Tag Archives: cars

Ferrari Gallery

From our visit to the Ferrari museum in Maranello in July, 2004. You might also like: Some Lesser-Known Places to Visit in Italy Rome 2002 Gallery A Visit to the Ferrari Museum Trajan’s Forum by Night

From our visit to the Ferrari museum in Maranello in July, 2004.

Buying a Car in Italy – Are Car Salesmen the Same All Over?

On Monday Enrico brought home our new car, a Fiat Stilo. It took him a month of intensive research to eventually return to his first, instinctive choice – which is simply the next generation of the Fiat Tipo turbo diesel that served us (more or less faithfully) for 13 years, which was itself a replacement Read More…

On Monday Enrico brought home our new car, a Fiat Stilo. It took him a month of intensive research to eventually return to his first, instinctive choice – which is simply the next generation of the Fiat Tipo turbo diesel that served us (more or less faithfully) for 13 years, which was itself a replacement for the Fiat Uno handed down by his parents.

Ross is disappointed: a Fiat isn’t cool enough for her (she hangs out with a wealthy crowd in Lecco – I have recently had to explain to her why SUVs are evil, even for people who can afford them). Enrico and I care little about cars beyond that they should run as reliably and cheaply as possible, while maintaining a basic level of comfort and safety.

I went with him on a few car-testing trips, and realized that we were a very confusing couple for the car salesmen to deal with. Given the types of cars Enrico had been looking at, everyone assumed he was choosing a vehicle for his wife. A year or so ago, before we were actively thinking about replacing the Tipo, Ross asked us: “If you could have any kind of car in the world, what kind would you get?” Enrico’s response was: “A minivan.” At which I laughed out loud and told him he was henceforth banned from the fraternity of real men – a real man, at least in his fantasies, would aspire to a Lamborghini or some such!

So the car dealers asked if I wanted to test drive (I didn’t), and insisted on showing me the wife-friendly features like hooks to hang your shopping bags in the trunk (I do most of my big shopping on the Internet, so a nice man with a truck brings it to my house). For most of the test drives, I insisted on sitting in the front passenger seat – my usual place. Once, when we tried a big (used) Citroen sedan, the salesman got there before me, and throughout the drive kept up a stream of manly talk about the powerful engine etc. Nice car, but his attitude would have nixed that sale even had we seriously been in the market for a car that big and expensive to fuel.

My only test, in all the cars, was to sit in the front passenger seat, slide it all the way back, then get into the seat behind it and see how much legroom was left. If I could sit comfortably without my knees touching the back of the front seat, the car passed. Enrico laughed at this, but I have long legs, and always hated being stuck in the back seat just because I was the kid. Several members of our extended family also have long legs, and when they’re visiting I don’t want them (or me) to suffer.

I was amused and delighted to find that one car dealer was selling cars and trucks made by Tata, an Indian company. Last year in Mumbai I had met an Italian who was trying to re-introduce Fiats to the Indian market – with globalization, what goes around comes around!

So we’ve done our bit for the Italian economy, buying local, and at least two of us are satisfied with our purchase. The next question is just how fancy a navigation and music system to put into it. We definitely want GPS navigation (to save arguments about whether I’m reading the map properly), and would like something that interfaces intelligently with our iPods. Hmm. We have some more studying to do”¦ and I can look forward to playing with the heads of salesmen who will expect me to know far less about electronics than my husband does!

