“Who’s that at the end of the bar Toni?” I indicated with a nod to the chap who was muttering to himself, his hand shaking every time he picked up his drink. “Oh that’s just Nico.” Toni replied, as he continued to polish the only glass that had been used that day. “Pay no attention.”
“What’s wrong with him?” I insisted.
Nino stopped for a moment and lent over to talk confidentially. “He’s a driving instructor.” He whispered.
“Oh, right , enough said.”
We both turned to look as Nico shook half the contents of his drink over the bar counter. “Oh well, back to work” he said with false bravado. “One day I’ll get this as far as my mouth.”
I don’t know what the suicide rate for driving instructors in Calabria is, I only know it must take a special kind of courage. You know how much I love the Italian way of life but yes, if there’s one thing that could be the tiniest, weeniest bit better, it’s the driving. I have therefore taken it upon myself to offer the following survival hints to the uninitiated traveller to these parts. The essential guide to motoring in Southern Italy.
Hint No.1: Most Italians learn their road sense on a machine called a vespa (scooter) at the age of 14. Just when they’re learning what else a penis can do, they learn that they can also ride this thing without regard to consequence or concern about anyone else on the way. …who needs to indicate that they’re coming up the inside when it should be patently obvious. This carefree approach becomes ingrained by the time they graduate to 4 wheels, only faster.
Hint No.2: Cars in Italy come as a more basic model, regardless of country of origin, and extras are fitted as needed. E.g. The indicator is almost never needed and mirrors are only for make-up or hanging things from, faith takes care of the rest.
Hint No.3: Headlights: During the day dipped headlights are legally required on main roads, fog lamps just to make sure and full beam essential for reserve ammunition.
Hint No.4: Rear/Brake Lights: Regular checking that these function is not necessary, you’re not worried about where you’ve been just where you’re going. Red lights are for Christmas trees and streets of sin.
Hint No.5: Horns: Horns are essential, especially before the lights change or, passing a side entrance from which exit is prohibited or, when you’ve been waiting for more than 1.5 seconds or, if you’re just bored.
Hint No.6: Hands Free: Hands free means hands occupied elsewhere (mobile in one, cigarette in another and child in the third). i.e. Hands free of the steering wheel.
Hint No.7: Seatbelts: The seatbelt should be fastened to stop the warning noise (modern vehicles only) Not required for small children who should be free to wander around the interior at will.
Hint No.8: Windscreens: Windscreens are to stop wind escaping and small children from projecting any further than the bonnet when stopping unexpectedly (which is expected).
Passenger seat: Where the small child stands, head out of the window, when the driver can’t be bothered holding it anymore.
Hint No.10: Speedo: What’s that, something to swim in?
Hint No.11: Cars: From the outside it may look like a Fiat 500, a Ford Fiesta or any other normal hatchback but once inside, like the Tardis, it takes on a whole new dimension. It becomes either the Batmobile or a tractor, there is no middle road. (pun intended)
Hint No.12: Traffic Lights: Green means go, red means go faster.
Hint No.13: Solid White Line: No overtaking.
Hint No.14: Double Solid White Line: Definitely no overtaking.
Hint No.15: Dotted White Line: Overtake up to 3 abreast, 4 if there’s nothing coming the other way.
Hint No.16: Blind Corner/Sharp Bend: Overtake now….you only live twice…Shit! Sorry, make that once.
Hint No.17: One Way Street: My way.
Hint No.18: Hand Signals: WARNING! On no account use hand signals, you have no idea who’s in the other car.
Hint No.19: Exit Lane: Exit lane, entry lane, who cares.
Hint No.20: No Exit: Sorry, what did you say?
Hint No.21: Accident Repair: If the seat still works carry on..
Parking: Wherever takes your fancy, preferably the pavement, across a street corner or next to the vehicle already parked there. Parking is an art form and should be studied carefully before attempting yourself for the first time.
Further ‘real’ important information for the visiting driver:
In the event of being cut up, tailgated or offended by any other road traffic offence, do NOT get angry or try to respond in kind. Do nothing……it’s just the way it is. When hiring a vehicle, choose a small hatchback (it’s a smaller target and easier to park) and do take out all the insurance options. Carry all your vehicle documents, registration, license etc. at all times. Really make sure you drive with your headlamps on during the day on the main roads/auto strada. The traffic police do random spot checks at the most unexpected places and times. And watch out for those scooters…they won’t watch out for you!!
Calabria welcomes safe drivers!