Driving in Italy is a very particular skill. You need to adjust your mindset, strap on an aura of arrogance mixed with dismissive indifference and be prepared to do battle with egos and ignorance.
Roman drivers are internationally infamous but Neapolitan drivers are in a class if their own.
It can be said that driving in Naples is a unique experience.
I have only driven in Naples three times. One occasion, many years ago, ended with me damaging the side of the car as I dragged it along a row of parked cars in a narrow street. It was clear that my spatial skills were not as finely developed as perhaps they needed to be. Having damaged at least eight vehicles, the decision was made (not by me) to continue without stopping. Something I would never dream of doing in Australia, but in Naples almost every vehicle has already sustained some damage and hardly anyone has fully comprehensive insurance. And nobody, wants to bother dealing with the bureaucratic inefficiencies and obstructive behaviour of the insurance companies.
The other incident saw me stop in an intersection, stressed beyond all recognition as large trucks, cars, vans and scooters all refused to give way. I simply abandoned the car, yelling and crying, leaving Gigi sitting in the car, surrounded by honking and irate drivers.
At the time he didn’t have any sort of drivers license but he gallantly got behind the wheel, moved the car from the intersection where it was blocking traffic, and slowly drove alongside the footpath, persuading me to get back in (and stop making a scene in English, potentially attracting unwanted attention in one of Naples less illustrious zones).
That incident was twenty years ago. It would take me years to decide to get behind the wheel again in a country where I hold a passport but had relinquished my transportation independence out of fear and self-preservation.
Fast forward to 2019. The third time I drive in Naples was in June 2019; this very year. When I nervously drove my mother-in-law’s car back to her house on the outskirts of Naples, with Gigi leading the way in our newly acquired family vehicle.
It’s now November and I drive with quiet confidence, back and forth from our apartment in a historical village to the nearest major city for work. Alone. Independently. Me, driving in Italy.
I think a few things have changed. Firstly, I’ve been a passenger in and around Naples for many years, observing the way people drive and constantly trying to decipher the local road etiquette. The trick is understanding that there is no common set of road rules, and to always expect the unexpected. My motto, when I feel lost, wary of other drivers, or find myself in an unfamiliar environment is to go steady. And if need be, steady means slow. There are plenty of foolhardy, speed breaking drivers around, but there are also plenty of dawdling, listless drivers on the road who always make me look like I’m doing a good job.
Secondly, we have for the first time ever, bought our own wheels. That nerve-wracking sense of responsibility to not smash up someone else’s car has been lifted. Of course, in Australia I very rarely damage my car, but in Italy it is inevitable that you will scrape a side mirror along the side of a thousand year old wall, or come back to find a new scratch from someone who decided to park wildly askew in the spot next to you. Almost every vehicle on the road has some sort of damage, and our car now fits in quite well with its neighbour’s.
Most importantly though, I had reached a point of co-dependency that was exhausting for both of us. I had to face my fears, and just get over myself. I find it easier to drive when I’m in the car alone. Miss S has a tendency to chatter away, asking questions and getting inside my head when all I really want to do is concentrate on driving on the wrong side of the road, changing gears with the wrong hand, and make sure a large truck doesn’t come around the bend just as I’m driving up the mountain. Gigi on the other hand is used to driving Gigi style, and while he’s calm and relaxed when I drive in Australia (as there I am the main family driver), he’s a bit jumpy and constantly offering up unsolicited advice when he’s in the passenger seat in Italy.
Unfortunately, I’m yet to develop the skills to get our car in and out of our small alleyway. My darling husband drives it out for me when I go to work, and meets me on my return journey so he can reverse it up the alleyway and negotiate around three other vehicles in a small space to apparently just drop it into our usual parking spot crammed in against the wall.
I feel more confident behind the wheel than I ever expected to feel, and I’ve only been driving here since September. It’s small steps though. I’ve made it clear that I’m not prepared to drive in Naples if it can be at all avoided. I’m yet to drive on the major freeways on longer journeys and Gigi still does most of the driving when we are in the car together.
But at least I get behind the wheel and occasionally remember to breathe at the same time.
Keep an eye out for a future blog about my analysis of driving in Naples vs driving in Australia. If you’re Neapolitan and easily offended, you might want to give it a miss.