Italian drivers’ always get a bad press; growing up in the UK they were portrayed as speeding motorists constantly beeping horns and tailgating. This stereotype, in part is correct. Tailgating seems to be the favourite pastime of the large 4×4 drivers in our rural community. The horn beeping isn’t as voracious as that in old black and white films of Rome, the reason being that a decade or so ago before you could overtake another car you had to sound your horn, this practice has now since been abolished and so beeping is down to a minimum.
One thing that does amaze me is the vast numbers of one-armed motorists: I’m not suggesting there’s been a spate of accidents with chainsaws during the olive harvest or that there’s a problem with congenital defects in the area. The reason for this one-armed driving is because the Italian population has become permanently attached to their mobile phones. Sometimes I’m certain they only go out in their cars to make a phone call. Like other countries the practice is illegal and carries an on the spot fine, but either the police are blind to hand to mobile to ear driving, or they’re too busy making their own calls to notice.
This practice of one armed driving isn’t only prevalent with phone users, it’s also the adopted practice of lotharios. I’ve seen many a young man driving with one hand on the steering wheel and his other arm around his girlfriend’s shoulder. I just wonder what’s being used to change the gears?
Driving here is less stressful than back in the UK, because the volume of traffic is much less in our rural idyll, we do have the speed demons who overtake on bends narrowly missing oncoming traffic by centimetres, and we have the aged drivers who seem not to have a clue to who has right of way. And like the UK we have roads pockmarked with potholes that have to navigated with care and some of the dips and bends make going to work like a ride at Alton Towers. Oh, and don’t get me started on the steep hills that lead to a T junction that give a whole new meaning to the hill start.
Apart from rush hour (over 5 cars at a time) when going to the office the most people I encounter are local farmers in Ape’s or on tractors; my favourite being a local nonagenarian who drives his tractor with his dog on the seat beside him and his wife straddling the engine: It’s quite amusing at crossroads as she has to lean forward and press herself flat so he can look for other road users before moving on.
Finally, there’s one type of one-armed motorist that la bell’Italia isn’t impervious to, that of the van driver. I think they’re a universal breed; men who have perfected the art of driving with one hand on the wheel and the other feeding their face with confectionery or a cigarette and of course there’s the van driver who drives with his outside arm either resting beside the open window or dangling outside the cab to top up and maintain their van tan.