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Saturday, 9 June 2007

The Complete Idiot's Guide to Driving in Palermo (Part 2)

Following on from Part One of this series...

Rule # 6. Ready...Steady...Toot.

In a civilised world where gentlemen drink tea and eat cucumber sandwiches over a lively game of croquet, the idea of tooting one's car horn is seen as quite distasteful and downright boorish. In another world, that is equally civilised (in its own endearing way), the idea that one does not toot their horn is almost unheard of. In Sicily, the art of tooting has progressed to such an extent that has witnessed the development of the "pre-emptive toot". Yes; this is a toot that occurs, not in response to an alleged slight or wrongdoing on behalf of the opposing driver but on the belief that the opposing driver may be about to do something wrong. And nowhere is this more evident than at the busy traffic lights in an average Sicilian city. A mere split second before the light turns green one hears a chorus of tooting from the myriad of cars behind the first row. The drivers, of course, are rightfully assuming that the driver in the first row is either not paying attention to the changing traffic lights or has simply fallen asleep (as is often the case in the land of siestas), and in their civic duty to traffic order, these drivers take it upon themselves to warn the front row drivers, just in case they happened to have forgotten what a green traffic light actually means. The highest form of the pre-emptive toot that I have witnessed occurred in Messina when a large semi-trailer employed a pre-emptive toot strategy even though, when the traffic started moving, the truck's acceleration was so excruciatingly slow, that all those around it started tooting at it too. This, for clarification purposes, is called a "post-incident" toot.
As a postscript, if you think the Sicilian pre-emptive toot is extreme, may I advise you to travel to Malaysia where drivers refuse to drive their car and claim it doesn't work upon discovering that their horn is broken.

Rule # 7. Your life flashing before your eyes.

Upon overtaking another car, please ensure that you flash your lights incessantly at the car you are overtaking. Never mind that you are either blinding the unfortunate driver or sending him or her into an epileptic fit, without a series of high beam flashes there is simply no way in the world they can tell that you are about to overtake them.. You see, rear vision mirrors were never meant to be used to see what is behind. Oh no, on the contrary, they were produced to enable Sicilians to hang a plethora of rosary beads, fluffy dice, crucifixes, Padre Pio toys, and anything else that provides a bit of colour to their cars. The fact that they also obscure the view of oncoming traffic is an added bonus. What I love about this rule is the assumption that everyone on the road will inevitably sway into your lane just as you are overtaking them and no one will ever look behind. The scary thing is that they are right.

Part Three of this series can found here.


  1. Come to Lima Peru dude and you can also hear the pre-emptive toot at traffic lights. It actually makes my car stall!

  2. Lima - been there, done that.
    Many similarities to Palermo - especially the driving.
    Spot on!