I 've already gone on about Italian driving in another post, in which I expressed the opinion that they were not as bad as they are sometimes made out to be. Well, this viewpoint changes once you start walking around Milan, for example. As a pedestrian you will discover that apart from the malfunctioning direction indicators mentioned in the other post, brakes seem to be fitted as optional extras, or maybe its got to do with the fact that brake pads cost a fortune here. (This is possible, but I don't know yet) Anyway, Italian drivers tend to be rather reluctant to use their brakes and seem to have problems anticipating things which are about to happen, something complicated like someone about to cross the road for example. I am not referring to those wishing to cross just anywhere, but those wanting to cross at the Italian equivalent of the Zebra crossing, black and white stripes (Which do tend to fade very quickly here, for some not altogether explicable reason) . I once managed to get a driver to lock up his brakes as I strode out over the crossing in front of him, this made him rather angry and I was obviously totally in the wrong. I mean there was no way that he was going too fast, or chatting on his mobile, or not paying enough attention or anything like that. I was on foot and that, in Italy, would seem to be enough to make you guilty. There is a reluctance to stop at crossings which is both fascinating and worrying at the same time. A few months back there was a story of a whole family being wiped out by a driver. If my memory serves me the family where not of Italian origin, so they may well have made the fatal error of assuming that the driver would stop for them. It gets worse, in another story a baby in its pram was hit on a crossing. Now, I'm not the only one who has noticed the reluctance of drivers to stop, or even slow down at crossings, I have a friend, who has been here longer than me, who positively scoots across roads as fast as he can out of abject fear. Personally, I think I am quite adept at crossing roads here, but I'm will admit to feeling a little bit uneasy every time I need to cross a road at a crossing. Some of you may have seen the advice in the travel guides about waiting until an Italian comes along and then following him or her across. Italians seem to have little fear of crossing roads and just step out confidently, seeming blissfully unaware of the risks. Things are better at traffic light controlled crossings, at least he in north Italy. Watch you step in Naples, where as I said in another post red-green colour blindness is rampant.
Another slight danger to pedestrians is cyclists, again they are reluctant to admit that their bikes have brakes and find pedestrian crossings a chore. However, cyclists come in to their own after dark, when they love to ride around without lights on, or only the rear light operational. What is strange about this is that the majority of bicycles here do appear to have lights. Maybe the on-off switches are in a strange place, or batteries are considered as being downright too expensive, I don't know, but for whatever reason, bikes with lights are a distinct rarity after dark. Keep your eyes open, is about the only advice once could give.
The other little annoyance which pedestrians may come across if they are foreigners, I don't think Italians know that there is a problem, so they don't notice this, is the fact that Italians will walk three abreast along a pavement and will not move for anyone coming in the opposite direction, even forcing you onto the road. I was once walking along with baby in my arms and I saw this well-dressed looking woman walking towards me on the same side of the pavement. Now, I thought to myself, let's see what will happen here. I stuck to my side of the pavement, baby in my arms, remember. And did this woman move, did she blazes, she seemed to consider that she had the right of way, why I have no idea, but then I am no expert in Italian law, so maybe it's a little law I am unaware of. The long and the short of it is that we just about collided and she had the temerity to mutter something unpleasant under her breath and give me a dirty look. I was not overly surprised, it just confirmed what I had known for a long time. If I had been in the UK, I'm 99% sure that having seen I was carrying a baby the other person would have moved over, in such a way as I would probably not even have noticed that they had changed direction. In case you think this is just me, I have to tell you that I once met a Swede who had only been here for a few days who found the same thing with regard to immovable Italian pedestrians. You also come across this, 'I am sacred' attitude on buses, where pushing and shoving is the norm and the vast majority never mutter an 'excuse me' although there must be a considerate minority, because on very rare occasions you will hear 'permesso' which means 'may I come through please' and sometimes people will ask you if you are about to get off, so that they will not have to elbow you out of the way, I suppose. The bus and tram drivers are in the main very courteous and helpful. They will tell you where to get off and which other routes you need to take to get you to your destination. Good people who put up with a lot, even if they do have a slight tendency to go on strike rather too regularly, but as a rule their strikes run from 8.45am to 4pm and then from 6pm to the end of service, allowing most people to get to and from work. They did once go on a wildcat strike and this cause universal uproar and legal actions went flying and all sorts. The unions are still all powerful here, but the public transport drivers seem to be a bit more considerate than other union members. From what I can remember, back in those pre-Thatcher days when the unions had power in the UK no such consideration was shown for commuters and the like. I could be wrong on this though and would be happy to be corrected.
One other little hazard for pedestrians here is car parking, well it's not so much a problem for normal fit pedestrians, but for old people and people with pushchairs, like me, it's just yet another sign of a lack of consideration for you fellow man. Cars will be abandoned right smack in front of pedestrian crossings, to make life more interesting or you will come across them parked diagonally across the pavement, usually at the entrance to appartments. To get themselves off the road, where they may be causing a danger, they park right up against the big doors/gates which are the main accesses to most appartments. It's is often just about possible to get one pedestrian to squeeze through, but impossible to get a pushchair or pram through, so you are forced onto the road, which is dangerous.
Moving back to the crossings, this time the traffic controlled ones, for a moment, for some reason once the little green man appears you have about 3 seconds to cross the road, before the green light becomes a yellow one, which means that motorists intent on mowing you down are imminent. You need to sprint across the road, just about. This situation is so bad that it even manages to raise Italian eyebrows, especially those who are elderly or have small children. Yes, the spirit of Machiavelli is alive an kicking here.
And finally, this is going to be a long post, I apologise and hope that it has not become too banal, we come to dog poo. Dogs are everywhere in Milan, big ones, small ones, trendy ones and out of fashion ones. And like dogs everywhere they need to go to the toilet and they do, right in the middle of the pavement most often. Squelch goes your foot, followed by the indistinguishable odor of dog excrement and usually some oath, or worse. Yes, dog poo is all over the place. It did go into a short retirement for a few months just after a new law was introduced obliging all dog owners to carry some means of picking up poo while they were doing the rounds with their beloved pooches. The fine for not being equipped in the right way is quite high and I got stopped once before our little black doggy retired to the seaside in Genova. I was not fined, as I was carrying the requisite poo-removal instrumentation. However, as would seem to be the way here, after the initial enthusiasm has worn off, anti-poo wardens are nowhere to be seen and this law has gone the way of many laws here which seem to fall by the wayside and be quietly forgotten. So the poo is piling up again, big time. Hopscotch anyone? Or should that be 'poopscotch'.
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