A humbling experience at Spanish vehicle inspection

The arrival to la importación

It was 7:45am and I entered the facility of technical inspection of vehicles, ITV for an 8:00am roadworthiness test. This was to get Spanish licence plates, to do the importación as everyone referred to it. The last milestone in the process that dragged for months. I requested it in July but then it froze for 2 months like August sales of heating stoves.

“Drive to lane 1 and they will recognize you” were the instructions I received beforehand. Since I came too early, there was no one to recognize me. Soon I observed that rather than going directly to one of the lanes like I did, everyone stops by a staff member who wasn’t there when I entered. I approached her and she checked my appointment, una cita previa. She couldn’t find my name on a printed sheet but we figured out it was in the name of the asesores who were helping me with the car registration. She sent me to the administrative building where I handed over all car’s documents.

After returning to the car, I was third in the queue so I tuned to RNE, a national radio station. Soon I saw someone approaching my car. I knew the person. We met at the back of McDonald’s in Denia in summer for some pre-checks. Everyone seemed to know him. I still don’t know whether he’s contracted by the asesores or by ITV. He’s probably an intermediary that is hand-holding foreigners who don’t know the system and the language. We exchanged a few words and then he went on to do some other business. No hand-holding for me then. Maybe I shouldn’t have spoken any Spanish with him.

Baja!, Sube!, Intermitente

Soon it was my turn to drive into a narrow 30-50 meters long corridor with a few stations meant for different checks. Now I’ll go into more detail to help get my message across.

My lane was attended by a young guy, let’s call him Pere in this story. I guess he wasn’t more than 30 years old. Pere didn’t greet me, which I rarely see happen in Spain. Of all the countries I spent some time in, the Spaniards are the champions of greeting. Along with French, too. So the absence of Hola, qué tal? wasn’t a good sign.

I haven’t watched any videos on how ITV works. I relied on my existing vocabulary and Spanish kindness and patience to get me through this. I was focused and ready to capture any instruction. I got the first one correctly – to get off the car, “baja!”. One point for me.

I was patiently waiting while Pere did some checks and while he left for a few minutes. Next instruction was “sube!“. That was to get in the car. Another point for me. Yes, I’m good at this.

Pere stood behind the car and I was waiting for his commands. Then, “Intermitente”. I knew that has to do something with the lights, but the word was so alien that my brain froze and I responded with “qué?”.

I would expect to be eligible for 3 strikes like in baseball, but to Pere this was already a strikeout. He walked towards me with loud ironic “You really don’t speak a single word in Spanish”. That would be true if I didn’t understand he just humiliated me. I explained I speak some Spanish but not intermitente. He reached to my cockpit and demonstrated it means turn signal. I got that already as my brain completed the wiring while he was walking toward me.

I collected a few more points in my imaginary game for high beam (larga), reverse (I can’t recall the exact Spanish command) and a couple more sube! and baja!.

During the checks, Pere managed to complain to two more people about my non-existent Spanish. Ouch. Neither of us enjoyed this.

I left ITV with a bitter feeling. During the drive home I analyzed what happened. I made a lot of assumptions some of which are most likely wrong. I was asking myself:

  • was I too ignorant for not preparing better by reading or watching videos?
  • did he just have a bad morning?
  • what would he do in Slovakia if someone told him “smerovka” (turn signal) or “bryndzové halušky” (national food)
  • has he ever been abroad?
  • is he exclusive and hostile towards foreigners?
  • is he voting far right (Vox party)?
  • are there many young people like him living here?
  • is Comunidad Valenciana a good place to live for an expat family?

Treating strangers with kindness

The main point of this post is that we should treat strangers fairly, patiently and with kindness. We might make assumptions very quickly about people we know little about.

Take Pere. To him I was probably another ignorant sun-seeking foreigner importing a car (and body) to his homeland. I was slow to respond to his signals, so I must have no clue what he’s saying.

He wouldn’t see the journey that got me to Spain and that ITV, nor my continuous effort to learn Spanish and my will to integrate. He wouldn’t understand I’m a deliberative person and that I take time to react. Or that my brain has to first translate what I hear before sending signals to my body.

The inspection was a good lesson that I need to be ready for not being understood, but also vice-versa, to be ready to understand others.

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