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. Yes, six separate hours of practical driving lessons  are required, which really adds up to more because one or two other students usually are in the car with you, and each gets an hour behind the wheel (while you watch). In theory you could spend 18 hours in a car with your instructor. I would’ve needed therapy if I had had to spend that much time with Benito.

When I first met Benito, I saw before me a late-60’s, beefy fellow who had his arm wrapped cast, due to a recent surgery. He made sure to tell me all about it, and to wince and complain frequently about the pain and inconvenience it caused. What a great way to start my driving instruction. Because my theoretical instructor (also the owner of the driving school) had been so amazing, this experience took me by surprise.  I wish I had been able to place a hidden camera or recording device in the car so that people would believe what I experienced. It was comical at times, and immensely frustrating and anxiety producing at other times. Benito’s teaching style ignited old neural pathways of anxiety that took me back to my high school days. It didn’t help that he would raise his voice at times, and grab the steering wheel….and exercise control of the car using the dual controls of the clutch and the brakes. All of this happened, interspersed with loads of commentary about his many trips to the United States. While I understood the important things he would say, he also spoke in heavy dialect. A total recipe for mayhem.

And, Benito frequently muttered or shouted “Cretino” (Idiot) or “Pazzo” (Crazy) to other drivers on the road.

Each of my driving lessons ended up with my confidence level in my driving abilities in question.  I was being instructed in very specific ways of driving (of course, so that I would pass the test in regards to how the examiners grade), yet what felt totally wrong was that Benito would also suggest to me that after the test I could ignore some of what I had learned. It also appeared that everyone else on the road (already proud owners of driver’s licenses) were in blatant disregard of the “rules of the road” – i.e. not signaling when turning, passing me on blind curves and with solid white lines in the middle of the road, and last, but not least, driving with cellphones glued to their ears while also driving down the middle of the road.

The clearest memories that I will have of my time with Benito where the phrases and words that he repeated most often, and usually with conflicting messages. Here they are (imagine a low gravely voice):

“O Dio”. Oh God (wow, that one really builds confidence).

“Largo, siempre largo.” Wide, always wide. This was instruction upon entering a round-about, and staying to the outermost circumference.

“Pieno, pieno, sempre pieno.” – Slowly, slowly, always slowly. Yet, just moments later he would follow those words with…

“Vai, vai!!!!” – Go, Go!!!! So, one second he’s telling me always to go slowly, and the next second he’s commanding me to speed up and get going.

“Niente gas, niente gas!!!” (often with spittle flying out of his mouth)  No gas, no gas! This was when I was parking in reverse or when doing a 3 point u-turn, insisting that simply letting up on the clutch provides enough “gas” without my pressing the accelerator.

By the time I was nearing the end of my driving lessons, I was on the verge of stopping the car and telling Leandro that I wasn’t his son, or a teenager driving for the first time, and to stop raising his voice with me. At the conclusion of my last driving lesson (and the night before my driving exam) My theoretical instructor asked Benito how I did, and he muttered “benino” – which means “ok”. I was pissed. In my estimation I was doing way more than “ok”.

The following day, when my theoretical instructor drove me (sans Benito, thankfully) to the practical exam, my partner went with me acting as cheerleader and saying “You’ll do fine, don’t worry.” I needed a trusted voice of confidence to balance out Benito’s voice in my head…..

So, I took the practical test, which went pretty smoothly, with the exception of ending up being behind an ambulance that was going very, very slowly, with lights flashing but not the emergency, clear-the-road lights. I was shifting in and out of 1st and 2nd gears for a good 5 minutes. Most practical driving exams last about 20 minutes.

When we returned to the starting point, the examiner handed me my new driver’s license and my theoretical teacher (and owner of the school), embraced me and kissed me on both cheeks.

So ended my long journey to earning my Italian driver’s license. I wish the home stretch had been more enjoyable vs. something I came to dread immensely. A good friend, who was only a few steps behind me the process, also received the “Benito experience.” She confirmed that I wasn’t off my rocker, and that he was a pretty rough character. One night, after dropping off one of the students as her house, Benito told her not to bother to wear her seat belt for the remaining trip home. Just the kind of instructor you want to trust…

Hopefully, if you take the driver’s license journey, you will have a less stressful experience. I’d like to think of mine as anomaly!

As we say in Italy “In bocca al lupo!” – Literally “In the mouth of the wolf.” but similar to “Break a leg.”  You reply “Crepi il lupo” – May he die!

An important disclaimer: These are simply my opinions and observations based on my experience of getting an Italian driver’s license, and are in no way meant to be a substitution for your own research and decisions in how to proceed.