Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Outta My Way!

Imagine a city of 30,000 people without a single traffic light.

Termini Imerese, Italy, is such a place. (I'm here teaching English as a second language.)

You might think that this is because everyone walks everywhere and uses public transportation. But this hilly Sicilian town has as many cars per capita as any American town. And when you add in all the scooters, there is just about one vehicle for every person over the age of 14.

So how do they manage with thousands of vehicles and no trafic lights?

Life on the streets of Termini is a constant game of "chicken."

They do have stop signs. And they look exactly like the ones in the USA. But I think "STOP" translates into Italian something like "Slow down slightly and just keep going."

Every intersection becomes a contest of wills.

The strategy seems to be to startle the driver of an approaching car so that he taps the brake which gives you just enough room to nose out into the street. And then you take your time crossing or turning into the oncoming traffic.

The goal does not seem to be to keep the vehicles flowing smoothly, nor does it seem to be to arrive at your destination as quickly as possible. The goal seems to be to impose your will on the others.

For example, say you want to make a left turn and two cars are coming toward you with a large gap behind the second car. Efficiency would dictate that you wait for the second car to pass and then turn. But the Italian driver invariably cuts off the second car and waits for it to come to a complete stop. Only then does the driver make a deliberate left turn.

Liberal use is made of the horn, but not in the way it is used in New York City.

Only occasionally is the horn used to say, "What were you thinking?" Usually it means, "Attenzione! I'm coming through."


This game is not only for cars. Scooters and pedestrians can play as well.

Scooters weave in and out of traffic and obey the rules of the road even less than cars. Pedestrians step out into traffic and leisurely stroll to the other side of the street.

The fun continues on the sidewalk. People walk straight at each other expecting the other person to give way. A favorite maneuver is "two against one." Two people walk side-by-side on the narrow walk, preferably arm-in-arm. The single person is then forced to step aside into the street.

The point of all this seems to be to establish who is more important.

In America we play this game in less obvious ways.

Pastor Rod

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Just came by your blog...honk honk!
I have relatives that live in Termini Imerese, so I'm interested in all things Termintano (if that's the proper spelling). Keep up the blog. Looking forward to visiting it daily.
Lucy

Anonymous said...

btw, i recall walking those streets with friends and hearing the honks...no one ever stopped and I also remember going down to Termini Basso via the Serpentine...omg...this was 1983...lol...I'd do it again but only with Giovanni Perdichizzi...where ever he is?

Lucy

Enrico Azzarello said...

Hi everybody, I'm an Italian boy of 16 years, exactly a Termitan citizen who has had the pleasure of attending Pastor Rod's lesson. Though I'm sorry for my bad English. I confirm everything you wrote and I totally agree with you. This extremely bad situation has persisted for many years, becouse of the lack of money and the lack of manners of the regions in Southern Italy. For example, even if traffic lights are on, people don't stop. In Sicily there has been always a strange way of thinking and acting. We have a quite high economic, clultural and social delay. It isn't a very civilized region, society is totally different from Northern Italy's. Other region we seem to live in Africa and we haven't nothing to do with Italy. But the most serious situation is that people in Termini are indifferent to social problems and remain motionless to the absurd situation of my town.

Enrico Azzarello.

Enrico Azzarello said...

Hi everybody, I'm an Italian boy of 16 years, exactly a Termitan citizen who has had the pleasure of attending Pastor Rod's lesson. Though i'm sorry for my bad English. I confirm everything you wrote and i totally agree with you. This extremely bad situation has persisted for many years, becouse of the lack of money and the lack of manners of the regions in Southern Italy. For example, even if traffic lights are on, people don't stop. In Sicily there has been always a strange way of thinking and acting. We have a quite high economic, cultural and social delay. It isn't a very civilized region, society is totally different from Northern Italy's other region. We seem to live in Africa and we haven't nothing to do with Italy. But the most serious situation is that people in Termini are indifferent to social problems and remain motionless to the absurd situation of my town.

Enrico Azzarello.
P.S. I'm sorry for the previous message, I revised some mistakes.

Pastor Rod said...

Lucy,

Welcome. I just got back from Termini. This was my fifth time to be there. Four of those times I lived with a local family.

I walked down to the port several times from the Bevedere. Did you ever have a gelato at Ciciuzzu (beneath the castle on the Belvedere)?

Rod

Pastor Rod said...

Enrico,

I got back home in the States yesterday afternoon. Keep up the good work in English.

Sicily has many things in its favor. With more people like you, perhaps it can solve some of its lingering problems.

I hope you to see you again something soon.

Rod