When in Rome… …drive sen­si­bly

Kentish Express Ashford & District - - OPINION - by Paul Francis

Call me a con­spir­acy the­o­rist but how come I never saw a sin­gle car with learner plates? Or any sign of an Ital­ian Tufty, dis­pens­ing cau­tion­ary ad­vice about how to cross the road?

IT was about the time that we had been over­taken on a steep hill ap­proach­ing a bend in the road with ab­so­lutely no idea whether a 20-tonne jug­ger­naut was com­ing around the cor­ner at 100mph that it dawned on me that just pos­si­bly, the Ital­ians have a slightly dif­fer­ent approach to driv­ing than we do.

sup­pose that if it hadn’t been quite so ter­ri­fy­ing, this cava­lier, devil-may-care at­ti­tude could have been rather en­ter­tain­ing. I should have been sus­pi­cious when I went to col­lect the hire care from An­to­nio, who looked on in amaze­ment as I tried to find the seat­belt and ap­peared gen­uinely be­wil­dered that some­one might want to min­imise their prospects of be­ing flung through the front wind­screen. On re­flec­tion, I sup­pose pootling around in a Fiat Punto at a steady 30mph, stop­ping at red lights and cheer­ily al­low­ing other driv­ers to ad­vance in front of you was rather like wav­ing a red flag in front of a par­tic­u­larly irate bull. Much as I was de­ter­mined to em­brace all as­pects of Si­cil­ian cul­ture dur­ing my hol­i­day, I could not bring my­self to adopt their in­sane approach to mo­tor­ing. The only rule seemed to be that there were no rules. Call me a con­spir­acy the­o­rist but how come I never saw a sin­gle car with learner plates? Or any sign of an Ital­ian Tufty, dis­pens­ing cau­tion­ary ad­vice about how to cross the road? (My ad­vice: don’t even try.) If there are driv­ing schools in Italy – and I’m not en­tirely con­vinced there are – I’m rather per­plexed by what it is they teach, al­though park­ing at jaunty an­gles when there’s clearly not enough space must be on the agenda. “Now then, when I tap the dash­board, I’d like you to push your foot down on the ac­cel­er­a­tor as hard as you can and try and hit that pedes­trian.” Or: “We’re ap­proach­ing a hill with no vis­i­bil­ity and a sharp bend up ahead. Try and over­take as many cars as you can and if you can’t, get as close as you pos­si­bly can to that car in front.” Oddly, by the end of the week, I have to con­fess that I had be­come prone to sound­ing the horn at ran­dom and wholly in­ap­pro­pri­ate mo­ments, on the ba­sis that if ev­ery­one else was do­ing it, why not me? I never thought I’d say this but it was some­thing of a re­lief to come back home and re­dis­cover the plea­sure of driv­ing about with­out be­ing sur­rounded by peo­ple who clearly learned ev­ery­thing they know by watch­ing the Wacky Races rather than the tra­di­tional method of hav­ing lessons with an in­struc­tor.

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