If You’re Going To Be An Au Pair, You Must Drive A Stick

Scaring People Shitless

She was sitting in the passenger’s side of the teal blue two door late 90s model of the Arosa. Her body faced towards me, she was gripping the glove compartment with her right hand and the headrest on the seat with her left, her back pressed up against the door (a door with the interior plastic missing, I might add). Her eyes were as big as two grapefruits, and her gaze was glued to my every move. Her face was flush. You could tell she was trying to keep extremely calm for my sake, but that her heart was racing.

The constant honking, yelling, arms flying out the window from cars passing by gave me a sign that the rest of Ibiza was either thinking “Fuck you!” or “What the hell?” It was disheartening. The never-ending stalling and jerking of the car as I switched gears didn’t help the situation either (she later told me that she thinks she pinched a nerve in her back from the stress).

Encouraging me, she kept repeating, “Ves, mujer? Ya esta, ya esta (or rather, ya ‘ta, ya ‘ta in her Andalusian accent)” and “perfecto, perfecto, tranquilo, eso es…” as if I were a woman giving birth in anguish and needed constant reassurance. She was the kind housekeeper working at the house who felt bad for me and offered to teach me. This is how I learned to drive a stick shift in Ibiza.

The First Outing

On my first day in the house, the mother said to me, “Do you know how to drive a manual?” When I replied no, she didn’t think it would be an issue. It would be almost six weeks before I got the hang of it.

The car I was to drive, the arosa, was in the back of the property near the chicken coop at the time of my arrival. It was dead and took several hours of charging with cables for it to start. Bad idea to have a flakey car battery when you have to constantly restart after stalling.

you should hear the revs on that beauty

The car is missed the interior plastic of the doors, so that it merely replicates a shell, or skeleton of what a car is supposed to be. Like on the commercials where they teach you the process of building a car from scratch. Like a car going down an assembly line.

Nothing could prepare me for the panic I was to feel the first night I went driving, not even the many youtube tutorials I watched in attempt to prep myself. The first Saturday I was in the house, the mother thought it would be a good chance to start my driving lessons. I felt bad that she had to teach me in the first place, after all, in many other parts of the world they have to learn on a manual and then can learn automatic if they want. She reassured me to not worry, that she had taught her son how to drive.

“Check out the booty on that one” – She’s the Man

I quickly learned that while she is a wonderful woman in many ways, she has no business teaching people how to drive. Her angst and stress while trying to explain things to me often came across through curt remarks like “ALLISON NO ES TAN DIFICIL. ALLISON. CAMBIAS DE 1 A 2, 2 A 3, 3 A 4, ETC” or “TIENES QUE ENCONTRAR EL EQUILIBRIO ENTRE EL ACCELERADOR Y EL EMBRAGUE.”

But it was that difficult. Repeating herself over and over again, it was like hearing the same phrase in a different language but never really understanding what it truly meant. It was difficult when somehow during her lesson I managed to get the basics completely messed up. For example, I thought that the car kept stalling because I pressed too hard on the gas instead of not enough. Trying to be on my best behavior as I had just arrived in the house that week, I didn’t have the nerve or strength to talk back to her or truly express my frustration.

That night, we went to go pick up the girl at a birthday party we had dropped her off at earlier in the afternoon. I truly had no idea what I was doing, and cringe at my daring attitude that night. It was already dark out and the only light illuminating the country roads were from the car. The birthday party was at a house in a neighborhood with narrow, winding, one way streets, hills and sharp turns.

She got out of the car to go inside and get the girl, and said, “While I’m inside, why don’t you circle the block, practice.” I was nervous but excited. I think I understand how this works!

In hindsight, I was really being cut loose without any sort of real preparation, mental or physical. God knows how, but I somehow managed to get the car running, and was more relaxed after getting from 2nd to 3rd. My heart was pounding but I was really proud of myself. Earlier that day I had read some inspirational quote about thrusting yourself into the unknown. I was doing it alright!

Things soon turned sour. I had found myself first and foremost confused about the narrow, winding one-ways and was somehow rolling down a hill. I knew where the break was, but the clutch was sticking and I couldn’t shift gears because I couldn’t press all the way down. It stalled, I started it again, but then couldn’t get it to move.

I had found myself at a dead end at the bottom of a hill right in front of a gated house. The dogs behind the gate were howling and barking and I kept trying to start and then it would stall; this repeated itself 4-5 times. Finally a woman came out and was really confused as to what the hell I was doing. She was so kind but said something like, “maybe it wasn’t really the best idea to practice on these streets, in the dark, on a hill.” I GUESS NOT.

She got it started for me and turn it around so I could mosey my way back to the mom. The mom had to have been waiting a good 20 minutes for me. She didn’t seem to be too worried why I was gone so long or why I was flushed with embarrassment and fear.

