Saturday, March 10, 2012

More thoughts on driving

While another storm is raging outside, I am inside thinking about one of the subjects that come up again and again for me in this Sicilian life - driving. As I have written about before, rather than get all emotional about what I consider to be the dangerous, inconsiderate way the majority of the people drive here, I have resigned myself to the role of neutral observer.  I just automatically expect the worst of other drivers, and I try to never let myself relax from the defensive mode that is the only way to ensure safety behind the wheel.

But I still observe carefully, and comment endlessly, on what I see around me. Think cultural anthropologist. It has turned into a sort of game with the 4 year old, pointing out all the illegalities or dangerous maneuvers we see around us as we make our way to school in the morning. He has become expert at noticing the motorcycle and scooter drivers that are without helmets, that have helmets but choose to hang them off handlebars instead of wear them, or even more astonishing, wear helmets but without securing the strap under the chin. He especially loves pointing out the interesting ways people park here -- whether it be double or triple parking, parking on sidewalks, parking in piazzas, parking half in half out of a spot, parking with hazards on, the variations are endless.

But what I am now certain about is that other than the handful of so-called normal drivers that follow basic road rules like staying in your own lane, giving right of way when appropriate, using signals, looking over your shoulder before turning, etc., there are 2 types of drivers here. First, are the reckless drivers, those that appear to be completely above the law. These are the drivers that will honk impatiently behind you, riding your tail as if YOU were breaking the law by actually driving the speed limit. As soon as there is an opening they will quickly pass you and often gesture with the bobbing back and forth hand, which essentially means 'what the heck is your problem?' They also weave in and out of traffic on normal city roads, pretend not to see you when you are trying to make a lane change, and believe that stop signs and certain red lights are optional. What I find most infuriating are when reckless drivers make left hand turns; they don't wait for a safe opening in the traffic, they actually eek out into the oncoming traffic until a car has no choice but to stop, giving them right of way. You would think that more accidents would happen, but it is just culturally acceptable to drive recklessly here, people expect it and even accept it. To the point that if you are the one who doesn't slow down to let that person making the left hand turn pass, then you are the nasty one!

In contrast to the reckless drivers are the oblivious ones. I mean no disrespect, but often oblivious drivers are of older generations and often they are driving small, puttering vehicles. I actually like these innocently oblivious drivers now because they annoy the heck out of the reckless ones. When you find yourself on the road with an oblivious driver you can expect them to drive ridiculously slow. Be careful passing them because they usually don't understand the concept of staying in their own lane. In other words, they are swervers and will change lanes without once checking in the mirror or looking over their shoulder. The less innocent oblivious drivers are borderline reckless. They usually are talking on a cell phone or are engaged in an animated conversation with a passenger and as a result drive ridiculously slow and have no concern with staying in a single lane, either.

I am a bit unsure how to classify the drivers who never look before making a right hand turn onto a street - they just go for it and expect the oncoming traffic to not be there or to be paying better attention than they are. This level of oblivion can only be reckless, since I really do think it is intentional. Usually they don't even stop before making that right hand turn, and more than once I have had to honk to avoid collision. I am convinced that they think I am in the wrong for not having anticipated their turn, or at least scooted over a bit in my lane to make room for them.

So maybe all of this observing has paid off? More than just a way to entertain my son in the car, I am now understanding how these reckless, oblivious people think: they are in the right and you are in the wrong, and if you dare to question that then you are just asking for trouble. Think like them, don't fight it. Could this be a metaphor for my entire Sicilian existence? Accept the differences, no embrace them, and only then can you truly feel you belong.


  1. I think the main thing to remember is that the Italians are generally offensive, rather than defensive, drivers. It takes me a while to readjust in the (increasingly rarer) times that I go back to the UK. I think you're right - it's about understanding the way they think and rolling with it. Once you know to expect the unexpected then it all becomes easier.

    I still stand by the title of my blog, though ...

  2. Hi Katja, thanks for your message and for introducing me to your blog - which has a fantastic title by the way! I look forward to reading about your life here in Catania, too.

  3. I think you hit the nail on the head with that last idea. Now that you know how they think, and you can anticipate what they will do - you are a step closer to totally assimilating into their society. Not that I ever imagine you would begin to drive LIKE a Sicilian, but it's interesting how a different cultural group can affect the individual. I wish you safe travels and hope you didn't suffer many damages from the storms.

  4. Wow...and I thought Montreal was bad with the drivers here. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Just look out for the Fiat Pandas! those little tanks are the bad asses of the Sicilian roads..ha.


I'd love to hear from you!