There are countless stories, precautionary tales, and humorous recounts of Italian drivers circulating the internet, media, and social circles. One knows this going to Italy, and at times becomes hesitant to experience the phenomenon of Italian roads. However, due to the somewhat pressing issue that travelers must find a way to get around, visitors hopping across the pond to the Bel Paese are forced to investigate. This investigation is surprisingly not frightening, but intriguing: it’s not that Italian drivers are crazy. Most are actually the opposite: highly intelligent and skilled in their ability to maneuver tight alleys, confusing intersections, and cobblestone streets. And the best approach to ensuring a positive (and fun) driving experience during your Italian stay? Awareness! You might not want to adopt the Italian mindset, but understanding the culture of the roads you are trekking and your trip will not only be safe, but also memorable.
Italian Road Mentality 101: Rules are for Bending
Know the general mentality of those driving around you: Besides being wound tight in bureaucratic tape, laws in Italy are at times viewed by its citizens as more flexible than in Northern European countries or in the United States. This is well-put by Italian editorial columnist and author Beppe Severgnini in a comedic reflection on his home country, La Bella Figura: A Field Guide to the Italian Mind. One excerpt describes a trend in Italian driving attitudes: “We think it’s an insult to our intelligence to comply with a regulation. Obedience is boring… We want to decide whether a particular law applies to our specific case. In that place, at that time… Do you see that red light?… When many Italian see a red light, their brain perceives no prohibition (Red! Stop! Do Not Pass!). Instead, they see a stimulus. OK, then. What kind of red is it??…We don’t accept the idea that a ban is a ban, or that a red light is a red light. Our reaction is ‘Let’s talk about it!’” Severgnini’s analysis of Italian drivers shouldn’t scare you, but instead act as direction in your driving and increase your alertness: at a red light, don’t assume that all others will stop. Look both ways and then proceed!
The Parking Conundrum
As a civilization with crowded cities that have literally been under construction for thousands of years, there’s not much room left to build huge parking lots. Therefore, general street parking in large cities, especially the southern ones, is no easy task, and double (or triple) parking is not uncommon. It is a generally accepted fact that these infractions exists, but, following the flexibility outlined above, illegal. To illustrate the point, consider this recount of an American tourist on a recent trip to Sicily. The woman noticed rows of triple-parked cars and inquired to her host where the police were in all of this. She was told they were giving tickets. “To the whole town?” she asked. The answer was yes; all infractions would indeed be brought to justice! This piqued her next question, “Then why are the police also double parked?” The answer was absurdly logical…and quintessentially Italian: “Where else are they going to put their cars?” As a tourist, you will undoubtedly see law breakers – excuse me, benders – including government officials, but bending or breaking laws is done at your own risk, and as a non-Italian, that risk is great. Know that these laws do exist and unless you are prepared to defend your logic in fluent Italian in a court of law, try to be the one law-abiding drivers and follow the parking guidelines.
Driving in Italy is memorable, thrilling, and fun if you know the rules of the road. What other observations have you made about Italian driving and drivers? Share them with us below!