She got behind the wheel, and we left the confusing streets to get back to the pitch black country road that takes us to the house. She told me to get in the driver’s seat and try again. I was already a little traumatized by the last incident but kept repeating that inspirational quote in my head. YOU HAVE TO PUSH YOURSELF ALLISON.

I would get two feet, and then we would cringe with unpleasant noises coming from all ends of the car when I tried to shift or break, the car would jerk, and then it would stall. We had to be quick when it stalled, because as you might recall the battery was very weak and if the lights were left on when the car was off we could be stuck for a while. Meanwhile all of this is happening, she’s taken a negative tone and gotten very annoyed with me. She truly didn’t understand why on earth I just wasn’t getting it.

I was so frustrated with myself (WHY DIDN’T THAT INSPIRATIONAL QUOTE WORK), worried that she thought I was a complete idiot, and besides that, sulking in the fact that if I didn’t learn how to drive soon, I would never get out of that house. I would be a prisoner in a beautiful house that I couldn’t even enjoy, because, who cares if your prison is a mansion? It’s still a prison.

As soon as we got home, I had to shut myself in my little house because I immediately burst into tears. I couldn’t contain my emotions. Then a few minutes later she came knocking on my door asking if I wanted dinner. I tried to answer from my room but it’s hard to hide the emotion in your voice when you’re crying. She made me open the door and she saw my red and wet face. Then she really thought I was an idiot (she said it was ridiculous I was crying). Better yet, she forced me to come inside and eat, and she had invited a friend over to join us.

You know when you start crying, and then you just can’t stop? It’s like your fine, and you’re over it, but the tears just keep flowing? You might be fine for a second, then something triggers your sadness/frustration, and it starts all over again? That was the entire hour-long dinner.

The friend would make some meaningless conversation just to talk, and I would answer, but then halfway through my response it would be like pipes bursting.  I would be wiping my tears from the tortilla on my plate and blowing my nose to the cooing of repeated, “TRANQUILA, TRANQUILA, TRANQUILA, YA ESTA ALLISON”

The worst part is, in the way they try to calm you down, it sounds like they are yelling at you, which makes you cry even more. You could say I was a bit of a mess.

It All Went Up From There

After that incident, I never rode with the mother again. Instead, the housekeeper described at the beginning was the one who really taught me how to drive. She made more sense to me, she was more patient, and she understood what I was going through.

Thank god for her help, after three times going out in the car with her I was driving just fine.

It still took me about a month before I could stop getting flushed and petrified by each roundabout. I still stalled in while waiting in traffic on a hill. In fact, I still do.

But when I was starting to get the hang of it, I stopped being so nervous and started to find humor in the various incidences that happened to me. Instead of getting angry at the workmen who would chuckle when they saw me stall, I would honk and wave at them. I got a lot of thumbs-up signs and smiles from by-passers and witnesses to my many mistakes.

I’ve broken down on a highway and had nice people help me push the car to the side, I’ve broken down on the way to drop the girl off at school (she really freaked out at that one. Punching the seat, banging herself against door, screaming and crying while I’m trying to figure out what I’ve done wrong). I’ve had a lot of trials with this car, but in the end, I am so lucky to have one on this island.

Don’t hate me ‘cause I’m beautiful

My friends may be fearful of my jerkiness, they may be scared of how to pull the string to open the passenger’s door, and they may hate that smell of gas that secretes when you shove more than two people in the car. But either way, we’ve gotten to go on amazing hikes, seen more remote parts of the island and had more freedom than most.


I’m not the only one who has learned to drive on this island! Check out my friend Daphne’s hilarious experience in driving school in Ibiza. My favorite part of her post:

The teacher, Nando, was quite a character and took the classes in a very particular style. There was lots of shouting and banging on the white board as well and endless swear words and sexual references which had the class clapping and howling with laughter. Moreover, the speed at which he talked was quite something. To get us to remember the facts, he would fire questions at a million miles an hour, repeating them over and over so the answers would stick in people’s heads. This was too much to cope with at first and I sat at the back totally lost; clueless as to what had just been said and what was so funny.

A few weeks in however, and I was getting the hang of it. Nando’s technique was actually effective and the constant repetition of facts and figures meant they were sticking. I was even laughing at his vulgar jokes. Even so, I can’t say he was the most honest of teachers. It was soon evident that he wasn’t there to teach us the road rules but the tricks to the exam. Each week he claimed he had ‘seen the questions’ on the test and did everything he could to get us to pass. This even went as far as making stickers that he advised everyone to stick on their arm when they went into the exam! Only in Spain.

If you are considering driving in Spain, don’t forget to learn the rules of the road. I had some difficulties at first because street signs and laws are a bit different!


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