Italian driving school, or “scuola guida”, is a required part of getting your Italian driver’s license if you are an American becoming a resident in Italy. There simply is no way around it – well, at least not that I am aware. Be sure to research finding the right school and instructors (theoretical and practical). Don’t take this part lightly, and be sure to get recommendations from people who actually have attended a particular school. You’re going to be spending a lot of time with these folks.
Your faithful companions on your to journey getting your license are the Italian driver’s manual, and the accompanying workbook. Yes, make them your friends, even though you will probably be incredibly overwhelmed when they are placed in your hands by your driving instructor. When I first attended driving school and received my copies (on loan from the school for the duration of the course), I perused the manual, gulped, and tried to breathe. Never before in my time in the States had I seen a driving manual so thick and so comprehensive. “Surely I can’t be expected to know all of this!” I exclaimed to myself, as if to repel a dark force coming over me. Well, I WAS expected to know all of “this” if I wanted to get an Italian driver’s license.
I heard little of the first class I was attending, because I was busy trying to figure out what I had to learn and how I was going to do it. I am one of those creative types who have a balance of left and right brain skills – which means I pride myself on creatively approaching a challenge, while simultaneously needing a linear plan for reaching the finish line. Class was not the place to figure this out. I needed to be safely at home with quietude.
Studying for the Italian driver’s exam will take a lot of time…that is, if you want to feel confident of passing your first time. Remember, many Italians don’t pass the exam the first time so it’s not simply a matter of clearing the language hurdle. A mountain of signs, road rules, technical workings of the engine and brakes, etc. all require that you learn and retain the particularities of driving legalities in Italy. And, each and every exam administered on the computer is a unique combination of randomly generated questions (a set number from each general category) – translation: no two exams are the same. And, so many variations of how the same information can be asked lead to more than 3,000 possible exam questions.
Before you freak, as I did, there IS good news.
Once you have studiously absorbed the Italian driver’s manual, and familiarized yourself with a wide array of possible questions, you’ll be ready for the written Italian driving exam. The exam is made up of 40 true/false questions, all randomly generated by the computer, and drawing from defined categories. For instance, you will always get a couple of questions pertaining to right of way at an intersection (with overhead diagrams). You’ll also get questions about primo soccorso, first aid. In other words, you need to have studied all of the sections in the manual. You are allowed up to four mistakes – any more, you fail and you will have to take the test again, after waiting at least a month. If you fail the test more than two to three times (I don’t remember the exact details) you may find yourself back at square one for paying fees and going through all the other steps in the process.
When I went for my test, my instructor drove me to the testing place in Perugia, and my partner came along to cheerlead and provide moral support. My instructor quizzed me during the drive, and gave me some important last minute pointers – especially concerning certain terminology used in questions designed to trip you up. Believe me, while studying the pool of over 3,000 possible questions, I had imagined a malicious group of testing “engineers” gleefully rubbing their hands together as they designed a boatload of trick questions.
Silly, naive me….I thought getting past the written driver’s exam would be my biggest hurdle. And, it probably was, from the sheer effort and time needed to succeed. However, the most taxing emotional and psychological hurdles were the required practical driving lessons for an Italian license. I feel compelled to reiterate my advice (in another post) to be serious about getting references from people who have already attended a driving school you are considering. Here’s why:
I’m going to call my practical driving instructor “Benito”, so as to protect his identity – especially since I would never have agreed to take lessons with him had I glimpsed what sitting in a driving-school car with him on six separate occasions would entail.
Once you are the proud owner of an Italian driver’s license, you may be asking yourself “Do I keep my U.S. driver’s license?” I must stress, and add a disclaimer, these are only my opinions and thoughts, and you are responsible for following the laws specific to your own situation.
Once you become a resident of Italy, and after your first year, you are required by law to be driving under the authority of an Italian driver’s license. Then, you will have a decision to make regarding your state driver’s license from the U.S. If you are maintaining a residence (especially if you own property) back in the U.S., along with your Italian residency, it might make an easier argument for keeping your U.S. driver’s license. If you don’t have a residence or own property back in the States, you might be walking on shaky ground if you renew your U.S. driver’s license. Many states expect you to surrender your license when you have established residency in another state or another country, and after having obtained a license in your new state or country. Some states even require that you sign a statement, when renewing a license, that you are not resident elsewhere.
I live for eating truffles (tartufi)….
I am one of those people who have both a love, and a response to truffles that verges on something sensual. My head swims and my salivary glands come to full attention in anticipation of savoring this one-of-a-kind flavor. The truffle usually divides people into camps of ardent lovers, and camps of those who have a gagging response to anything related to tartufi. If you are the former the truffles in Umbria will take you to paradise.