Listen to Gerry describing his driving experience in Sicily and complete the blanks in the sentences below with up to three words. 0 is the example.
Gerry’s friend has a degree in law.
1 For Southern Europeans, the important thing is to work out what you can do without breaking through __________________ .
2 In Sicily and in other parts of Europe traffic signs seem to have the function of __________________ instead of regulating traffic.
3 On Italian roads there are __________________ people killed in traffic accidents than in the UK.
4 Among Northern Europeans, Sicilian drivers have the reputation of being __________________ .
5 In Gerry’s opinion, Sicilian drivers only shout when they are __________________ .
6 In Gerry’s experience, a Sicilian driver will drive on middle of the road and will just move to the side when they see __________________ .
7 In the streets of Palermo, drivers use the horn to __________________ that a car is coming.
8 Sicilian drivers get very close to the car in front when they are __________________ .
A friend of mine with a law degree once told me that different cultures understand the concept of law in different ways. For example, Northern European cultures perceive the law as being a bit like the floor of a room. It provides a sort of foundation for what we do. Everything is based on it. Southern Europeans, by contrast, view the law more like the ceiling of the room. The important thing is to work out what you can do without breaking through that legal ceiling. Like all metaphors it’s a simplification, but I couldn’t help thinking about it when I was driving my rental car around Sicily. I came to the conclusion that road signs governing speed limits, parking restrictions, overtaking, stopping, giving way and so on seem to have a different function there. In Sicily, and other parts of Italy as well for that matter, these signs seem to have more of an advisory nature rather than legal regulation. At any rate, drivers there seem to make their own decisions rather than sticking strictly to the official rules.
I met a number of other tourists in Sicily from countries like the Netherlands, Germany and Hungary, and they all thought that the Sicilians were very bad drivers. Since I got back I looked at the statistics, and it has to be said that there are something like twice as many people killed in traffic accidents in Italy than in the UK, with Switzerland and the Netherlands close to the UK figure. But it’s Hungary and other central European countries that have the worst statistics in Europe. My Northern European friends described Sicilian drivers as aggressive. It’s true that they tend to drive fast when they can and very close to other cars, and they like to use their horns. These are all behaviours that Northern Europeans associate with aggression, but I can’t say that I found Sicilian drivers personally aggressive. I have the feeling that road rage is more of a Northern European thing than Southern. Sicilians shout at each other quite a lot but they shout when they’re chatting. Shouting doesn’t mean aggression in that part of the world.
So this is how I interpret certain aspects of Sicilian driving. White lines on the road show you where the middle of the road is: where it’s best to drive. Drive in the middle of the road and then move to the side if another car comes. You can park where you like but you should try to leave enough room for the bus to get past. In the narrow streets of Palermo, when you want to join a road it’s often difficult to see. So, it’s polite to use your horn to let people know that you’re coming. In the town, it’s OK to push into the traffic, and if somebody has pushed enough it’s OK to let them go in front of you. If you don’t push, you just block the traffic behind you. And that’s not polite.
My conclusion? Sicilians are clever, flexible and pragmatic when they drive. But a lot of them treat driving like a sport – that’s why they get so close to you when they’re overtaking; their model is motor racing. That’s probably why they have so many accidents. And they drive very extravagantly: they don’t worry about fuel consumption or the wear and tear on their brakes and tyres.
1 the legal ceiling
2 advising (drivers)
3 twice as many
6 a/another car coming
7 let people know