Parking Culture in Italy

Parking in Italy is a fine art. The first thing which must be understood is that there are various ways to park your car in Italy. There is the “autosilo” or the multi-storey car park. These are private, and public car parks with several levels accessible via ramps adjoining each level. You normally access the car park via an automatic barrier system at the entrance. You press a button on the control panel, a ticket is produced which you take out of the slot, and proceed to a parking space. All very easy you may think. Wrong! When you arrive there is usually a queue of cars at the barrier, they are often on their mobile phones (see post on Italians and mobile phones), talking to fellow passengers, or desperately trying to control their child in the backseat who is screaming like it has just been attacked by a mutant soft toy. So, the car at the barrier doesn’t always move off immediately. This causes the drivers behind to get frustrated and sound their horns (see post on Italians and car horns). This then provokes the distracted driver at the barrier, who in turn normally lowers the car window and hurls some abuse at the cars behind, apologizes with a meaningless “scusa” (sorry) and a fake smile, or just simply extends their arm out of the window and gestures their hand or finger in a way which can be best interpreted as “go away.”

The successful passage through this predicament only brings you to the second one; looking for and finding a space to park your vehicle. Only the other day I was parking my car when I was almost rammed from the side by a car moving through the car park at about 80 kilometres an hour (see post on Italians and driving speed). It then appeared that the perpetrator believed it was my fault.
Parking in the street is an alternative, which I prefer; even though it is more of a challenge at times. There are several options in a town; there is the classic parallel parking spaces which you find alongside the main road. These are well-designed as you simply drive into the area from the road. However, in order to come out of the space it is necessary to back out onto the main street. This often causes traffic to momentarily come to a standstill. Once again provoking the sounding of horns and extension of arms and digits from the car window. It’s not really all that bad; I am exaggerating a little, but who doesn’t? However, I find it stressful at times and prefer to find a parking space elsewhere, which brings me onto the next option.

Free parking; yes, it does exist! Despite the fact that you have to circle the town three times like a vulture zoning in on a carcass in the wilderness. Except the bird normally gets lucky. I, on the other hand, often drive past a free space, saying to myself “there’ll be one closer.” Upon the third lap of the metropolis, I opt for the multi-storey car park, happy to bear the brunt of the trauma that awaits me.

Then again, there is another possibility: parking illegally. This is something of a routine in Italy which often results in confrontation between perpetrator and traffic wardens (vigili urbani). The people who park illegally normally just need to get their prescription from the chemist’s (see doctors, health and chemists post), pick up their cigarettes and play a quick scratch card (see post on gambling and the lottery) while drinking a quick espresso coffee, or collecting their child from school. The beautiful thing about Italians, which is truly a positive thing and not in any way a negative opinion, is that they have a unique skill of talking their way out of a tight spot. It’s not something that anyone can learn, it is an inbred characteristic. It starts with a beautiful gesture of putting your hands together as if praying, looking up at the heavens and putting on a face like you are about to have a seizure. At the end of this beautiful display, the outcome is usually that the offender still gets a big fat fine for parking badly. All this makes for a very expensive espresso coffee that was drunk previously.
Please watch this video to get an idea of Italian culture.

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