The Patented Woman

Congratulate the neo-patentata! (newly-licensed [driver]) I finally had my road test yesterday; it had originally been scheduled for late October but, as it turned out, I was in Texas then. The driving instructor, Massimo, accompanied his mini-United Nations to the exam: one Italian teenager getting her first license; a Moldovan truck driver taking the first Read More…

Congratulate the neo-patentata! (newly-licensed [driver]) I finally had my road test yesterday; it had originally been scheduled for late October but, as it turned out, I was in Texas then. The driving instructor, Massimo, accompanied his mini-United Nations to the exam: one Italian teenager getting her first license; a Moldovan truck driver taking the first of many exams to be fully accredited to drive trucks in Italy; a young Egyptian man who didn’t say much; and myself. There were two other instructors, with one and two students respectively. This particular examiner is known to be quick, and on this day had some other appointment to get to, so he was moving at lightspeed. He didn’t spend more than ten minutes on any of us, and the only maneuver I had to perform was the inversione di marcia (reverse direction – a three-point turn). I was almost disappointed that I didn’t get to show off the parallel parking I had practiced so hard to master. (We had practiced reverse-in parking, too, though you rarely find that kind of parking space in Italy.)

So I have the new-style Italian driver’s license, credit card size, though it’s no more high-tech than the old paper ones – it doesn’t have a magnetic stripe or smart chip. Maybe it’s harder to counterfeit.

I’ll miss Massimo; he was good company for all those hours we spent in the car together. We did most of our driving within the confined area that the examiners use, in preparation for the exam, and it could have been (and sometimes was) very dull, seeing the same scenery over and over. I look forward to driving around some other parts of Lecco now.

The whole process cost me over 1,000 euros, but was the most efficient and certain way to a license. The driving schools have it all down to a fine art, based on many years’ experience. Their lessons for the theory exam are useful for recent immigrants who don’t speak Italian well and are taking the theory exam orally; when a new examiner joins the team, the driving instructors listen in on the oral exams to understand his personal style and favorite questions, so they can help a student prepare for any specific examiner. And they know the fine points that examiners will be looking for in the road test; in my final lesson yesterday morning, Massimo drilled it into me: “Don’t use the clutch when turning! He’ll say you’re not in control of the vehicle.”

The road test is run differently here than in the US. You use the driving school car (the same one you’ve been practicing in), and your instructor sits up front with you. The examiner sits behind you, and quietly tells you what to do. You just keep going forward unless and until he tells you otherwise. The instructor is supposedly there to use the second set of pedals in case something goes disastrously wrong, but he’s also allowed to clarify the examiner’s instructions if needed. In practice, the instructor does what he can to help, giving sly hints via a subtle nod that the examiner isn’t supposed to see.

Massimo’s other students followed in a second car (driven by another employee of the driving school). After my inversione di marcia, the examiner told me to pull over and park, and handed me my license. I signed for it, got out, and the teenager took the drivers’ seat, while I rode in the following car and chatted with the Moldovan. Then it was the Egyptian’s turn, then the Moldovan’s. We all passed.

Finally, we all rode back to the driving school together where our new licenses were photocopied (which makes them easier to replace if lost), and that was that.

I haven’t actually driven my “new” car yet (a hand-me-down from my father-in-law, who no longer drives). This afternoon I’ll drive Ross and her friend to their horses. Which could turn into an adventure. Hamish is now at a private stable on a mountain, inside the private property of a cement quarry and factory. The road from the front gate to the stable is mostly an unpaved mine access road, so you leave your regular car at the gate and drive a company jeep up the hill. The steep hill. With narrow tunnels carved out of the living stone, regulated by traffic lights. Oh, and I did I mention it’s raining…


Dec 3, 2003

Mike L. sent a few notes, comparing his driving exam experience in the Netherlands to mine in Italy:

Parallel parking is NOT a part of our exam. During the exam you will always perform two out of three maneuvers: Reverse direction as you described, taking a (short) turn backwards (you might consider this backward parallel parking), and reverse-in parking.

Driving away on a slope is also a standard item, but in Holland, its very hard to find a spot with enough a slope that would make the car go rolling backwards when you release the brakes! Usually, there is only one such place in a city, sometimes leading to a line-up of vehicles marked with a white-on-blue “L” waiting to practice…

Scuola Guida: Learning to Drive in Italy

One side effect of living in Lecco is that I need to drive. Not so much to get around Lecco itself, nor even into Milan, but because our fourth family member, Hamish the horse, now lives in a place not easily reached by public transport. (Yes, there are buses, but they don’t run very often.) Read More…

One side effect of living in Lecco is that I need to drive. Not so much to get around Lecco itself, nor even into Milan, but because our fourth family member, Hamish the horse, now lives in a place not easily reached by public transport. (Yes, there are buses, but they don’t run very often.) So it’s time to get an Italian driving license; the grace period for driving on my American one expired about 12 years ago.

