A second Italian language

Lego Man! Driving safely in Puglia, Italy © Andrew Scott

Monday morning. The start of the week. The very spring-board of hope, ambition and excitement that should be grasped with two greedy hands.

Instead, I slept in until 10:30. Don’t get me wrong, I had the absolute best of intentions to get up early…set my alarm and everything. But I overlooked the zealousness of the locals to send their patron Saint off with a bang. Well, I say “a bang” but a more fitting description would be “a series of colossal explosions seemingly let off outside my window”. Wall shaking and cranium shattering detonations were let off for about 4 hours between 10pm and 2am.

At around midnight my mentality had evolved to “If you can’t beat them join them” when I realized that I wasn’t just watching a festival celebration but a competition. At this point, I went downstairs, turned off my alarm, sat back and enjoyed the show until I fell asleep sat upright.

To work in Southern Italy, immigrants like myself (don’t give me any of that “Ex-Pat” nonsense! I’m an immigrant, I got over it!) have to make their way to the local government office to get something called a “Codice Fiscale”. My car was still being serviced so I was taken there by a brilliant lady called Sandra who works for my school.

The close confines of a car, intensified by a language barrier, normally result in dull stock conversation about; a) the weather, b) personal likes/dislikes and c) short-term future plans, interspersed with awkward silences.

Well not today! Nope, the conversational menu for this car ride went as follows: a) sex tourism in Romania, b) cop’s who “break your b*lls” and c) Italian stalwart resistance to “work” in the “workplace”, interspersed with incredibly useful ad hoc Italian lessons. Now that’s my kind of car journey!

It was on this journey that I also took note of a few of the more useful nuances of the Italian driving system. I say system but it is really much more organic than that, here in Italy. Rules being “more like guidelines” to quote the great Captain.

It was comforting to see that the “lost in translation” STOP signs held the same loose meaning in Puglia as they did in Rome on my entrance to the country. The lines on the road have been worn away by screeching tires and scorching sun so now the protocol seems to centre around you knowing where it is you want to go and doing your utmost not to smash into somebody else in the process. A lot like go-karting really.

This may seem a little wishy-washy to govern people hurtling round corners in heavy heaps of metal, but here is where the Italians have shown their Roman-esque initiative and developed their own language. The Beep! To the Brit, the horn is a rude, discourteous instrument of antagonism. However, to the Italian, it expresses a whole rainbow of emotion and communication.

For instance, in a twenty-minute journey I was privy to the following uses of ‘the beep’: to let an emerging car know that you’re in the vicinity and not to bump into you; to tell anybody who is listening that you plan to turn down this street and don’t really fancy slowing down in the process; to call another driver something along the lines of “B*st*rdi” (I’ll leave the cryptic translation of that little gem to you) for NOT beeping; to let you know of their imminent plans to pull out on you.

Also, if you see somebody you know coming up to the same cross-junction as you, it seems perfectly acceptable to stop and say hello to them. In the case of my car journey, Sandra even shouted “che bella vita” (“what a beautiful life”) out the window to her friend in the middle of a busy cross-junction. Smiling, I thought “my sentiments exactly”.

It was at this point that the driver behind us put the beep language (or “lingua Beepa” as I like to call it) to good effect and we calmly said our goodbyes and went on our way. This is driving…what on earth have I been doing all these years!?!

Written by - Edited by Charlotte Amelines - Photo by Andrew Scott

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