Thinking of driving in Italy?

Here are a few helpful pointers to improve your driving experience in Italy:

1. If you are a man, never drive in the slow lane. It is demeaning.

No Italian man willingly remains in the slow lane. Any Italian man forced to drive in the slow lane, such as a truck driver, will keep two of his wheels at all times touching the white line of the fast lane and will veer across the white line at regular intervals, particularly if they think you are about to overtake them.

2. When travelling in the fast lane, never give slow lane users enough space to pull out in front of you.

Italians always, always accelerate ahead of traffic into the fast lane. They don’t give others space to pull out and they don’t expect it in return. They never wait for a sensibly sized gap to open up before pulling out. All gaps are considered sensible. The smaller the gap, the faster they will accelerate into it. Within an hour of driving in and around Milan you will have learned to do the same.

3. Indicator lights are only ever deployed after you manoeuvre.

Of course, indicator lights are really only ever used by tourists. No Italian would ever signal their intent to manoeuvre. Why would they? Why invite preemptive action? Did Shumacher’s Ferrari have an indicator light? No.

So no Fiat Uno driver will ever use theirs.

4. Always make your frustrations and any perceived slights known to as many other road users as possible.

This isn’t just an Italian trait. British drivers like to swerve sharply in front of miscreants or, drive right up to the back of drivers who refuse to pull over into a slower lane. Of course, when the shoe is on the other foot and someone is up your backside, then it’s your job to remind them of the recommended motorway braking distance by tapping your brake suddenly for no reason. How else will they learn?

The only difference between British and Italian drivers in this respect, is that Italians show their emotions. Brits may offer up a death stare or a tiny shake of the head at most. Whereas Italians, men and women both, delight in taking both hands off the wheel, tossing their hair around and gesticulating wildly to wrong doers and innocent passersby alike.

5. All Italian motorway service stations follow the pre-Glasnost Soviet Union retail model.

On entering an Italian service station, you first approach the counter serving coffee and croissants. You join the scrum (obviously there are no queues) and after 10 minutes of elbowing your way to the front, you place your order for 2 espressos and a couple of brioche. Then the lady behind the counter points to the checkout counter behind your back at the entrance/exit and yells. “Ticket” Ticket”. You then realise you were supposed to have pre-paid for your 2 espressos (and brioche) and received a ticket before approaching the coffee counter.

So you turn around to head back to the checkout counter. But the bunch of other tourists behind you suddenly realise that they require a ticket too and they all head back to the checkout counter, ahead of you. So, now you’re behind all the tourists who came in after you and all behind those Italians who already know they must first visit the checkout counter to buy their espresso tickets.

So you scrum again, with both the bewildered tourists and the frustrated Italians. This scrum, however, is much harder work because the checkout counter is right beside the entrance turnstyle. In other words, every single person entering the motorway service station has to push their way through the ‘queue’ for people paying for coffee they haven’t yet ordered.

In fact, there may no longer be any queue at all at the actual coffee and croissant counter because none of the lucky ticket holders have yet managed to fight their way through the ever burgeoning scrum blocking up the entrance.

When you do finally reach the front of the cash desk scrum, you point at the sign above the check out lady and order dooaaaay espressos and doooaaay brioche. She takes your euros and hands you a ticket with your order number.

At that very moment a coachload of German tourists arrive, the scrum of Italians strangely melts away in an instant but the Germans immediately march through to the coffee and croissant counter. ‘Nooooo…!’ you want to scream. ‘You need to buy an espresso ticket first! They use the Soviet system here!’

Your heart sinks as you realise you are facing your third scrum of the morning. All you wanted was 2 espressos and a couple of brioche. Suddenly the throng of German tourists about turn, en masse, in formation like a flock of Starlings. You seize your opportunity, like a Sockeye Salmon in a fierce current, and force your way upstream to the front of the coffee counter and hand over your treasured ticket for 2 espressos and 2 brioche.

A moment later you receive a giant hot chocolate covered in whipped cream and speckled with smarties. You say…

…nothing. Because you are British.

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