Nico’s Traffic Rules

Morning Traffic on Via Plebiscito, Rome, Sept. 2011. Photo by Trisha Thomas

Verbal eruptions are a common occurrence in Italian traffic.  For starters, lots of Italians drive like maniacs.  All traffic regulations are optional and negotiable depending on the situation.  When Gustavo gave me my first ‘driving lesson’ in Rome, he explained a few simple rules.  “You might as well just toss out the rear-view mirror.  No point in looking in it.  Do not worry about what is happening behind you. Concentrate on not hitting anyone in front of you.  If someone behind you hits you, their insurance will pay.  Do not pay any attention to lanes.  Although on some roads there are lines, nobody really bothers with them.”  He might have well have added another rule: ‘If you get in a fender-bender, in addition to using the ‘Lei’, make sure you yell louder.’

Angry Man on Motorino – Drawn by my nephew Gaetano M.

One day I was driving the correct direction down a one-way street in Rome with my seven-year-old son.  A man on a moped came flying towards us in the opposite direction.  In order to avoid a head-on collision, I came to a full stop.  The man on the moped pulled up beside my window and started screaming at the top of his lungs, “You idiot, stupid…blah, blah, blah…” I was completely shocked and sat there for a second, taking the abuse, when all of a sudden Nico leaned towards my window and yelled “MA VAFFANCULO! (FUCK OFF!).” I am not sure who was more surprised, the man on the moped or me. The man on the moped shut up and took off.  I was blown away. “I didn’t know you knew that word,” I said to Nico as I started off again down the street, shaking my head.  It was then that I realized my son is much more Italian than I could ever be. He knows when he has to yell louder and he knows he has to defend his Mamma.

Nico comes to Mamma’s Rescue in Rome Traffic. Drawing by Gaetano, age 12

Post in: Italiano

Trisha Thomas
Trisha is a TV journalist working for AP TV News in Rome. She is married to an Italian and is a Mamma of three.

10 Comments

  1. John Menard
    2011/10/20

    This raises a question in my mind. The Italian driver vents their anger or frustration verbally. Do they vent physically? I contrast that to the United States where “road rage” can be deadly. Is it possible that Italians have it right, expres your positions and then move on with life. I assume they may feel much better and then they get on with life. It occurs to me that they may have it right. If you grow you know how to give it and take it.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2011/10/20

      You are absolutely right. Italians vent their anger verbally and then move on. When I got my job with AP television many years ago, I used to have to leave the office when colleagues had screaming fights. I was horrified and couldn’t bear it, but my Italians colleagues let loose and get it out of their systems. In my years in Italy I’ve learned to yell pretty well too (not with my colleauges, but once in a while with my husband and kids). Interestingly though, I cannot do it in English, only in Italian.

      Reply
  2. lisa | renovating italy
    2011/10/21

    Once saw drivers getout of the car to scream abuse at two inept police officers trying to control traffic in Sicily. Hysterical
    ciao lisa

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2011/10/21

      I can just imagine. It sounds hilarious. My Italians have told me about a funny scene from a movie called “IL VIGILE” (THE TRAFFIC COP) with Alberto Sordi, in which he plays a very officious Italian Traffic Cop who makes a total mess out of traffic (as they always do.) Actually, you have just given me an idea for another Blog post- the famous Italian Vigili. Thank you.

      By the way, blog readers, be sure to check out Lisa’s beautiful blog that describes a very different side of Italy than I focus on. It is fascinating. http://www.renovatingitaly.com

      Reply
  3. Sheryl Dominic
    2011/10/21

    Dear Trish, I have been trying to learn all of the new Italian vocabulary words you have been introducing in your articles. I put the words on my refrigerator and repeatedly check them out during the week. Since my husband and I occasionally drive in Italy, I guess this is a phrase I need to know! I just hope no one punches my husband in the nose if I yell it at the top of my lungs! ( I think I won’t put the translation on the frig. My mother-in-law might be horrified.)

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2011/10/21

      Oh dear me, what a laugh!! Definitely do not put that word up on your fridge. My mother-in-law would probably have a heart attack if she knew I put it in my blog. It is very rude. I think you can stick to BRUTTO, CRETINO, STUPIDO (UGLY, CRETIN, STUPID). My daughter Chiara suggests SCEMO (idiot). But remember by husband’s rule — feel free to use the insults when you get in a fender-bender, but always use the formal LEI form to keep the distance. As an American I find that hard to understand, but Gustavo insists it is important. So you have to yell “LEI E’ UN CRETINO, BRUTTO SCEMO.” Do NOT say, “TU SEI UN CRETINO” (save that for you husband when you get back in the car and he admits it was his fault– just kidding). I am glad you are enjoying the vocabulary I will be sure to put more in. Tomorrow’s post is slightly scandalous — it is on “donne con il petto abbondante”. Thanks for following. Trisha

      Reply
  4. Liz Cameron
    2011/10/22

    This is still one of my all-time favorite stories that has me LOL and LMAO.

    I credit you with ten gold stars for driving in Roma – I cannot possibly imagine driving anywhere in Turkey as I usually have my eyes shut – you can read one of my experiences on that here: http://wp.me/p1Jaxa-Q

    Thanks for sharing the Nico story!

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2011/10/22

      Blog readers — do check out http://www.slowly-by-slowly.com for fascinating tales of driving in Turkey and the challenges of cross-cultural marriages.

      Reply
  5. Claire
    2013/05/07

    This is hilarious and had me laughing out loud! Swearing in Italian almost seems like a right of passage…and there are so many colorful ways to do it.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2013/05/08

      Yes and it has to be combined with all sorts of gesticulating!!

      Reply

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