Trying to temporarily adjust to how things work in Halifax while I’m back visiting for a few weeks, I discovered today that waving down buses isn’t necessary. I’m so used to doing it in Madrid that I carry the habit with me everywhere I go. It’s difficult to keep up with the complexities of an ever-changing, every growing metropolitan city like Halifax because it’s been just shy of two decades since I lived here. Also I can’t remember how everything works here.
Something else I discovered today was some beautiful shops along one of the streets in downtown Halifax. Pretty flowers adorn the outside. Some of them consignments shops, and others are cafe and restaurants, one of which is Turkish called Lemon Tree. I’ll be visiting there soon. Yum yum Red Lentil soup. Thank you Istanbul for opening my eyes to that utmost tasty dish.
Another pleasant place I visited was the Public Gardens where I had a nice “coffee” lunch at 12:30pm. I don’t have lunch till 2pm in Spain so I’m not used to eating early here. The ducks were hanging out at the pond, prepared to give them food, which I didn’t. They’d all flock towards me if I had.
This post has been brought to you by the Chronicles of LIVES: Living in Very Entertaining Situations, while living abroad.
I get off the bus at the same stop as I have been the last 5 years, every Monday to Friday. As I enter a green, quaint, residential area, I see parents and children walk in the same direction, some wave at me, others smile and say hello or “Buenos dias”. My face lights up as I see all these people, children and adults alike. “What am I, a Canadian expat, doing in Madrid?” I still ask myself from time to time.
As I walk through the door, I sign my name on the sign in sheet, and make my way to my still-empty classroom. I hang up my coat and paraphernalia, wash my hands (because after taking the subway and the bus, I’ve been in contact secondhand with hundreds of people), touch up with some hand creme, take a gulp of water for a hydration boost, and I enthusiastically go back to the front entrance and start greeting students and parents walking into the school. I say “Hi” and “Hello”, and whatever else that I come up with impulsively. A kid clasps onto my hand and I guide her into her classroom. I go back to the lobby and walk another 2 year old and 3 year old, and more, to their classroom. Every time I leave them with their teacher the other toddlers try to throw themselves at me from excitement of seeing me (and me them). I instantly feel grateful for having this job.
Can you guess what I do?
No, I don’t just greet children and their parents and take the children to their classrooms (although it’s so fun doing it). That’s part of my job. I’m a language teacher for babies, toddlers and children who are short a few months of losing their first tooth. It’s an adventure every day and there’s never a dull moment.
I can’t imagine doing anything else in my life at the moment because I love what I do so much. Sure, I had other plans and ideas of what I’d imagine myself working as when I was in university, but reality doesn’t always reflect our plans. I don’t regret any of the decisions I made leading up to this day, and every day I’ve lived in Spain so far. Am I lucky? Do I deserve it? Is it fate? All I know is that I waking up looking forward to my day and going to work has had a lot to do with it. That and working really hard. But because I’m happy with my job, it makes working hard feel faint.
Sometimes what we plan doesn’t exactly pan out the way we expect, but life isn’t about planning…
…it’s about living.
Signing off –
Photo credit: Luca Upper @lucistan
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’s 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’s 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
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´s 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
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
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 Móstoles, 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 Móstoles) 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
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 Móstoles. 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!