It was a sweltering August day, just more than a week before the mythical Ferragosto and I was part of the last group to undertake the practical exam before everyone was to go on mandatory hiatus from life. I decided to wear denim cut-offs, a bright pink T-shirt, and platforms. I know my footwear choice seems questionable and in fact, the other examinees were giving me the side eye as we waited, but for whatever reason I’ve found that it’s easier for me to drive a standard with heels. If you’re having difficulty, I suggest giving it a try in your best Jimmy Choos. Keeping the heel in contact with the floor of the car, you can use it as a point of leverage which eases your foot off the clutch and makes gear changes smooth as well as really helps with that dreaded “partenza in salita” (starting the car on a hill).
Much to my dismay, I was not the first student to go. I had arrived more than an hour early to do some last minute driving around with my instructor Beppe. What this really entailed was him ditching me to go for coffee with the examiner and other instructors and once we did hop in the car, we stealthily and in full Italian-style, followed the exam cars around to get a glimpse of what we were up against. This was further augmented by a phone call every 30 minutes where the other instructors would phone Beppe to give him a run-down of where they had gone and what the examiner had asked. When Beppe noticed my nerves, he told me that I could watch him during the exam and proceeded to explain the various “signs” he would give me during my parking: looking out the window = keep backing up, turning his head forward = stop, tilting to the left = you’re good to go! I have to say, I love this about Italy.
While waiting for my turn, I got more and more nervous as each teenage girl that hopped out flashed an “I passed bitches” smile. When it was finally my turn, I thought I would turn on the charm and compliment my Roman examiner on being from Rome. This was met with a one word answer and an eyebrow raise. I decided to shut up and drive. Not one soul talked to me after that, where they would have lunch afterwards was their main topic of discussion. After an “inversione di marcia” (I can’t remember the technical name for this in English but it’s that one where you turn your car around at a dead end by going forward, then backward, then forward again), a parallel park that was masterful, a mini partenza in salita where I almost stalled, and a quick loop around two roundabouts where I actually did stall momentarily for a millisecond, we were back at our starting point. No one said anything except for the Roman examiner who let out a cryptic “è bella decisa la signorina”. This was followed by more silence as he ruffled papers in the background and Beppe got out of the car leaving me solo with all the anxiety in the world and the Roman eyebrow guy. Finally I decided to turn around and peek at what he was doing and he handed me my license, fully printed and ready to go. He said nothing, not even congratulations. I wanted to hug and kiss him. I got out of the car and promptly hugged and kissed Beppe and resisted the urge to take a selfie as I thought that might look unprofessional. And just like that, it was over. Six months of agony later, I was holding what felt like Willy Wonka’s Golden Ticket, the metaphorical key to a lifetime of happiness minus the lick-able wallpaper. As I walked shakily to the sidewalk, two 18 year old boys waiting their turn approached me for insider info that I happily divulged, flushed and running on an adrenaline I hadn’t felt since the time I went bungee-jumping. Once I messaged every single person I’ve ever known in my life, I sat alone a little bench, changed shoes and began the long walk home. I couldn’t help but think, in some corny way, how this entire experience was worth it. From the moment I hesitantly walked into the autoscuola to this one, I had successfully gone through a typically Italian rite of passage. I felt one with the Italian universe, in some way solidifying my feeling of belonging. Every person in a car I pass, I feel a kindred connection too. I did what you did. I’ve been there too. I sat in those crooked desks that aren’t kind to you if your BMI is not perfect, I read 300 pages of mainly superfluous information about vehicles I will never drive… I walked through that fire and came out and so I belong to Italy too.
Some excellent blogs about getting a driver’s license in Italy:
License to drive | The Florentine
Getting an Italian Driver's License - Tenuta San Carlo
How to get a driver's license in Italy: Part 1
How to Get an Italian Driver's License - From Italy, With Love
Italianista's Guide to Getting Your Driver's License in Italy
How to get an Italian driver's license - The Limonata Lounge