Unfortunately, American licenses are not directly convertible to Italian; you have to go through the same process as an Italian first-time driver. This is far more difficult and longer than getting a license in the United States; I think that’s a good thing, given the challenges of driving in Italy.

The first step to getting a license is to pay three different fees (a total of 33 euros), and have a medical exam of sorts, mostly about vision. That plus filling out some forms gets you a foglio rosa (pink sheet) – a learner’s permit. I am doing all this through a driving school, which is costly, but makes things somewhat easier: they take care of the paperwork and standing in line for you.

Then you have to pass a written “theory” test. It’s only 30 true-or-false questions (three each on 10 topics), but if you miss more than four, you have to wait a month and a day before you can try again, and the test is harder than it looks: it demands a thorough understanding of Italian legal/bureaucratic language, at least as relates to driving. Immigrants not fluent in Italian have the option to take a much easier oral test; I could probably have gotten away with claiming this, but the oral would have taken longer to schedule, so I opted for the written.

The driving school offers theory lessons three times a week. I went to two of these, but found them excruciatingly dull. It’s no doubt great for beginners and non-fluent immigrants to have everything explained six times over, but I find it hard enough to sit through any class for 90 minutes, let alone “Road Signs for Dummies”. The only interesting part was the teacher’s endless stock of horrible stories about drivers who became distracted and “ci ha lasciato la pelle” (literally, “he left his skin,” meaning “he died”). According to the teacher, the major cause of road accidents is: “Dis- dis- …?” (prompting for the word). “Disregard for the rules?” I was tempted to offer, but I kept my mouth shut; I’d already seen that he didn’t understand my sense of humor. The answer he was looking for was “Disattention,” which I suffered in his class more than I ever have on the road.

Fortunately, the classes were not required, and I already had another source of help on Italian driving theory. Cristina, a member of the Expats in Italy online group I frequent, has a very helpful website about driving in Italy, which in turn links to WebPatente, a useful program for learning the theory and practicing for the exam, complete with audio commentary on your results.

The questions asked in the practice exams are presumably based on real exams past and present. The funniest one I ran across in my hours of practice was: “True or False: Distraction and a reduced sense of danger can be caused by… excessively spiced foods.”

This is almost as funny as the question my dad had to answer in a driving test in Indonesia, years ago:

You’re driving down the road and you see a Stop sign. You should:

a. Stop

b. Slow down.

c. Look to see if a policeman is watching.

Meanwhile, back in Italy… I had to argue with Mr. Realini, the owner of the driving school, to convince him that I could prepare myself for the exam without the help of their classes or preparatory quizzes. (NB: My attending or not made no difference to the amount of money they’re getting out of me: a flat fee of 500 euros, plus however many driving lessons at 23 euros each) But, after a couple of nasty head-on collisions with me, he agreed to schedule it for September 22nd.

So I turned up at the school at 10:45 Monday morning. Then had a last-minute panic, because I suddenly realized that the foglio rosa was required for entrance to the exam, and it had vanished from my wallet. I ran home to search (I had time because the earlier exam sessions were running late), but couldn’t find it. Mr. Realini was nice about it (“Happens all the time”), and said we should just go to the exam anyway and see if they would let me in. So myself and four 18-year-olds trooped across the street to the Motorizzazione Civile (“Civil Motoring”? not a very accurate description, in Italy), where two dozen other candidates were waiting, with the owners of their respective driving schools. Mr. Realini, perhaps to distract me, asked what I thought of George Bush, so we had a lively discussion about that. The teenagers were amused, but shy to join in.

