There’s a printed metal sign in the piazza right outside our apartment that says the Italian version of NO PARKING AT ANY TIME. It even has a drawing of a car being towed. Needless to say, the piazza is 100% full of cars 100% of the time.
However, when there’s an important reason to not have any cars there, the town puts up a flimsy paper sign upon which they have filled in with a felt-tipped marker the exact time and date when there really should not be any cars, and then that is put in a plastic sleeve that’s been used so often that you can barely read the writing through it. The Italians take this temporary sign seriously, because it means that there’s going to be some kind of activity that’s going to use the street, and it would be ruined if there were cars there. THIS is something Italians respect. Also, the paper signs have the word “assoluto” (meaning absolutely) on them – an important word that’s missing from the permanent one.
Italy is filled to the brim with idiotic laws, so the Italians grow up being able to instinctively discern the difference between the permanent No Parking sign and the much more meaningful temporary one. The permanent one will allow the local police to give you a ticket, if they choose or if the town needs money, but the chances are somewhat remote. If you see the ticket people around on Tuesday, for instance, you would know that you can safely park there for at least the next week without fear of having them come back. You’re also probably 90% safe if it’s first thing in the morning, near lunchtime or towards the end of a day, and close to 100% safe if it’s raining.
There are never enough legal parking places around things where people might want to park temporarily. So what happens is that they park there anyway. The REAL rule of thumb is that you shouldn’t block traffic, and Italians are incredibly good at judging just how much room they should leave. And the drivers passing by are just as skilled at knowing when the space is so tight that they have to pull in their rearview mirrors.
In Orvieto, there’s a piazza where a lot of cars regularly stop for a short time. The town recently marked official parking places. However, just because there are now tidy white lines does not mean that people won’t continue to leave their cars in tight little spots without the tidy white lines.
And speaking of “official” Italian parking spots, in the U.S., they would be considered suitable only for a Mini Cooper, or perhaps a wide Harley motorcycle. What might be a parking lot holding 100 cars in the U.S. would hold at least 150 in Italy. The spaces are incredibly narrow. Though we always rent a small car, it’s still intimidating to try to squeeze into a parking space, and then attempt to open the door wide enough to get out without denting the car next to you.
However, for Italians, it’s no problem. They must go through a rigorous driving school before getting a license, so their ability to get in and out of tight spaces – both forward and backward – is truly masterful. Of course, having just said that, I do know 2 people who recently had someone run over their foot. I must point out, though, that the victims were Americans. My guess is that the drivers mistook them for Italians. Had they been, they would have judged to the millimeter where to place their feet in order to avoid the encroaching tires. After all — Italians, whether they’re 8 or 80, have spent their entire lives learning how to successfully navigate the — shall we call them? — “complexities” that living in Italy constantly throws your way.