SARONNO, Italy - It’s such a simple thing. Even chickens can get to the other side. But in Italy crossing the street is easier said than done.
As Italian journalist Beppe Severgnini points out in his book “Italians in Italy”, Italians think obedience is boring. They want to be the ones who decide whether or not a particular law applies to their situation. A red light is the perfect example. While in other parts of the world a red light means stop, here in Italy it is an opportunity to reflect on what kind of red light it is. Is it a pedestrian red? If it is, and at this hour there are no pedestrians, why bother stopping? Is it a red at an intersection? If you can see in every direction and there are no cars coming, no reason to stop here either.
I finally learned that pedestrians have to apply the same rules of the road when crossing them. Each situation has to be evaluated. For me, trying to get across the street in front of the white marble “wedding cake” monument to Victor Emmanuel II at the end of the Via del Corso in Rome was a nightmare.
I could never muster up the nerve to cross by myself. With cars zooming around the piazza and taxis swerving in and out of lanes, I would stand there terrified waiting for other people, preferably nuns or ladies with babies. After all I reasoned, this is Rome, the Pope lives here, they wouldn’t run over a nun would they? And with all the fuss they make about Italian mammas, I felt pretty safe with them as well. But even with my selected entourage I would scoot across to the other side as fast as I could, my heart in my mouth.
Happy Tourists Waiting to Do the Deed
But now that I have learned the secret of street crossing, I have a great deal of sympathy for my guests when I take them firmly by the arm as we are approaching a street. I hear them gasping as I step them off the curb right into oncoming traffic, and sometimes it is difficult to keep them from bolting across the street. But one of the secrets is to just walk at a normal pace, not to hurry and not to look to the left or the right. And when we do get to the other side of the street my guests always pull away from my grip and say: “Are you are trying to kill me?” Honestly, I’m not. It just looks that way.
One of the major difficulties with crossing streets in Italy is getting used to the fact that the cars are not going to stop, they go around you. Some may slow down, others may not, but it doesn’t change anything. Your part of this drama is to just keep walking.
Even the Ex-Prime Minister of Italy (the guy in the middle) Does It
If you are going to try this on your own, here’s what you have to remember:
Rule One: Crossing the street in Italy is a lot like skipping rope with two friends. With your friends turning the rope, you have to gauge the exact time to jump in, otherwise it doesn’t work. It is exactly the same with street crossing. Do not step out in front of a car that is going too fast to react to you stepping out in front of it.
Rule Two: Once you start across the street, keep a steady pace. Drivers are adjusting their speed in direct relationship to how fast or slow they see you going. If you suddenly speed up or slow down you throw them off and your chance of being hit increases substantially. So calm and steady is the rule. Keep in mind that the traffic is not going to come to a full stop and allow you to cross. The cars will slow down so you can pass in front of them, or they will go around you if traffic allows.
Rule Three: Don’t look at the oncoming cars. Let them look at you. They will do just about anything and everything, including drive up on the sidewalk, to avoid hitting you. This is a truth you have to know in your heart for it takes courage to step off the curb and into oncoming traffic, it’s a little like a bull fighter entering the ring sans sword.
My Mama Always Told Me To Look Both Ways
Now I'm having second thoughts about advising you to step out into traffic. Maybe it's not such a good idea after all. Maybe it's the kind of thing you have to ease into instead of jump into, I'm not sure. Anyway the pictures in this video is worth more than a thousand words. In this video a young American couple is trying to put some logic to road crossing rules. The old guy you see at the end of the video is obviously Italian, maybe it's a gene thing.
Can you tell who is Italian in this video is and who isn’t? Warning: the music is horrible.
For the latest in fashion news and views from the fashion capital of the world follow me on twitter.com/Italianlife