Driving in Italy

We survived our week of renting a car and driving in Italy. Italian drivers don’t seem any worse than the ones I’ve encountered in Minnesota and they don’t drive any faster and crazier than the drivers I’ve experienced in and around Atlanta.

Italians do drive a bit more aggressively in that they’ll fit their cars into any space big enough to hold them, and since most of the cars are, in fact, about the size of a golf cart they can get these into some pretty small places. Give an Italian an inch and he’ll park in it. Show the slightest hesitation and you can expect three or four cars to jump in front of you. The funny thing is, this doesn’t bother me the way it would at home. If someone crowded me on Hennepin Avenue or Robert St. it would be downright rude and it might draw a rude response. Here that’s just the way everybody does it – and the weird thing is that there isn’t any road rage. Not only that, we saw just one accident (a minor one) in the time we were here. Maybe if your expectation is for others to follow proper driving etiquette at all times you are more apt to be offended when that expectation isn’t met. If the prevailing “etiquette” is that everyone is going to take (or make) the most direct path to their destination it somehow works out. In a way it’s kind of like walking in a crowd. When we’re walking we move diagonally, sidestep, shuffle and adjust course or “change lanes” often, scarcely giving a thought to those behind or even beside you. That’s how Italian driving works. I know it sounds counter-intuitive for an orderly system, but the thing is, it works. About the only rule is: don’t get in the way.

Yes, this is a real car. They’re everywhere over here. So, which of the two in this picture is cuter?

Don’t clog the left lane on the autostrada, and if someone flashes his lights behind you, you move over (you definitely don’t flip him off or go even slower). The great thing is, this works in your favor as well when you need to get around someone.

A big advantage in driving in Italy is that they drive on the same side of the road as we do. The disadvantage is in not knowing the language. The road signs and other basics are pretty simple, but it is disconcerting when you see signs that have your destination on them, followed by a lot of other words that you don’t understand. I mean, it must be something important to know, or else they wouldn’t have put the sign up – but what does it mean?

Does it say, “Closed for resurfacing 12 kilometers ahead” or “No passing on Tuesdays” or, maybe, “You just think you’re on the A12”?

Oh well, Italy wasn’t nearly as scary as we thought it would be. Now it’s on to a car rental in England, where the language is at least the same (or close), but they drive on the other side of the road.

4 thoughts on “Driving in Italy

  1. When I was in Rome, one of the wackiest things I saw about traffic is that pedestrians just walk out into traffic to cross the road, and cars slow down. Did you see that there?

  2. I was supposed to slow down?


    Actually, it seems to be pretty common driving behavior here in England and in Italy. In Italy it was explained to us that it is the pedestrians responsibility to walk in a straight line and the drivers would adjust. In England, all bets are off (driving on the left with a left-hand manual gearshift is complicated enough!).

  3. The thing with Rome is when crossing the street/road you just have to stare the traffic down. Just be brave, step out and eyeball them. It’s the only way you’ll get anywhere.

    Also…is that a smart car I see?

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