Friday, August 27, 2010

Whatever you do, befriend someone in the DMV

Upon arriving in Rome, Italy in August of 2002 (mid-August, more accurately, which is the BEST time to visit Rome since everyone is at the sea but NOT the best time to try to get anything done because everyone is at the sea), after being hand-printed at the local police station (more on this later) and having the police come visit me on a Saturday morning and looking in my closets to make sure I was actually living there (more also on this later), I soon contacted the Wisconsin Department of Motor Vehicles to understand how I could renew my license once it expired.  Much to my horror, I learned that I was not allowed to renew it since I was no longer a resident (military people are the only ones who have the ability to renew from abroad, not a silly in-love-with-an-Italian person) and that the only way I could renew it was to come in person once I again was living in Wisconsin.  It seems that some people get around this issue by 1) being in the military as previously mentioned, 2) faking an address or using one of a really good friend or 3) like most things in the world, knowing someone really well who could maybe oil the wheels of bureacracy a bit for you.
Well, I wasn't in the military, and I really have an honest streak and wouldn't feel particularly comfortable asking most people to use their address for something like this, and I wasn't lucky to know anyone in the DMV...so basically I was screwed.
The reality though is that my Wisconsin driver's license in Italy means diddly, except that I could drive for one year.  But after that one year I was required to do the full shabang:  a knowledge test of 20 multiple choice questions all in Italian plus the driver's test.  I studied night and day for about 3 months, learning the amount of brake fluid a tractor needs (how have I driven up to now without this information?), how to report an accident (as you know from reading an earlier post, this is vital...and more on my own experiences with accidents and blown-up cars to come), and I learned in Italian all the parts of a car, learning parts I didn't even know existed in English.  We went to Bologna in Northern Italy for me to take some driving lessons with Pier's brother's wife's dad (did you get that?) who was a driving instructor, named Paolo.   We stayed with Pier's parents in the heat of the summer of 2006, with two year old Luca and a pile full of driving materials at my side.  In July I went to take the written part of the test and passed it the first time, which surprised everyone including my driving instructor, because typically these tests are not passed even by Italians the first try (one might ask if Paolo had oiled the wheels for me?) but knowing how much I had studied it's maybe possible I could have passed but we'll never know....
Then I took the driving test, and about 10 minutes into the test the examiner, said "pull over here!" and once parked, the examiner got out of the car and crossed the street to a bar (in Italy a bar is where you get coffee and pastries, not a vodka) and she sat down with what seemed the owner or a long-time friend and had herself a cappuccino and a cigarette, all this while I'm idling the car, also still nervous because I'm smack in the middle of my darn exam.  Once back in the car, as if that were all par for the course, we continued on with the exam, and at the end she handed me my license, just like that.  I'm sure that here in the US you have to wait a few weeks at least for your license, and usually for most other things in Italy you can expect a good wait for most anything, but here was an instance of miraculous wonder...
So with license in hand, I headed back to Pier's parents' house with Paolo who offered to drive.  As we were driving back, he turned to me and said "now let me teach you how to really drive" and he saw an older woman crossing the street and he said "ahh, e' vecchia", or "ah, she's old" and he kind of swerved by her in a way that for sure could have caused a heart attack.  It did for me, that's for sure, but prepared me for the years to come, as I drove through the streets of Italy.
Back in the states, as you may remember, my Italian driver's license doesn't mean SQUAT, and I am presently studying again to take the test here in Pennsylvania.  Apparently if I had fallen in love with a French or German fellow rather than an Italian one, my license would be automatically transferred to a Pennsylvania one.  I tried to explain that a European license lets you drive all over Europe, don't matter if you have a French, German, Swedish, or Italian one.  No matter.  I don't know someone in the DMV. So if you can, befirend someone in the DMV if moving abroad!!!

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