Yesterday afternoon, I flew back to London from Milan. The English girl in the next seat on the Ryanair flight was at university in Italy. We were talking about the bureaucracy there. Italy is a good place to visit. Not a good place to live because of the bureaucracy.
“I’ve never known inefficiency like it,” the girl said. “I thought England was bad… but Italy…!
“It’s the lying,” she continued. “Constant lying. If they actually said something would take two months, I might be irritated. But they say it will take ten days, knowing it will take two months, then I’m just very, very angry. It’s like they enjoy it.”
That morning, on a motorway near Bergamo, I had been talking to my friend who lives near Milan about the cliché of Italians.
“They’re very conventional,” she said. “The way they dress, the colours of the cars they drive. The neatness of the way they dress. The women’s make-up. It’s like they obey the rules they think are expected of them.”
“What about the cliché of bad Italian drivers?” I asked. “I’ve never driven in Italy, but they never seem to me to be as bad as the stereotype. There’s a problem in Rome, but it’s because they have enormous wide-open street junctions and no traffic lights. The system’s haywire, not the driving.”
“I tell people who come here,” my friend said, “that the most dangerous thing on Italian roads is to drive slow. You have to drive fast because everyone else does. If you drive slow, they will go straight into the back of you. You have to drive with confidence even if you don’t have any.”
“They drive far too close to the car in front,” I agreed. “No braking space if anything happens.”
“They ignore all the rules on the road,” my friend said. “It’s like they think they’re expected to disobey the rules of the road, so they all disobey the rules because that’s the rule. They weave in and out and use the hard shoulder. They tailgate like they have a death wish. I’ve been overtaken a hearse at traffic lights. He ran the red light at great speed, with the cross on the bonnet wobbling.”
“It’s the legacy of the Ben-Hur chariot race,” I suggested.
“Mmmm,” my friend said as we were overtaken on both sides by speeding trucks.