One of my favorite quotes from an Italian regarding traffic law here is this: “In Milan traffic lights are instructions, in Rome they are suggestions, in Naples they are merely decorations.” And how true that is. As a result, simply crossing the street in Italy can be quite a heart-racing experience.
That’s right, all you adrenaline junkies our there, there’s no need to pay for death defying rollercoaster rides, to jump out of a perfectly good airplanes, or to go bungee jumping in far off places… You can get your thrills for free right here in Rome.. just try crossing the street on foot.
I often tell people that I have only been hit by a car once since I’ve lived in Rome, and it’s true. However, that time I was actually running on the sidewalk in residential Monteverde on my way back home from Doria Pamphili park. The elderly driver, unmindful of the sidewalk (and me) between his car and the road, was attempting to dart, nonstop, into traffic. Of course, he was thwarted in this effort by the right side of my body, which bounced gracelessly off of his car. After brushing off the residue from my backside’s unexpected encounter with the ground, I received the Italian hand-gesture equivalent of “why the hell were you running on the sidewalk?” instead of an apology.
Note to self: Save running for the park or the track along the Tiber.
So, in my experience I have actually found the middle of the street safer than the Roman marciapiedi. Moreover, there is something quite exhilarating about stepping boldly into the middle of chaotic Piazza Venezia, looking directly at the cars, busses and scooters motoring vigorously towards you and watching them slow or come to a complete halt as you saunter from one side of the street to the other.
To aid you in your quest for free adventure, I have developed a three-part technique for Street Crossing in Rome:
1. (Stink) Eye Contact
Always look before you leap when walking in Rome. On the sidewalk it will help you dodge the plentiful piles of dog poop scattered about town by pets with inconsiderate owners. On the street it will enable you to assess whether or not the drivers are aware of your existence. If you can see the whites of their eyes, then they can likely see you, which is obviously of extreme importance if they are going to avoid hitting you. But this is more than the look-both-ways-before-you-cross-the-street procedure you learned in kindergarten. It’s definitely not a fear-filled appeal for street-crossing permission either. No, I’m talking about your game face here, a look that lets them know you mean business. A glare of determination, that says “You even think about not slowing down and I will crush you and your Lilliputian car with the sheer force of my will.”
2. Walk with Confidence, Nay, Attitude
This second step is crucial because it manifests your intent to cross the street. Italian drivers don’t care if you’re at a crosswalk with the right of way or not. If it seems like you’re just going to stand on the side of the road twiddling your thumbs, they’ll keep going. If you wait for them to stop, you could be waiting all day. Instead, you need to make it obvious that you are going to cross. So, now that you know they see you, get out there and strut your stuff. Own that crosswalk.
3. Make Predictable Movements
This part is key because the cars may not actually stop. Yes folks, this is where the adventure part really kicks in. Crossing the street in Italy is a lot like a real live game of Frogger because rather than stopping, cars often just slow down to avoid you. Sometimes the motorini don’t slow at all, but rather try to maneuver around you. Therefore, it’s best not to freeze suddenly or make any other erratic movements. Instead, walk at a consistent deliberate pace to the other side of the street, keeping up steps 1 (eye contact) and 2 (attitude) the entire time.
Bonus Technique- Put your hand out. Your method acting motivation: Moses parting the red sea, Martin Lawrence (as Shenehneh) telling someone to talk to the hand, or a Superhero using telekinetic powers to keep those bloodthirsty autisti at bay. How can a simple hand motion keep cars from running into me, you ask? I have no idea. Yet, in this city where as much is communicated in hand gesture as it is in words, somehow it just does.
So there you have it, my three simple steps for surviving the mean streets of Rome. I hope you find them useful. Good luck out there!