Crossing the road is something you learn as a small child, right? Nothing too tricky here, especially when you learn the art of road-crossing in a country replete with traffic lights and lots of clearly marked pedestrian crossings.
It’s very different in Sicilia. There are traffic lights at busy intersections and, yes, pedestrian crossings too. Of course there’s the small problem of the direction of the traffic to contend with but surely, you say, that’s not too hard for a person of reasonable intelligence to grasp. I’ve been sorely disappointed with my own unreasonable intelligence here, for even though I understand intellectually that the traffic is reversed, that cars drive on the right side of the road, I continue to expect them on the left. This can be hazardous in an island where there are no particular road rules or, rather, there are road rules but no one seems to follow them.
If you have the advantage of coming from some place where the righthand side of the road is the norm, you’re halfway there. But only halfway.
To cross a road, first find a pedestrian crossing. Draw on your reserves of la pazienza. You’re going to need this patience and a certain amount of bold determination.
Remember that cars don’t necessarily stop at pedestrian crossings, the drivers will slow down to let you pass in front of them. Smile to convey your gratitude. A grateful sorriso goes a long way.
First check for motorini. These motorscooters and little motorbikes are everywhere and they don’t stop for a pedestrian.
The trick, as I was told by helpful passers-by, is to continue across the road in the face of looming motorini. Non si fermano! is the shouted advice. ‘Don’t stop’!
The rationale here is that the motorino driver will adjust speed to your walking pace and either pass behind or (frighteningly) in front of you.
My advice is to wait until there are no motorini on the road at all. If this means you have to wait for half an hour or so, remember your pazienza and spend the time contemplating all the horrible things that can happen if a Vespa runs you down.
Or ask someone to escort you across. Parking officers can be very supportive if you bow, scrape and in general play the foolish turista who is too feeble to cross a road alone.
If you can’t find a parking officer, any uniformed official will do.
If possible, avoid asking a member of the carabinieri. These gorgeously attired men of the elite national police force are always far too busy doing so many very important things that they have no time to give a hand to a mere turista. In fact, avoid them at all times.
Stick to asking for help from the polizia locale or polizia urbane, both of which seem to be the same thing, or ask a member of the fire brigade, vigili del fuoco. They’re easy to spot, lounging in the fire trucks having lunch at strategic spots and absolutely thrilled to help out a visiting stranieri.
If all else fails, throw your hands in the air, bite the bullet and step out on the crossing, smiling at oncoming cars, hoping for the best. That’s what the Sicilians do.
And, as they say in Sicilia, a paisi unni chi vai, comu vidi fari fai. When in Rome, do as the Romans do.