My mother describes me as having been “born in drive”. Apparently on the first day of some toddler play group I became so excited by the promise of meeting new friends that I ran into the room screaming “Come on new friends, let’s go!” I like to be in motion, working on projects, accomplishing things. I get a lot done, and I enjoy it. I’m efficient when I need to be and ponderous when that might lead to greater creativity. It’s just another trait, like brown hair and a propensity for bad jokes.
I was reminded of this trait on our recent trip to Sicily. The first city we visited was Palermo. To say the driving there was intense would be an understatement. My husband did all of the driving, ostensibly because I can’t drive a manual transmission, but in truth because I’m not sure I could have handled it.
At first it looks like the drivers are really aggressive. They wedge into any break in the traffic. They zoom down the coastal autostrada. Mopeds zip between cars at intersections. If you hesitate, someone cuts in front of you.
One day another car pulled alongside of us just as the road was narrowing enough that two cars couldn’t pass. My husband and the other driver both hit their brakes and looked at each other. In Boston the typical response would be an obsence gesture and some screaming, but the other driver did something that surprised us: he waved apologetically.
That’s when it hit me: they aren’t being pushy, they’re being efficient.
(When I lived in another New England city, drivers would constantly cede the right of way. It was pretty much the opposite of what we experienced in Sicily, but it was ultimately more chaotic. Rather than following the rules of the road people abandoned them. Everyone was always waiting and you never knew whose turn it was. )
Those Sicilian drivers seem to be trying to make the best use of space and time. If there’s room to go, they go, and I can relate to that. I can also relate to occasionally misjudging the situation and having to apologize. I’ll keep that in mind moving forward, trying to be efficient without being antagonistic.