I forgot to mention that I finally got my driving license. It’s common practice here to bribe the examiners and just be done with the whole thing, a hundred euros each. My instructor said that 90% of them take the money. I wanted to avoid the test, and was willing to spend the money. Taking the test costs 150 euros alone, so if you need to take it three or more times, you end up saving money. There’s a lot of stupid unnecessary things you have to do in the test, like turn around a corner in reverse in three smooth movements, which you’d never have to do in real life, and this is where most people fail.
My test was on Friday the 13th, and I was sure that this was a good sign. That weekend there were municipal elections throughout Greece. Here, if you leave your home town or village and come to the big city, you’re still registered to vote back where you came from, unless you go through the bureaucracy of changing it. Most people don’t. (The whole process of offering election promises seems to work best locally.) Athens empties on such weekends as people return to their villages, towns and islands to vote. A lot of instructors had done the same that weekend, with the result that the director of the examining committee, who only tests people who are candidates for becoming instructors, came down to test us. He is not a man to accept a hundred-euro bribe. But he’s just.
Everyone failed. I was second last. Everything was OK till about sixty seconds into the test. I came to a corner where I was told to turn left. I came to a full stop, but to my right, someone had parked right at the corner, blocking my vision. I started edging out slowly so that I could see better. It was a two-way street, so I shot a quick glance to my right. At that precise moment, some guy came barrelling down the road on my left. My instructor, who was sitting in the passenger seat, stepped on the brakes. The car is fitted with an alarm for when he does this. The examiners in the back seat, a woman and the director, heard it, and the test was over.
The guy after me failed before even getting started. When he started in parked position, on the right of the road, he looked back before starting and moving into traffic, but he took too long to do so, and by the time he did, a car had appeared, coming up behind him. He didn’t see it, and started moving out. That was it.
My instructor and I decided not to take the test the following weekend, because there were still more elections. We didn’t want to run the same risk. So I took it two weeks later. I paid the 200, went out for a little spin, and that was all.
Driving back afterwards, I asked my instructor what he thought about this bribe-taking business. He said that most people fail out of sheer nervousness, and do something stupid.
“When your time has come to take the test, you’re ready,” he said. “I decide when you’re ready. I’ve been in the car with you for days. They’re in the car with you for ten-fifteen minutes. I won’t put you in the position to take the test if I don’t think you’re ready.”
He added, of course, that if someone is not ready but insists on doing the test, after the obligatory 20 hours of practical lessons, he can’t stop them, but he will refuse to pass the bribe on. He said he would be responsible for letting someone who’s not ready out onto the road.
This system only works, of course, as long as there are instructors like mine, who are actually quite passionate about teaching people to drive safely and responsible.