Monday, February 25, 2013

Adventures in Italian Driving


that's all I could say when I made it through my first drive on the back roads of Italy. Gasping for air and soaked in sweat, I was relieved to have made it alive. I've learned a few things about driving Italian-style since I've been here...

Threesies: Husband and I have even invented this word and use it often in stories of our daily commutes. A threesie  is when one drives on Italian city streets and three cars pass at the same time on a two lane (often narrow) road. Sometimes this can even be threesies and a bicycle or threesies and a moped. Most of the time it's not as scary as it sounds but there are often variables that can give you white knuckles or even a little pee in the pants. These variables can be things such as no shoulder, threesies with a large truck, threesies while we are driving our minivan, threesies with a bicycle, pedestrian and a large truck. You get the picture.

Small Is Good: Having a small vehicle not only helps you blend with the Italians but also makes it much easier to do threesies and drive Italian-style. We have our American minivan and our other car is a beat up Fiat Punto. It just so happens that every third car in Italy is a Fiat Punto so sometimes we can't find our car in the mall parking lot. Memorizing our plate number has helped locate our vehicle in large parking lots.

Aggressive: Forget everything you've ever learned about driving defensively in the US. It just doesn't fly here. If you want to get honked at, yelled at, hands waved in air by a cursing Italian man or even crashed into, drive defensively. I prefer to do as the natives do and drive like a nut. It's easy in our little Fiat Punto and a bit more difficult in the big minivan but like Husband exclaimed the other day "The Italians sure do respect the van!" It's size and power are not something they are used to and they steer clear.

Blinkers: Nothing points you out as an American like the use of your car blinkers to signal a lane change or a turn. Just saying.

I do use my blinkers on a roundabout to escape death...

Roundabout: Italians (and Europeans) are crazy about roundabouts. And I have to admit, they are awesome and keep traffic flowing. However, I have witnessed, in some large cities like Paris and Rome, a lack of respect for roundabout lanes and twelvsies chaos occurring on a roundabout. Here, in Northern Italy, they work like a charm.  I do use my blinker when exiting a roundabout if the traffic is bad because the aggressive Italian will cut you off. Hell, in the Fiat, with the blinkers, I still get cut off. But in the van... ahhhh,  they respect the van HA!

Carabinieri and Speeding:  I don't speed a lot anyway but here in Italy, you don't do a lot of rearview mirror checking for cops or feel a general sense of panic when you see the local law enforcement. They don't usually spend manpower checking your speed. They let speed cameras do the work for them. Recently, they installed two of these blue speed boxes on the curb near our neighborhood and suddenly everyone was driving 30 mph where they used to drive 50 mph. Then the local drivers figured out that there was no camera in the new boxes! They only put the camera in occasionally and then post a sign to remind you to slow down. Now, isn't that nice?

Lollipop Sticks:  are not a special Italian candy but what people here call the wand with the red circle at the end. The Carabinieri will wave their lollipop stick to stop you randomly and check your papers and insurance. This can be on the city roads or on the Autostrada. Just be aware.

Motorcycles: Since Husband drives a Harley, this is something we found alarming. And we shake our heads at it because it is so unsafe and completely contrary to all the safety classes Husband has been forced to attend. In Italy, all two-wheeled motorized vehicles, from small-engined mopeds to big ass motorcycles, drive to the far right inviting aggressive Italian drivers to not see them, pass them or ignore them.  When Husband rides, he always stays towards the center line and takes over the whole lane. This drives the locals nuts. He just doesn't want to get hit and killed. So, if you are a motorcycle driver or a new auto driver in Italy, watch for two wheeled vehicles.

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