On Driving in Spain

It’s been a whirlwind of a week so far, but I’m still alive, which is a considerable feat considering the fact that I’ve actually been driving a car through the Spanish roads to everywhere we need to go. My boyfriend and I have been mainly relaxing, either sleeping or going to the beach, and trying to mix in a little adventure (I’ll talk about that in another post). But going to most places usually requires some form of transportation other than walking, and that’s where I come in. My boyfriend can’t drive anywhere, and I have my license in the United States, so driving seemed out of the question until I found out that anyone over the age of 18 can acquire an International Driving Permit from AAA. The permit lasts for a year and can be used in over 100 countries, and to top it off, it only costs $15. So before I left, I went to the AAA store near my house, applied and received the permit in one day, and here I am, a licensed (technically) driver in Spain.

To be honest, I was terrified to hit the streets for the first time, but where we needed to go was almost an hour away and it was driving or bust, so I drove. I can’t drive manual, so it was quite convenient that both of the cars I have access to are automatic. The blinkers are generally in the same spot as my car at home, the gear shift is in the center, and everything appears more or less the same, only requiring some adjusting, as it would to drive any new car in any country.

Here’s where it gets weird, though. Spain, like almost every other country in the world, uses the metric system, meaning that all the speed limit signs are in kilometers-per-hour, as well as my speedometer. Since the speedometer and the signs coincide, it’s not astoundingly difficult to figure out what I’m doing- the speed limit is 120 kph, so I make the speedometer go to 120 kph. Easy. Nevertheless, it’s still a little unsettling to not actually know how fast I’m going. I’ve checked the conversion factor and figured out that 1 kph is equivalent to 0.62 mph, and that’s not easy math, so I’m just sort of guessing. By this point I know that 120 kph is 75 mph, and that’s the speed limit on the highway, or the motorway according to the boyfriend, so I’m all set.

I’d consider myself pretty well adjusted at this point. In fact, I think driving in Spain is a lot more logical than back home. They have circles, or roundabouts, call it what you will, everywhere instead of intersections. As far as I’m concerned, if you can manage the circles, this system is a lot more convenient than large intersections with lights and arrows and traffic because you can enter at will after yielding to those already in the circle. The best part is, since I never know where I’m going, I can keep going around the circle until I figure it out, although that does, at times, warrant some judgment from those who notice what I’m doing. Another perk of the highway system here is the merge lanes to enter the highway. They’re significantly longer and wider, giving my-hot-mess-of-a-self time to get my act together before joining the high speed traffic and more chances to merge without hitting another car (note: I’ve never actually done that).

I live in New Jersey, which is the most densely populated state in the country, so at home I’m never driving alone. There are always other people on the road with me, no matter where. But here, the roads are so sparsely populated that I’ve found myself alone on the highway, which is really nice. And compared to the driving (aka road rage) I’ve witnessed during my time in Miami, the people here are so relaxed. I think I’ve only heard one car beep at another so far, and people generally don’t tailgate on the roads. Driving has never been such a relaxing experience.

All in all, it’s been an easy transition thus far. I can now fully understand GPS directions in Spanish, which I think is pretty cool, and today I actually got us all the way home from the beach without any directions because I (kind of) know my way around. The whole experience has been a culture shock, in a not-so-shocking kind of way, and I’m pretty proud of myself for being able to handle it. The only thing that still scares me are the police. Every time I see one I basically stop in my tracks, but I’m just so scared of having to talk to them in Spanish if anything happens. I’ve seen Locked Up Abroad. I’m trying to avoid that. Wish me luck for the coming weeks.

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