehicle, he may ask you and the other students your preference of order. If I were you I’d¬†pipe up and volunteer yourself, so that you can go on your merry way and have your breakfast afterward. At least that was my examiner’s way of thinking. He complained to everyone in the car that he would like nothing more than to get the test over with so that he could have his breakfast. I shuddered to think what could¬†happen to him if he missed one of his many, many coffee breaks that morning. Poor man. Anyway, once you finish your test, the examiner will tell your instructor if you passed or failed your test. I assume they don’t tell the students themselves because they want to live to see their next coffee break¬†in case they “have” to fail you.

Congratulations in advance for passing! You will need this motivation because even with the help¬†above, challenges will hit your from side to side. You will be that much less richer, but at least you will have¬†overcome a hurdle and will be able to drive legally in Spain. It’ll be¬†a great relief. It was for me!

As I alluded to earlier, once you have your Spanish license, there’s more to be done. Stay tuned for that next time!

Signing off¬†–

Shamim Sobhani