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Thursday, 29 March 2007

The Complete Idiot's Guide to Driving in Palermo (for non Palermitans)

Rule #1. Driving in Palermo is a Contact Sport.

Once a person decides (after a lobotomy or some other brain reducing surgery) that they feel an inner desire to drive in Palermo they need to be made aware that driving in Palermo is fun. People from Palermo treat driving as a sport, a kind of game. Some games you play are board games, others are card games, others involve some exercise like tennis or golf. At the top of this game apex are those games that involve more than physical exertion, they involve full body on body contact. It is only in these type of games, such as rugby or American football, that the true nature of our competitive instincts come out. This is the type of game preferred by Palermitans, when it comes to driving.

Rule #2. Act like a fish that grows to the size of its pond.

This rule is incredibly important to all first time visitors to Palermo roads. No matter how wide or how narrow the road you are driving on is, you must, as a true Palermitan (or aspiring one at that), metaphorically grow your car so that it can use all the road surface. Why build such a wide road if it cannot be fully utilised? So like the astute buyer who wants to get the maximum "bang for his buck", you too must swerve as much as possible all over the road so as to use the maximum amount of road surface. Only then will you experience that incredible feeling of satisfaction one receives upon the realisation that you are undoubtedly getting your driving money's worth. If in doubt about how much of the road to use, think of how a fish's growth is limited only by the size of its pond. You too as an aspiring Palermitan driver must drive your car to the size of the road.

Rule #3. Road Works - Preparation is the best Medicine.

The good folk at the Palermo Road Works department have discovered a revelation in roadwork management. They are of the firm belief that the best way to carry out road works is to let people know in advance. This type of public information is not given in billboards, or newspaper ads informing the public of impending road works. No, that doesn't work here. Who reads the newspapers for anything else but soccer and politics anyway? The best way, and the tried and true method, is to block off a lane of traffic a week or so before you actually start the road works. This genius of an idea allows commuters to understand, while they are stuck in a traffic jam extending 5km and taking an extra hour to get home, what will be happening in a week, and therefore, allowing them to get "used to it". Road works should never be a surprise. Brilliant!

Rule #4. Shoot First. Ask Questions Later.

How do normal drivers approach a turn into a T-intersection in order to join the main road? Well, they approach the intersection and give way or stop until the traffic clears enough for them to turn into the main road. Safe, yes. Proper, yes. Boring, yes. That's not how they do it in Palermo. The way of the streets here is to approach a T-junction as if there was no traffic at all and place the nose of your car inside the intersection so that anyone driving in the lane closer to the side of the road has to stop, or at least slow down considerably, in order to avoid you, thus allowing you entry into the main road unimpeded.

Rule #5. Busy Road/Quiet Road.

A busy or fully packed road is like a subconscious stimulus to a Palermitan that he is in a hurry (I tend to use the masculine here for simplicity, not because of the fact that many traditional Sicilian women are forbidden to drive ;) . He could have all the time in the world and be casually driving along, but upon entering a busy road, he suddenly turns to be a man possessed, a man who is late for his own wedding. Nothing can get in his way, he will use all resources at his disposal in order to move one car ahead of his sworn enemies (basically everybody else on the road). He will happily knock over an elderly lady at a pedestrian crossing if it results him climbing the road ordinal rankings of this road. An emergency stopping lane? What's that, he says to himself as he realises that he can climb four places ahead. Conversely, as soon as the same man turns into a quieter street, he suddenly realises that there is no rush, there is no hurry. In fact, he will slow down to admire the road. While admiring the craftsmanship of the particular tar that the builders placed on this road he will also be oblivious to the 20 cars behind him wishing he would move out of second gear.

Well, I hope these rules are of value to all you burgeoning Palermo drivers. Stay tuned for the next instalment of the The Idiot's Guide to Driving in Palermo, while part three can be found here.

1 comment:

  1. I remember reading this post and Frommer's guide to Sicily before my trip to Palermo. This will take years off your life, more gray hair on your head... Reading things like that I was a bit frightened. Now with some experience of driving in Palermo I can say : do not be afraid. This is not a nightmare but just a busy traffic. It would have been perfectly normal if there had been no scooters. They are getting on your nerves a bit, this is true...