Yes, we had heard of it happening in Italy, but.. really?
Seriously, it does happen, and it DID happen! Being from America, we could hardly comprehend that such behavior was considered (at least by many Italians) to be acceptable.
What is the pinch in question? Allora, if you must ask, you may not know Italian men very well. Yep, when they see a woman’s nice derriere, they cannot – or will not – keep their fingers to themselves.
During our first trip to Italy in the late 90’s, my wife – with her very shapely and tight derriere – was walking over one of the 400 or so bridges in Venice. On this little bridge, there was an Italian man going in the opposite direction. To her absolute surprise, he pinched her bottom! However crass he was for doing it, at least he had very good taste.
But, if I had seen the incident, I would have told him – uh – my ability with the Italian language at that time would have been completely insufficient! However, my limited ability with L’Italiano is no drawback when push comes to shove. Or is that, when “pinch” comes to shove?
My wife experienced this “friendly” welcome-to-Italy twice while in Venezia that day. What is it about Italiani? Don’t they get enough attention at home? Hmm. Guess not.
You see, Venetians have a long history of using bridges for more than just a means of crossing the water. In the period from the 14th century to 1705, the bridges were used for “mock” wars. During these “Bridge Wars”, people used sharpened sticks to fight for territory, on the bridges. You see, because Venice has very few open spaces for fighting and other outdoor rituals, the bridges were used for that. So, I suppose that in modern times the cry became, “make love not war”.
In Italy, it has now been declared illegal to pinch bottoms. But with bottom-pinching now off limits, the new Italiani threats to attractive women are the roving “groper gangs”. There they still linger today, waiting, for the unsuspecting or the vulnerable.
“A Zebra by any other name…” Just ask any native of Verona, Italy, if they are “Shakespearean” in all things – or just as the beautiful setting for Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet”. This is a true story about the Zebra Walk. Can you guess that it is not about a wild animal park? Or Italian Designer shoes? Hmm…
In Italy, this is not a zebra walk:
In Italy, this is not a zebra walk:
In Italy, this is a zebra walk:
This is a Zebra Walk – and if Filippo had seen these beauties outside of the Zebra Walk, he probably would have stopped the car to give them a personal escort to safety!
Si, of course it’s different – if you are used to the American kind of Zebra. Uh – does America have a native zebra? It’s a long story, but this is the short version; I won’t keep you too long at the crosswalk. Yes, it’s another story about how not to drive in Italy, at least from my foreign perspective.
• One tiny car loaded with two American visitors
• One young, spirited, and energetic Italian friend, driving said car, and acting as impromptu tour guide
• One crisp, beautiful spring day
• One 20 kilometer trip to Mantova, Italy, The City of Art
After a leisurely Verona morning of great Cappuccinos, pastries, prosciutto (ham) and other breakfast delights, we were ready to go to Mantova. Originally it was named Mantua, but after one of the many changes of ruling families in the Italian city-states, it became Mantova, reflecting a change of dialect in the language. Yes, even in Italy they can mess with a perfectly good language – like we do in America. “Know what I mean?”
Enjoying a somewhat leisurely drive from Verona, we were almost to Mantova, when our Italian “tour guide” suddenly became very alert! “Che, che? (What, what?) That woman is not in the zebra walk!” He exclaimed loudly and passionately, abruptly changing his posture in the Fiat. Yes, Filippo was in control of the car and no rule could go unbroken – not even by an elderly white-haired woman, whose misfortune was probably just being in a different Time Zone. Slow time, morning time, slow knees time, any time – but not – Filippo’s time.
Moving like a Formula One champion driver, Filippo rapidly swerved to the right side of the strada, valiantly insuring that the “pedestrians stay in the zebra walk” rule was enforced. In the process, the elderly lady nearly fell on her face as she, in her feeble and “not-enough-espresso-café” condition, struggled to avert the oncoming missile on four wheels that careened toward her. As she looked over her shoulder at the rapidly closing car, she just avoided, by the narrowest of margins, being brushed by the Fiat. Its wake harshly ruffled her hair and clothes. We Americans breathed a sigh of relief. Better an air wake than a funeral wake, to be sure. It was immediately certain to us that Filippo had not been a Boy Scout. Oh, he was surely prepared. He could be trusted to try his best to enforce the laws. He loyally did his duty to his country. He could bravely take on any adversary – even the Polizia! Yet, where were helpful, friendly, courteous, and kind?