Around 12:15 we were finally allowed into the exam room. Our names were called off a computer printout, and each of us had to stand in front of the two examiners while our packet of papers and photo ID were scrutinized. They waved away my lack of a foglio rosa, but wanted to see my permesso di soggiorno (permission to stay in Italy), which I hadn’t known I was supposed to have with me. But at least I knew exactly where that was. I started to call Enrico to bring it (he’d already spent an hour searching for the foglio rosa), but then they decided that I only needed it for the actual driving test.

When all the candidates had been checked in, the examiners asked two people to come up and witness (with signatures) that the exam packets were still sealed. They then opened the packets, and one of them signed each exam sheet before tucking one into each student’s portfolio of papers. Then he called us up one by one to collect our packets. Finally, when all were seated with our papers in front of us, we were allowed to take the sheets out and start the exam.

Almost immediately, a vociferous argument started in the main office outside. I giggled. The examiner smiled ruefully and closed the doors, but you could still hear everything. Finally he poked his head out the door and asked if they could carry on after the exam. A minute later, someone poked his head in to apologize. “Just for this, you all pass,” he joked.

Of course, the first topic on the exam was something that had not come up in the driving school handbook nor WebPatente, about directional signage for roundabouts (which have only recently become popular in Italy). The wording on one of the three questions looked like it might be one of those linguistic traps: is a road coming off a roundabout called a traversa (cross-street), or is there some arcane technical term that I hadn’t heard before? After some pondering, and going on to do most of the other questions, I marked it “false.” You can’t make corrections on this test, so you have to be sure of the answer when you make your mark!

The rest of the test I felt pretty comfortable about, except the questions about the round blue sign with a human figure walking. I was mostly, but not entirely, sure that that meant “pedestrian area,” and answered the questions accordingly.

There was also a question on precedenza (right of way), my favorite subject – just because the rules are so charmingly contrary to actual behavior. The tests use some wildly theoretical intersections, with five or six streets meeting. The situations are all plausible enough, but the correct answers are not. One that sticks in my mind shows a four-lane street with a tram (on tracks) in the middle, flanked by a truck going the same direction. There are cars waiting to cross from each side of a smaller cross-street. Theoretically, the tram goes first, because any vehicle on tracks always has right of way. After that, the car with no traffic to its right should go, then the other car, and the truck last. Yeah, right – try to convince me that, in real life, the truck isn’t going to move at the same time the tram does, or even before! The book does reiterate that, no matter what the rule of precedenza says in any given situation, you should make sure that the other drivers agree with you before you move.

The test sheet was printed in black and white, including the illustrations, but there were two colored brochures of road signs and street diagrams that you could consult for clarity (each picture used in the test is numbered; the images in the brochures have matching numbers). I realized after I had handed in my test that a careful look through the whole brochure would have resolved the pedestrian zone question for me: the sign was there, by itself, just as shown on the test, but there was also another version of it as part of a larger sign with “zona pedonale” clearly printed!

We had 30 minutes to complete the test, but no one took that long. By around 20 minutes, the last test had been handed in, and we proceeded to corrections. Again each person’s name was called, and we had to stand in front of the examiners while they checked the test against the marking sheet, and called out the number of errors with “idoneo” or “non idoneo” (suitable or un-). Only two people failed, one with five errors, one with “many.” I only had one error, on that question about the roundabout, which turned out not to have been a trick after all. So I am suitable for driving – at least in theory.

When told my result, I did the American fist-pump gesture and shouted “Yes!” The other examinees all laughed; one of the examiners said disapprovingly (in Italian): “You’re in Italy now, say Si’.”

