Sunday, September 07, 2008

It's the pedal on the right, people.

We all know that Italian drivers have quite a reputation. They speed. They tailgate. They treat stop signs like yield signs. They illegally pass slow cars (the Italian definition of "slow" being anyone who's only going 10-20 km over the speed limit). Mrs. Hall, my high school Driver's Education teacher, would be appalled.

When we first moved to Italy, we shipped our mini (behemoth) van with us. It wasn't exactly the sleek, hairpin-curve-hugging driving machine that one normally associates with Italian roads. It didn't fit in parking spaces. It didn't even really fit in parking garages. Whenever I'd descend down the narrow, spiral ramp into the darkened bowels of an Italian parking garage, my kids would actually cheer if they didn't hear the telltale metallic scrape of the side of my car against the concrete wall.

After a few months, I realized that my sense of personal driving space had narrowed in that not-so-mini van of mine. I no longer gasped when someone shot out from behind me and passed me on my right. At red lights, I barely noticed when motor scooters zipped past me in their rush to get to the front before the light turned green. And stop signs? Schmtop signs. I became as guilty as all the rest of the crazy Italians on the road.

But although I eventually became more comfortable behind the wheel, it was always "me" (the sane, safe driver) and "them" (the crazy Italians).

Until I moved back to the States.

I am now in a land where drivers put their turn signals on for each. And. Every. Turn. Even when no one else is around.

Where "speeding" means going 10-15 miles over the speed limit, and you could actually get a ticket.

Where people wait to turn left at a green light, even when they've got a good 30 seconds before oncoming traffic will be entering the intersection.

And I am behind all of these people as I drive to work each morning.

Little did I know that 5 years in Italy would turn me into an Italian driver. A watered-down, American version of an Italian driver, perhaps, but an Italian driver nonetheless. I am no longer that driver who slows to 5 mph 25 yards before making a right turn on a one lane road. Nay. I'm now the one behind that driver, who grumbles: "Come on, sweetheart. It's the pedal on the right."