Tuesday, December 3, 2013

My Italian Driver’s License Part 1: House Arrest

Gosh, it’s been a while since I’ve posted here. I’m sure you all have been just dying to know what I’ve been up to. Well, between picking olives, baking birthday cakes, surviving gale force winds and piling extra blankets on the bed…I have been driving. Yes, I finally got my Italian driver’s license, and I’ve been driving here and there, to and fro, hither and yon. I’ve driven over hill and over dale. I’ve driven over the river and through the woods.

But getting my Italian driver’s license wasn’t easy, and, like any tale of mine, it didn’t happen quickly. In fact, it took so long that I’ve had to divide the written account of the saga into two parts. You lucky readers, you!

Part 1: House Arrest

I’ve been driving a car since I was 16 years old. I’ve driven up and down the East Coast of the US countless times, once with all my worldly possessions shoved into a Nissan Sentra, another time at the wheel of a panel truck, and still more times for vacations and family reunions. I’ve crossed national borders and driven through forests, swamps and deserts, logging thousands and thousands of miles at the steering wheel, sometimes with travel companions and sometimes alone.

But for the last year, I’ve not driven past Allerona Scalo, which is 5 km from my house. It’s not because I’ve lost my confidence, or my desire to drive. It’s because for the past year, it’s been illegal for me to drive past my driveway—and even driving in my driveway was illegal. But now, after a year of what felt like house arrest, I am now legal to drive in Italy again, and I’m finally ready to share my tale of woe.
A random "papers please" stop, and yes,
one of them usually has machine gun drawn. Seriously.

Let me start by saying that my tale of woe, like so many woeful tales, is All. My. Fault. About 6 months after I arrived in Italy, I was stopped by the carabinieri, or military police (not as scary as it sounds) who set up frequent traffic stops to “check for papers”—essentially to make sure you have a valid driver’s license and current insurance. I was told then that I had until February—one year from the date that I established residency in Italy—to get my Italian driver’s license. After February, my Florida-issued US driver’s license would no longer be valid. This was 2009. I had until February of 2010. It is now near the end of 2013. Do the math. Given that by this point I was beginning to fully assimilate into Italian culture, I did as the Italians would do. Which is to say, I did nothing.
It could happen anytime, anywhere, when you least expect it.

Last summer, June to be exact, I was stopped again, this time outside Orvieto. I innocently offered my US license and hoped for the best. “Where do you live?” he asked. “Allerona,” I replied. “Do you have another car?” Odd question, I thought. “My husband has a truck for work,” I told him. “Your husband is M____?!” “Siiiii!” I exclaimed joyfully, figuring I’d just dodged a bullet and promising never again to curse my small-town, everybody-knows-everybody-else chosen lot in life. The carabiniere was an old friend of Paolo’s. 

But that didn’t mean I wasn’t in trouble. He was incredulous—incredulous—that three years had passed and I still had no Italian driver’s license. It turned out that I was no longer legal to drive with my US license, and every moment I spent behind the wheel was pushing my luck, big time. If I was ever in an accident, my fault or not, our insurance would not pay damages and I could get tossed in jail.

He admonished me to get busy and get my license right away. If I were stopped again, the car could be impounded and I could be left on the side of the road, hoping I was somewhere with cell service as I contemplated a 1000 euro traffic ticket. So I promised the officer I would get right on it, and I drove off in a flurry of waves and grazie milles. And I proceeded to do nothing.
They're not all this handsome, mind you.

A few months passed, and my parents were visiting for Naomi’s baptism. On our way back from an outing, right before the turn off to Allerona Scalo, I got stopped by the carabinieri, again. Fuuuuuuuuuucccccc*****. I even said to my parents, “Oh this is not good.”

It was the same carabiniere friend of Paolo’s who’d stopped me before at Orvieto. “You still don’t have your license?” he fumed. “I’ve been studying,” I offered weakly. And the truth was, I had looked up some information online about how to get an Italian driver’s license. Maybe I’d even looked more than once. “But I stopped you three months ago,” he said. “It was two months,” I protested, my arsenal empty.
Pleading doesn't work, sister.

He looked in the car and saw my nearly 90 year old parents. He fumed some more.

“You cannot drive any more until you get your license,” he said. “Basta!
This would totally be me the next time I got stopped. 

