I think sometimes Italians are unjustifiably labelled ‘arrogant’. (Ok, sometimes justifiably.) I prefer to call them quirky. (Perhaps because whilst Australian, I also hold an Italian passport). What might be arrogance could also be called charming, innovative or creative, especially when it comes to driving.
Let me explain.
On the streets of Formia I witnessed an alarming number of ‘quirky’ driving techniques (not to mention crazed, kamikaze, and downright dangerous). This town’s streets were sometimes so narrow they were one-way and only wide enough for a single car. One sunny afternoon, my cousin was driving us around when she suddenly had to step on the brakes as the car in front of us came to a halt. What’s this?
Oh, I see – it’s a warm day so the driver had to stop, put the car in neutral, climb out of the car, pull off his jumper, smooth his hair down, get back in the car and then set of on his merry way again.
See? Quirky. Utterly quirky.
Then, while I was catching a bus from town, the driver suddenly stopped (in the middle of the street – no cissy pulling over to the side), wound down his window and called out to a fellow in a car heading the opposite way, in the opposite lane. Yes, effectively both cars held up traffic in both directions. Their important conversation went something like this:
‘Oh I’ve been busy!’
‘Never mind. Listen, are you coming to the BBQ on Saturday?’
‘Sure I am! What do you want me to bring?’
‘Nothing! Just yourself.’
‘Yes, promise. Just yourself.’
‘Ok, no worries, see you then.’
What I love though, is that nobody on the bus batted an eyelid. People continued to stare out the window, totally unperturbed by the small pause in their bus journey. Sure, there was a half hearted horn toot but nothing abusive. True, it only took a minute, but can you picture that taking place in any other city quite like so?
Not that there isn’t a bit of road rage now and then.
While hanging around in Rome I witnessed a fellow walking towards his car, only to find that someone had double parked next to him and he was trapped. Mm… what was he going to do? Well, I couldn’t hear him from where I was standing but I’m pretty sure there were a few ‘Holy….’, ‘Your mother is a ……’ before he starting beeping his horn, continuously for about ten minutes. Eventually a tall thin man started walking towards him nonchalantly. With his hands he indicated that the first fellow should really calm down. I paraphrase:
‘Hey, what’s your problem?’
‘What the f….k do you mean, “what’s my problem”? Your car is my problem. I can’t bloody get out!’
No actual sorry. Instead: ‘Sure, but there’s no need to get so upset. It was only 10 minutes and here I am. I’ll get out of the way right now. That’s all.’ He smiled kindly, apologetically, calmly – only implying ‘mi scusi’.
Quirky, charming and charismatic.
But it was on the island of Ponza that I witnessed yet another bus driver who illustrated the very essence of quirky Italian driver, employing all the charm, charisma and creativity at his disposal. On a gorgeous summer day, halfway through our journey around the island, at a busstop, the bus door jammed itself halfway open. Its panelled doors were thoroughly wedged. The driver turned to the passengers and asked, ‘Does anyone have any string?’.
It turns out nobody had any string.
(What he was going to do with the string still baffles me.)
He nods his head, in a ‘what-are-you-going-to-do’ style, and starts whistling a happy tune and continues on his way. At the next stop an elderly lady frowns at him through the half open door. He stares her down: ‘What do you want me to do lady? Do you have any string? No? Well then!’. He shrugs apologetically but tells her, ‘breathe in and get on or don’t. It’s up to you’.
She humphs and struggles in sideways. ‘Do I still have to pay’. Affronted he answers, ‘Ha! Certo!’. Certainly!
Humph… grumble, grumble. But she gets on. And she pays.