As we passed by the panting woman with the less-than-friendly countenance, we knew that it would be a day to remember. Would all of our trips by automobile – la machina – be as memorable? Well, allora, we had many other travel experiences, and yes, they were all “memorable”. Some we’d rather not remember, but after all, it is Italia.
Yes, I know that you took Drivers’ Ed in high school. You probably aced it. No tickets on your driving record? Great for you! (if true, he-he) Now, get ready for — “Driving Italian Style 101”.
What is different about driving in Italy, you ask? Don’t they know right from left (unlike the UK)? Right, uh, correct, yes they do. They have stop signs and traffic lights, right? Well, sort of. They just don’t acknowledge them. Don’t Italians have driver licenses that show competence in motor vehicle control? Yes. Well, then? Allora? OK, I’m getting there.
Italians are great Formula One race car drivers, and their country makes the coveted, expensive, and stylish brands, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Alfa Romeo, Pininfarina, Maserati, Lancia, Bugatti, Fiat — oops. Uhh — doppio oops!
Italy is a country of great inventors and artists – too many to list. We can also greatly appreciate their wonderful contributions to modern society in fashion. Allora, what is “Italian Driving Class” doing on a blog post? Because, IMO, “the style and elegance of Italy” demands to be represented by “Italian Style Drivers”, too. Yes, they have their own style of daring – uh, driving.
A classic comparison: In the States, as a rule, we have a lane for each purpose. Turn lane, passing lane, exit lane, no passing lane, etc. Well, allora, in Italia they have – on “normal” roads – a wide shoulder, which is their way of making a two lane road into three lanes or even more. Drivers are free to whiz down the middle, or along the shoulder, or both – as they swerve side to side! They do whatever it takes to get around that car in front of them. It’s up to the slower car to ease toward shoulder or toward center just barely enough to let them get by without a major collision. What economies of scale! How inventive!
How can they do that? No problema. When it is desired by an Italian driver to pass – wait, I should explain. “Desired by an Italian driver” is generally a sudden, passionate whim or urge to move with fevered speed and… Oh, let’s save the fireworks for later, please.
Our first trip to Italy was a type of culture shock. Awake for more than 25 hours and finally landing safely in Venice, we were “treated” to our first “Italian Style Driving” – by an American driver, no less. George was deeply steeped in Italian motorcar traditions. Even the Italian drivers were flashing their lights and pressing their horns in repeated warnings to him. Without heed, he continued to pass every vehicle he could possibly get around, in situations that even the native drivers would not have dared. The diesel fumes – it seems like most of the vehicles use diesel fuel – were very thick and burned the nostrils. As it was about 45 kilometers to our hotel, we were at the mercy of “Crazy George” (as we later learned his behind-his-back nickname to be). Crazy George, it seems, was in a hurry to return to Castelcucco – Crazy Castle – for his afternoon siesta.
We (his passengers) were not only ‘drunk’ on diesel fumes, had severe jet lag, and had not had time for sleep prior to the trip, but also, could not tolerate his style of death-defying driving. I was sitting behind him. I admit it, I snapped. I took his neck firmly by both hands and told him to drive safely or I would take over the van and drive it myself. Me, a van-jacker?! His girlfriend, who apparently didn’t notice that his driving frightened even the Italians, said that we would get used to it. Well, I guess my “ruse” worked. He calmed enough for me to release the grip on his neck.
Because Italy is an old country, it has traditions that date back thousands of years. Take a roundabout, for example. Driving in a roundabout is sort of like a jousting match, but there IS a predetermined “winner.” You see, at the intersections – unlike in the States where the little vehicle or underdog gets a fighting chance – in Italy, the largest vehicle goes first. By law. Yes, a big semi-truck has the right to squash that Smart car and its driver, thereby ridding the streets of a minor obstacle in order to smooth the traffic flow. You DO understand it all makes sense – in an Italian kinda way. Doesn’t it? Hmmm…
Driving in an Italian roundabout
Also, the Autostrada (Interstate-style) speed limits are a great example of Bureaucratic smarts. There are actually several different posted speeds along the Autostrada – each for different types of cars. The cars with more powerful engines can legally go faster than the smaller, less muscled cars. What about the smaller cars with “souped up” engines? (Like the one we drove to Cortina one day – but that’s an entirely different story.) You just might get ticketed in one of those hot rods, if you try the faster speed. Or… maybe not. ;) Probably just one example of why the death rate for motor vehicle accidents is about twice, per mile driven, than in the States.
