Saturday, June 16, 2007

His super sweet 16, at age 31

My husband has finally gotten his license to drive. That seems ridiculous, doesn’t it? A 31-year-old man getting a driver’s license? Well, getting a license in Greece isn’t as easy as it is in America. You can’t just get your dad to teach you how to drive in your grandmother’s old Buick in the parking lot of the junior high school on weekends. You can’t terrorize your high school history teacher cum driver’s ed instructor by spending your lesson time chatting with your girlfriends about boys and not paying attention to where you are going. You can’t get a learner’s permit at 15 and beg your parents ceaselessly to let you drive whenever you go on a family outing (I think “over my dead body” was a familiar refrain from my mother to such requests). You can’t arrive at the DMV with a proud smile very early in the morning of your 16th birthday ready to take the driving tests.

No, getting a driver’s license isn’t a cultural rite of passage in Greece like it is in America. For one thing, you have to be 18 instead of 16 (which honestly, might be a good thing, considering how irresponsible teenage drivers can be). For another, you are required to take classes, first in preparation for the written exam and then in preparation for the practical exam, so the whole process can cost around five or six hundred euros. So many Greeks don’t automatically get their license at 18, and many of them – especially those who live in big cities or end up with spouses who drive – never get their driver’s license. Having a car when you live in the center of Athens is pretty unnecessary and generally a headache, and although Thessaloniki doesn’t yet have the fabulous Metro system Athens does, having a car and trying to park it in the city is more trouble than it is worth. Even people who have cars who live outside the center and come into the city usually take the bus instead of driving their vehicles.

Since we live in the center of Thessaloniki and can pretty much walk to wherever we want to go, and take the bus anywhere else, our car has sat idle for two years (and with a dead battery), even though I have a valid driver’s license. But with our imminent move to the boondocks, and my husband’s future hospital off the ring road instead of in the city center, it was crucial that he finally get his driver’s license, unless he wanted to spend hours upon hours of his life in city buses (with me having to get up early to drive him down to the closest bus stop, which is so far from our house it conjures up the old tales of “when I was your age, I had to walk twenty miles in a blizzard to get to school”). Besides, I hate driving, or rather, I hate driving in places I am not used to driving, which is basically anywhere I haven’t been before. I got to be a bit of a pro driving around Kos and Litochoro, and the route from Litochoro to Thessaloniki, but I haven’t had the desire to learn the nuances of Thessaloniki streets and the ring road and there is so much traffic I feel a bit intimidated. Thankfully, the onus will now be on my husband to navigate Thessaloniki’s labyrinthine streets, and I will only have to drive whenever I want, or on an as needed basis.

My husband still has a two-month reprieve before all the responsibility falls on his shoulders, as that is how long it takes for them to actually process and send you your license here. But at least he now has the satisfaction of an American teenager, ready to taste freedom behind the wheel of his very own car.


Anonymous said...

Congratulations Thanos!!!

I remember when I got my drivers licence.

* The first time driving and looking over to the passenger seat and realizing that NO-ONE is sat there.

* I remember visiting with my friend and coming out to drive myself home and suddenly paniking because it was dark. I'd never driven at night before.

* The old woman I nearly killed because I was too busy talking to my friend than concentrating on the road. That was day number 1.

Ahhhh.... the joys!

bryan-in-greece said...

Given all the palaver of how much is involved in learning to drive and getting a driving licence in Greece, it is incredible just how bad Greek drivers are!!! "Irresponsible" doesn't begin to describe them - but it is a good place to start. I have been driving here for the last 20 years, and very little has changed. The police are about as much good as a glass eye, and many Greeks seem to think that having a pathetic cross hanging dangling from the rear view mirror is going to save them from a gruesome death as they plough into an oncoming car... Mindless!!!

Flubberwinkle said...

Congrats Doc!

I got my US driver's license at 16, and I was lucky to be able to drive both automatic (school's) and stick-shift (my Dad's) vehicles.
I never needed to drive in Greece until we built our house -with what seemed at the time- away from the rest of Attica civilization.

However, life without getting around on my own was difficult because of the town's infrequent bus times, taxi drivers that refused to come out into the "wilderness", all stores far from home, two small kids who unexpectedly would need an emergency room and a husband (who had a Greek driver's license) was gone for days because of his work.

So I took some refresher courses and the exams for my Greek driver's license. It was funny how the Greek driving instructor would congratulate me on keeping the car even in my lane... and I was like WTF, is he kidding me?

THEN I got out in the Greek roads in the driver's seat and... I knew what he meant.

p.s. I'm still laughing with how bryan-in-greece nailed the theory of the dangling cross many Greeks have in their cars.

J.Doe said...

Congrats to your husband for getting his driver's license.
In New Jersey (where I'm from) the driving age is 17 so at age 16 I was still begging for rides. It is still a cultural rite of passage there, but they do it 1 year later tnen TN.

melusina said...

EllasDevil - driving at night is very weird the first time you do it. Honestly, I still don't like it.

Bryan, I have an idea why Greek drivers are still so bad but I won't get into it here. ;) My husband has had to make me all sorts of promises about how he will drive and how he will keep vigilant attention of all the cars around him lest they make crazy moves. The cross - that is hilarious.

Flubberwinkle - And you aren't kidding. I'm a very passive driver, but when I'd get on the interstate between Thessaloniki and Litochoro I turned into an alter ego, non-stop bitching about the way people were driving, passing people who were driving a bit hinkey, etc. My husband calls that alter ego Bitsy.

J.Doe - I guess I didn't realize different states had different rules, because my brothers both got their licenses at 16 when we were in North Carolina. But I guess it makes sense that it is different in different states.