October 6, 2003

My classmate Yuti responded:

“This reminds me of my driving test in Bombay in 1981 when I turned 18. The test is supposed consist of an oral test and a test drive. There is a fat rule book, but I was told by my driving instructor that examiners ask only one of three rules, so I was to remember only these, and not bother with the rest. I don’t remember the rules verbatim but they go something like this: (1) you cannot have someone sitting on the car bonnet while the car is in motion, (2) you cannot have more than three persons in the front (in those days cars did not have bucket seats, but one long seat like the back), and (3) you cannot drive without headlights at night. These rules had numbers, like Rule 356, 452, etc.

The examiner would ask “Recite Rule so-and-so”, and you were expected to recite the rule verbatim as per the Rule book. Sure enough, my examiner asked me to recite the rule about sitting on the bonnet. That was the extent of my oral test.

For my test drive, I was asked to reverse park between two cars, and indicate turning left and right. In those days, Indian cars did not have turn indicators, so you had to use your hands. To turn right, you stuck your hand out of the window and made a circular motion with your wrist in a clock-wise direction. To indicate a left turn, you turned your wrist anti-clockwise. It took me 10 minutes to pass both tests. I got my license within a week by bribing the examiner Rs.50 (a hefty bribe in 1981), otherwise I would have waited months for it. But I was in a hurry to hit the road.

Now you know why Indians drive the way they do!”

Cars

Speaking of air pollution: What is it about cars, anyway? Personally, I’m not fond of them. Because I went to high school in India, I did not learn to drive at the usual American age of 16. By the time I did learn, I had already been involved in two spectacular accidents (someday I’ll tell Read More…

Speaking of air pollution: What is it about cars, anyway? Personally, I’m not fond of them. Because I went to high school in India, I did not learn to drive at the usual American age of 16. By the time I did learn, I had already been involved in two spectacular accidents (someday I’ll tell you about the Fabulous Flying Jeep Trick), so I am a nervous auto passenger, let alone driver.

However, Austin, Texas, is one of those American cities designed on the assumption that everyone drives, so when I transferred to university there, it was time for me to learn how. It was a triumph when I got through driving school and actually earned a license. I lost a few points on the road test for poor parallel parking, and was surprised when the driving instructor told me: “I thought you’d get 100%.” I didn’t know then that this is actually easy to do in the US!

I inherited my grandmother’s ancient AMC Hornet and began cautiously to drive it. Within a month or two, I accidentally ran a red light in a fit of nerves while trying to get onto Interstate Highway 35 (which has some of the worst-designed entrances and exits ever to grace a highway), and ran head-on into someone else’s car. That was the end of the Hornet, but at least no humans were hurt.

After that, I had few opportunities to drive, and even less desire to. My college roommates both had cars, and were kind enough to ferry me around when needed, in exchange for cooking or helping them study for exams.

During my college study abroad year in Benares, we all rode bicycles, and I travelled across northern India by train and bus. I do not recommend bus travel in the Himalayas: after a harrowing trip from Simla to Mussoorie, I understood why so many of those buses end up plunging down mountainsides!

When I began my working life, in Washington, DC, I was able to rely on the subway. But then I moved out to suburban Virginia. After several months of valiantly trying to do everything on bike and foot (even in the snow), it was time to face that car thing again. My boss let me borrow his Pontiac Fiero to practice on; I didn’t tell him about the time I accidently made it spin out on gravel. <grin> When I finally felt ready, my dad accompanied me to look for a new car. We bought the first thing we saw, a Dodge Colt (actually manufactured by Mitsubishi), on ruinous financing terms.

The Colt and I got along all right. I never wrecked it, but neither did I drive it long distances (I let Enrico do that). We gave it to his brother when we left for Italy, and it went on to sturdily face winters in the northern US and Canada.

I have never yet driven in Europe. That would mean getting an Italian driver’s license, which is hard – people routinely fail the written exam several times. I could probably handle the traffic in Milan, when it moves slowly (the other drivers would hate me, because I’d be moving even more slowly). Stopping, however, would be a challenge, since it requires parallel parking in spaces only ten centimeters longer than your car, or head-in parking with half the car on the sidewalk. I’ll stick to public transport for now. It’s the ecologically responsible thing to do.