There are other oddities in Italian driving, but I must go, as rush hour traffic has begun and I need to go out and practice for our next trip to Italy. Ciao a presto!
There we were, Gail and I, with Filippo, owner and driver of a new model Fiat. It was nice, and comfortable for a small car. Filippo was driving us in and around Verona, Italy, for the grand tour. For Filippo, it seemed that driving was more of a non-contact demolition race. Yes, he is certainly an interesting driver. LOL!
Rules for driving in Italy? Sort of like “Rules in a knife fight?” a la Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. In other words, NONE, at least for Filippo. Mo re on Filippo’s daring demolition, uh driving, skills later.
Man, could Filippo make it through unbelievable tight spots, traffic jams, and into even the most minute of parking places – those about the right size for a motor scooter. Can anyone back a small Fiat into a 6’ or 7’ parallel parking space? “NO”, you say? That’s what I thought, too. It looked impossible to me, and I can parallel park with the best of them. The constant beeping from the proximity sensor in the Fiat had Filippo cursing nonstop (in Italian, of course). He didn’t need the sensor anyway. He could easily have parallel parked the Fiat in that tiny space without it. Filippo maneuvered deftly as the sensor constantly beeped, he constantly cursed, and he repeated several times, “si, si, capisco” (“yes, yes, I know”) to the beeping sensor. He was obviously annoyed, talking to the sensor as if it could understand him. He wanted the sensor to know that HE knew he was close to taking the front bumper off of the car that he was backing up against – and the rear bumper off the one in front of us.
There were only several inches, (hmm, sorry, I was exaggerating – make that centimeters) between the three cars when he finished his demonstration and we were safely out of the perfectly parked car. We asked him about his Fiat. “Allora (well), first it is not a Fiat (FEE-ott).” It was a small lesson in Italian pronunciation. You see, in Italy, Fiat is pronounced FEE-it – like a gossiping woman from the rural south in the USA says “fit”. “Well, she just had herself a hissy-FEE-it.”
Allora, Filippo’s demonstration that day was only one of the many Italian driving exhibitions we experienced. I’ll have to tell you about some more of them another day.
At least the Fiat was bigger than a Smart Car. At that time, Smart Cars had not yet learned how to cross the pond into the US. And they call them “smart”, LOL. Not smart! Those things are about the size of a large motorcycle with a tin shell cover and maybe a radio. That way when you are being smashed by a semi truck, you can listen while your favorite station gives a traffic update on your accident, too.
Well (oops, “allora”), there was some drama later for Filippo in his minuscule parking space. It seems that there was a demonstration in the street that night after we left the really wonderful restaurant – where we had been harassed by rose peddlers, probably from Romania. What a nuisance. Unless, of course, you like having a gypsy trying to sell you dead roses every 10 or 15 minutes while you’re conversing and eating with your friends.
After the meal, as Filippo was attempting to leave his “cozy” parking space, the strada (street) was blocked by dozens of demonstrators for a cause “dear to their hearts”. What was dear to Filippo’s heart, though, was to leave and go the direction that he wanted to – into the demonstrators! (Never mind that that required a very tight U-turn on a very narrow street – but we had complete faith that Filippo could handle THAT!) We got to witness the Italian version of the “Mexican Standoff” right there in the street! The Polizia were called and there was a classic Italian shouting match. Did it matter that the cops were siding with the majority? NO! Not to Filippo. He continued on, in his hot-headed Italian way (or American way, for that matter).
We tried to talk him off his soap box but he was stuck – too much Grappa, maybe. Grappa, if you don’t know, is a type of liqueur – extremely strong! It is made from the dregs of the grapes after the good juice has been removed for making wine.
Finally it was finished and we still had a ride home. Not with the Polizia, but with the dare-devil demonstrative Filippo. In his FEE-it. Whew.