Getting around the island of Sicily has been a big learning experience for both of us. As the driver, I’ve had to adjust to the wild and unpredictable ways of Sicilian automobilisti. For passengers, the most descriptive term for the experience has been “nerve wracking” (thanks Mike!), but mostly, it’s good practice for not screaming out in terror even though you really might want to.
When it comes down to actually driving in Sicily, fortune favors the bold. Imagine traffic after a concert or a football game. Now imagine that quantity of traffic driving fast. In the downtown of a city. Add cobblestone streets, and the Italian penchant for not following rules. Let’s just say that teaching Americans how to drive defensively doesn’t prepare anyone for driving in this country.
A Maltese taxi cab driver told me last week that he refuses to drive in Sicily. He drives for a living.
I can see why; there’s crazy going on all around you. Sicilians will pass you on the right. They’ll pass you on the left, even if traffic is coming. They’ll use a left turn lane as a passing lane. They’ll use a right turn lane as a passing lane. They’ll pull right out in front of you, and if you don’t do the same to someone else, Sicilians behind you will honk at you for taking too long to turn. Or they’ll just go around you. On either side.
When you’ve finally worked up the courage to drive fast enough that you’re not getting passed so much, you’ll realize that lanes don’t mean anything to a Sicilian. This is a good thing since in town nobody’s bothered to paint them. If there’s room for a car, there will be a car there shortly. What stoplights may exist in town are merely for decoration, which is also true for the rest of the road signs. No parking? No passing? Do Not Enter? Va bene.
Roundabouts are another adventure. Ironically, the yield signs entering a roundabout are generally respected. Drivers will yield if they’re supposed to, but only if there is imminent danger of an accident due to not yielding. If there’s any more than a one-meter gap between cars, then there’s room for them to pull out. Once I began thinking about it like one big merge on the DC Beltway, the process got a lot easier.
The result of all the crazy driving is that everybody pays attention. Once you learn to do that, you realize that driving here is actually more predictable – easier perhaps, though certainly not less stressful – than driving in the states. I actually kind of like it.
California motorists, better watch your back this March!