I wish I had.

Just to clarify, I’m talking about the practical driving instructor in this post. The theoretical instructor is also of supreme importance, but that can be a focused topic for another post.

In my journey to get my Italian driver’s license, I had an excellent and very “simpatica” (friendly) theoretical teacher. She was patient, and she shepherded me through passing my exam (on my first try!). I had interviewed her before choosing my driving school. Bravo to me. But I didn’t interview the practical driving instructor coupled with this scuola guida, and he was a nightmare. Bad Jed!

Learn from my experience.

I was on a high after almost acing the theoretical test (only one error) for my Italian driver’s license. I was thinking, mistakenly so, that the practical driving part of the curriculum would be a breeze…and painless. Boy, was I wrong!

I ended up with what might be best called a “brute” of a practical Italian driving instructor. At first glance, he seemed benign. But once we were in the car together, with him employing his own set of breaking controls, I began to think differently.

For the sake of anonymity, I’m going to call this fellow Mario. I’ll say right up front that Mario deserved one of several unsavory monikors that you can find in books that take you into the darker side of the language. I won’t share my word of choice for Mario, but if you want to explore the options, then check out my post Get the Skinny on Down and Dirty Italian.

Why was Mario a bad teacher, in my opinion? Well, for starters, Mario seemed to be just biding his time until he’d reach the age when he could start collecting his pension. There was nothing that I could see in his behavior that indicated he was passionate about his job. “Gruff” is the adjective that I would use as the most fitting for Mario’s teaching style. And I believe he relished having a sense of power over the sea of teenagers (and stranieri like me who’d been knocked back to zero) falling under his control.

An “excitable” teaching style was the worst thing.

I chose the feature image in this post for this very reason. Who in their right mind would want an Italian driving instructor screaming at you when you are driving? NOT me! Talk about a lack of understanding of basic human psychology and how the mind can shut down when a person feels under attack.

To compound matters, in many scuola guida driving programs, during the practical instruction, you’ll have two other students sitting in the backseat. Yes, an audience to whatever is playing out in the front. You can be angry at your instructor AND mortified that there are witnesses.

How this manifested with Mario for me most was when I was entering or exiting intersections or roundabouts (in Italy, they’re plentiful). Mario would growl, “Piano, piano.” (Slowly, slowly). And then he’d be screaming “Vai! Vai!” (Go! Go!) when it came time to change lanes or make a move to exit.

I think that I have muscles in my body forever traumatized by Mario.

But I had thicker skin than some of my classmates, especially the young women. Mario easily brought tears to the eyes of many of them.

An abuse of control

Mario seemed to delight in pumping his set of controls while I was trying to complete many of my maneuvers. I remember doing a three-point turn on a rural road. Mario kept using his brake and stymying my completion of the maneuver. He was also breathing down my neck with blow-by-blow instructions. Mind you, I’d made this move hundreds of times in my life quite skillfully, and this was no exception. Up until then with Mario, I’d kept my trap shut, but this time, I’d had enough! I stopped the car, mid-maneuver, looked him squarely in the eyes, and said something to the effect, “Basta! Non sono un bambino and lo so come di farlo. Lasciame di completarlo.” (Enough! I’m not a youngster, and I know how to do it. Let me complete it.)

After this episode, Mario was less abusive to me. I don’t think he was used to his students standing up for themselves.

NOT leading by example

Of all things that made Mario a bad Italian driving instructor to me, this was the worst.

In the theoretical classroom, we were taught the essential nature of wearing one’s cintura di sicurezza (seatbelt). Just as I had been taught in the States, we were reminded how seatbelts save lives and how one could lose points and pay stiff penalties if caught not wearing a seatbelt. At the end of one session of practical driving instruction, we were still about fifteen minutes away from the scuola guida parking lot. Still, Mario removed his seatbelt to make himself more comfortable (he had a sizeable belly) and left it unsecured as we made our way back. The return trip included dropping off two male students at their homes (not something I’d seen him do for female students).

Thank goodness Mario didn’t accompany me for my practical driving exam.

And I passed the test without a hiccup (other than finding myself stuck in a crawl behind an ambulance for a good five minutes). Before I had scheduled the appointment for the official final step in the Italian driver’s license process, I made sure that my nice and patient theoretical instructor would be with me and not Mario. I didn’t need that kind of stress.

So, my story had a happy ending. But the last part of the process was something that I could have avoided IF I had made sure my interview process extended to meeting the Italian driving instructor for the practical portion. If I had a do-over, I would also speak to multiple students who’d completed the program under Mario’s tutelage.

If you’re embarking on the adventure of getting your Italian driver’s license…

I’d encourage you to read carefully my blog post Italian Driving School – Welcome Back to High School.

Also, check out Scuola Guida Online to start your education.

Prepare yourself. Being forewarned is being forearmed!