A STROLL THROUGH THE STREETS OF ROME
We recently moved here from the US, and I’m sure that anyone who has moved knows how difficult change can be. This is a new way of life for me. I need to enroll kids in school, sports, attend birthdays, and even drive. The only difference is that I need to do all of those things in a language that is foreign to me, and as far as I’m concerned when it comes to Italians no rules apply. Walking the kids to school through the streets of Rome is an experience in and of itself. We enjoy the endless maze of roads, breathing in the intoxicating scent of morning bread and pastries baking. We scoot out of the way as a father and son on a motorbike putter off to school. So as not to get run over, we duck into a store front as a delivery truck breezes by. I think to myself: "This can’t be right, it is too narrow for trucks this size, they are breaking some law, and where are the enforcers?" There are few street signs and it is unclear if it is a pedestrian road or not.
My aunt recently visited from the States and got to experience Rome driving in Rome with me at the wheel. While driving she commented that the roads here reminded her of the traffic before a toll booth. The only difference is, you never get to the clearing on the other side of the booth! There are no lines on the road and everyone converges into a ballet of driving. Luckily, I took ballet and also learned to drive in Boston, Massachusetts. But don’t even get me started on parking here (look for it in one of my upcoming blogs). Navigating through these tiny streets I am confused, it seems Italians have their own set of rules. Every new country has their own unspoken rules and for this American abroad I want to figure them all out.
"I think to myself: This can’t be right, it is too narrow for trucks this size, they are breaking some law, and where are the enforcers"?
TRYING TO FIGURE IT OUT
Coming from the US I have a mindset that you look for signs and you obey them or else. It is black and white, and at least for me, easy to understand. In Rome, you have lots of gray when it comes to rules, they are the subtle known Italian rules which blanket this city. The law of the land here is: do whatever works, whatever makes sense or whatever you can get away with. If there is a one-way street, just make sure no one is coming before you zip up it. Italian people instinctively know these rules, and as a pedestrian, you have a symbiotic relationship with these scooters, cars, and trucks. As a tourist, when you hear a rumble coming from behind move out of the way or else. Using the United States as a point of reference, I want to neatly categorize how this city works, to get down to the bottom of it. The only problem with that approach is Rome can’t be explained in reference to any other city, it cannot be stuck in a box and neatly wrapped with a bow. It cannot be forcefully understood, you must take it in as it comes and don’t question why things are happening, just accept them. Needing to know the why behind experiences here has left me nothing but frustrated.
NOSTALGIC OF THE GOOD OLD TIMES?
Rome reminds me of my childhood back in the 70’s and 80’s in the US, for me they were good times. Italians are laid back, not so caught up in being politically correct or filing a lawsuit for every mishap. I got a notice that my son’s first-grade field trip outside Rome (he is in Italian public school) is to a Vineyard to see how wine is made! When I heard this I started laughing, thinking of how many parents would be outraged if this was in the US. There would be lawsuits of exposing minors to alcohol, not to mention all of the liability involved in such a trip. What if someone got hurt while stomping grapes in a barrel? What if a glass of wine was left around and a kid drank it? Personally, I think it is wonderful for him to learn the science of fermentation and if something should happen on his wine tour in Rome it is called an accident here, not a lawsuit.
I find it very refreshing to go to the playgrounds here and see steel monkey bars, teeter-totters (some know them as see-saws), and other equipment that have been deemed too hazardous for kids in the US. Those darn monkey bars were so much fun when I was a kid until I got a broken arm. You know what though, through that experience I learned at an early age what my limits were. I felt cool having everyone at school sign my cast, that experience was a rite of passage. I also knew that when the sun was setting it was time to stop playing and run home for dinner. Rome is like that time, a throwback to when life was much simpler and made sense. Italians don’t hover over their children, wrapping them in bubble wrap, avoiding what I would call life lessons.
A GREAT ITALIAN LESSON
I see this way of life nowadays as comforting and nostalgic. I don’t think twice about signing my kid’s permission slips and get a kick out of sharing these differences with my friends back in the States. And they too wish their children could also experience the simple life as we remember it. It has taken some time, but I am learning not everything has to be black and white, to live in the gray, to take things at face value and not question everything. I am finding daily life here easier by living in this type of acceptance and loving Rome more every day. Maybe you too can learn to live in the gray and go with the flow while challenges arise in your life.
I do suggest, however, if you intend on driving in Rome you had better brush up on your defensive driving techniques! I’m heading out now to pick up my kids from school. I’ve decided that today we are going to jump in the car and head over to the Borghese park (oh what a wonderful place!). Let’s see if they can brave the playground equipment with all of its torture devices. Who knows, maybe we will have some fun!
Related pages: Rome Attractions – The Free Guides