By Gavin Jones
Hardly a day goes by when an expatriate voices his or her indignation either in conversation or in the press at the way that Cypriots drive and wonder how they are allowed to get away with it. The same applies to inaction regarding the wearing of seat belts or, as in the case of motorcyclists, helmets. Every so often we read that over a period of a few days there’s going to be a police purge on a particular aspect of road indiscipline and one can’t help but wonder why this isn’t a priority, not just for a specified time but for all time. Another more than justifiable observation concerns how children are all too often allowed by their parents to jump around inside cars or else sit without restraint on the laps of drivers or front seat passengers. People eating and having a phone glued to their ear while driving is another common occurrence. All these scenarios are likely to potentially result in serious injury which will blight the victim for the rest of their life or even death.
Having lived in Italy for a time, a similar laissez-faire attitude is the norm although seat belts and helmets tend to be worn. Moreover, generally speaking the Italians are extremely good drivers and seem to duck out of perilous situations with either consummate ease or daredevil skill. One only has to drive in somewhere like Rome, Florence or Naples to experience cars and scooters appearing from all directions and angles all at once with hardly anyone in the least bit perturbed or angry at what someone else is doing. Like anything in life, you get used to it and slot into the local ‘scene’ and in Italy there’s the added bonus of everyone driving up one another’s backside, cutting off corners and hardly ever stopping to let pedestrians cross the road even at designated points. Like Cyprus, parking on pavements is de rigueur and shunting a car along in order to squeeze into a parking spot is ‘normal’ and if there’s still insufficient space to park lengthways, cars are often parked at right angles with the front wheels on the pavement and their rear ends sticking out into the road. In Italy where there’s a will, there’s most definitely a way!
Bucketfuls of passion are expressed when it comes to the general lack of discipline displayed on Cypriot roads and the way that the authorities seem to turn a blind eye at what goes on. Putting aside the odd road rage incident which is reported in the press, politeness on British roads is generally the norm with people allowing other drivers to turn and stopping to let pedestrians walk across the road. However, and I write this not as an apology, this phenomenon has to be examined in the wider historical context when it comes to laws not only on the roads but also when it comes to other aspects of life. The Cypriots and Italians view laws as mere guidelines to be cherry-picked only when it suits and in essence to be ignored if there’s the likelihood of getting away with it. If caught, pleading ignorance, finding out if you’re related, however tenuously, to the upholder of the law or whether you both come from the same village or attended the same school, very often succeeds in getting you off the hook. Failing that, phone someone who can intercede on your behalf. Rightly or wrongly, that’s how it works in the Mediterranean basin and centuries of operating in this way is hardly likely to be swept away in an instant.
As a parting thought, over the years I’ve asked expatriates of all nationalities if they’ve ever parked on a pavement or not exactly adhered to practices that would have been second nature to them in their own countries. Almost to a man they’ve admitted to being guilty as charged, thus puncturing their holier-than-thou attitude. And so am I, especially when it comes to pavement parking. Perhaps the maxim, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do”, isn’t so far off the mark!