That was a little more than a year ago. From that point on, I drove only as far as Allerona Scalo, along a stretch of road where I knew the carabinieri never laid in wait. When I had to do “big grocery shopping” at Orvieto, or get my hair done or see a doctor, I had to rely on Paolo or others to take me. And while I love my little village in Umbria, it doesn’t take long for cabin fever to set in, especially when you know you can’t escape for a few hours.

A few times I ventured past Allerona Scalo, when some absolute urgency compelled me to do so. But I always timed it when it’s been very, very hot (too hot for the carabinieri to be out), pouring rain (they don’t come out in the rain) or at lunch hour (nothing, not even escaped murderers on the loose, can force the rescheduling of the sacred Italian 1-2 pm lunch hour). And even then, when I knew I was relatively safe, I drove with my heart in my throat, terrified that at the next bend I’d encounter a traffic stop and have that little paddle waved at me, ordering me to pull over. So when I was brave or foolish enough to hit the open road, I’d always stay on the tail of another car, so that it would get stopped instead of me. And when a car turned off in front of me and all I saw was empty pavement ahead, I’d pull over, wait for a car to pass and then jump on its tail. We desperate and lawless types know our tricks, after all.
The thought crossed my mind, but violence is never the answer.

Still, Paolo was getting sick of driving me where I needed to go. I was getting sick of begging rides from other people, and doing all my shopping at our local grocer, which is smaller than your average 7-11. It was time to get serious about studying for my license, both for the sake of my sanity and the sake of my marriage.

Stay tuned for Part 2: A Scofflaw No More


  1. Fabulous tale of woe! And I can't believe you said to the carabinieri "I've been studying ... " That's something I'd say with a sweet smile. And yes, for the sake of my sanity and my marriage! :) I've linked this post to the one I wrote today.

    1. Thanks Jennifer! It's all doable, even the stick shift! ;)

  2. H I can so relate to this! Looking forward to part 2!

  3. Elizabeth I came across your delighful writings via Toni DeBella whom I saw on HGTV. I plan to live in Orvieto for 3 months to celebrate my 70th birthday.
    By any chance did your husband's grandfather sing at your wedding? I remember being in Allerona and meeting an elderly man who sang in the street with us.
    Then we met his grandson and new wife at a tiny restaurant in a beautiful park. Maybe it was you and Paulo whom we met on my birthday about 4 years ago. That would be quite a coincidence.
    Love your stories.
    Maggie Hagan

    1. Maggie...that was us! Small world indeed! I remember your group and the birthday cake Margherita made for you. She and her partner now have their own restaurant in Allerona and it's quite lovely. Paolo's Nonno Gino turned 100 this year. We had a big party for him in town, but since then he's slowed down considerably and is pretty much housebound. But on good days, he still sings. ;) When will you be coming to Orvieto?

  4. Yes it is a small world.
    I plan to be in Orvieto next September. Would love to see you and your family especially your lovely daughter.

  5. Hi, I really like your article. I will keep coming here, Thanks for this post.

  6. Questo post è divertentissimo!!! Sembra il Diario di Bridget Jones in Italia. Ahahahah

    1. Grazie! Per fortuna non ho piu questa problema!!!!!

  7. Hey, Italy has a corporate tax rate of 27.9%. Companies that operate under VAT have to pay tax on purchases at 22%. Certain services, like those related to some foodstuffs, water supplies, some pharmaceutical products, domestic passenger transport, admission to cultural events, some social housing.

  8. Oh boy! I'm English so I start off driving on the wrong (or should that be Right) side of the road to begin with. I did have a long holiday in Florida and took my test there. That was simple, a few multi-choice questions and a drive round the parking lot showing I could park the car. Mainly the questions from my cop/examiner were about the beatles and did I know Tom Jones!!After gleefully passing I drove on home only to turn left, straight up the wrong direction of the highway, I could see the whites of the panicked drivers eyes as I carried on oblivious to the fact. Then it hit me....Oh *hit! how do I get out of this? so I immediately turned sharp left again still into the ongoing traffic. I eventually figured out what I had done and did a quick 180. Never again did I make that mistake. So, now back in England with my floridian wife we plan to have several long hols in our beloved Sardinia. And I did think about taking my driving test over there, but neither of us speak a word of Italian and I don't think our trusty little dictionary will get me through the driving test. I've driven so much in Sardinia that it is natural to me now but passing that test I don't think so. Love your blog keep it up and I hope you don't mind me joining in?.....Cheers,....Simon.