I ran upon this article, which is a guide for Italian drivers visiting the U.S.A. I find it says more about our differences than many things I have seen. You can see the original at http://www.vivinewyork.com/consigli-di-viaggio/guidare-negli-stati-uniti-regole-e-curiosita.html
“Un grande paese si riconosce soprattutto dalla civiltà delle persone che lo abitano e nelle strade USA ho avuto modo di apprezzare quanto sia importante un popolo che rispetta le regole.”
(A great country is recognized above all by the civility of the people who live there, and in the streets of the USA I have had the chance to appreciate how important a populace which respects the rules can be.)
“No Roads Here” Oil on canvas
Here is a partial rundown of the article, paraphrased in italics, with my comments, of course:
Forget all the moral infractions that are committed regularly in Italy. Here are some things you will never see in the US:
Cutting and zig-zagging through traffic to get past everyone
Cars cutting into the line at a traffic light
Using the horn intensively
Super-high speeds on the highway or worse, in town
Disrespect or total dismissal of the STOP sign
More rules of the road which are different in the States:
You must actually stop at the STOP sign. You cannot just slow a little as we do in Italy.
It is permitted to turn right on red in many cases. (I turned right on red in Italy for about 20 years until I realized it was not allowed, never did anybody even look at me sideways…)
American police are quite rigid, (and you cannot expect to talk them out of a ticket.)
You are required to wear your seatbelt. Well, yes, you are.
You can use your cellphone while driving, even without an earpiece. (This is funny, considering that Italy was one of the first places to prohibit driving and talking on the cellphone; just imagine one hand to hold the phone, and one hand to gesticulate, which leaves you driving with some other appendage. I have always said that most men drive with that other appendage anyway!)
You cannot pass a schoolbus which is stopped, and you cannot drive with open containers of alcohol in the car, even if you are not drinking.
Here are some other curious facts about the USA:
Traffic lights may be at the center of the intersection, or on the other side. (I have always been astounded that the first in line at an Italian intersection often cannot see the light because it is almost always invisible and behind or above the line of sight.)
Another sign of great civility is the 4-way STOP. Instead of giving the person on the right precedence, it is the person who arrives first who has it. In Italy something of this nature would have the inevitable consequence of immediate chaos. Idem.
Carpool lanes are to be used only by cars with more than one passenger, in order to free up space: (In Italy I believe this was attempted in the Napoli area and led to a huge increase in the sale of inflatable half-dummies. Or maybe I am thinking of the seatbelt law, which led to the sale of T-shirts with the belt design stamped diagonally across the front…)
Beware of road blocks caused by people driving with cruise control who refuse to speed up in the passing lane. (Move over, you sluggards!!)
Beware of slamming on the brake with your left foot, thinking that the brake in the automatic transmission is the clutch. The resulting screeching halt will be perilous indeed! (My husband once brought us to a head-banging stop on the highway trying to “change gears to slow down” for an accident ahead.)
In case you are stopped by the police, slow down, pull over, and keep your hands on the wheel. Fines are paid by mail and never on site (so don’t offer any money to the officer to forget the infraction, one presumes!)
The cost of gasoline is quite low which explains why there are so many huge automobiles on the roads. (I would say so, my last fill-up in Italy cost me 140 Euros, about 188 dollars.)
Here are a few they forgot to add, possibly the most important ones:
Warning signs often actually correspond to road conditions. Not as in Italy, where warnings are so greatly exaggerated that no one pays the slightest attention to them. It is a practical demonstration of why someone Crying Wolf can eventually get you killed, because once in a great while the warning sign is accurate!
Traffic flow in the US is mostly an “Each Man For Himself” proposition. Not as in Italy where the entire formation will work as one organism, flowing organically together in poetic motion, while seemingly in chaos. Watch out for US drivers who, as long as they believe they are not at fault, will totally ignore other drivers. I prefer the Italian way.
Helmets in some states are not required on motorcycles, but are required on bicycles, (and recently have been proposed for soccer as well!!) Go figure.
White lines and yellow lines are actually intended to be heeded. (Not as in Italy where straddling the line is expected of most drivers, especially when passing another vehicle. After all, if I pass you I need to rub it in, no? So I will be moving over into your lane at about the level of your front door latch.)
Roadside conferences for smoking, snacking, and urinating are not allowed in the US. There are actually designated areas for these activities along most state and interstate highways! Remember that while in Italy you can stop anywhere, (after all there are two lanes for traffic on most roads, which leaves one lane empty) to chat or smoke or conference, this is severely prohibited in the US. People will likely protest loudly or threaten you in the US for stopping your vehicle in the middle of any road for no apparent reason.
Prostitutes are much more difficult to locate in the US, if this is a potential problem for you. ( You will not see them sitting on buckets by the side of the roads or standing under red fabric swatches, smoking or playing cards as they eye drivers intensely, hoping for a customer. You will not have to explain to your kids, in the US, what these dark-skinned “ladies” are doing congregating at the edges of town. Interesting to note, in a country which seems to be somewhat bigoted towards blacks and gays, that the first choice in prostitutes are black women and transvestites. Ah, but this is for another post…)
In America throwing your garbage out the windows of your car is highly frowned-upon. Roadsides do not reveal, in the autumn after catching fire, a foot-deep treasure trove of plastic and glass. There are even places where highways are maintained by private individuals! (This is a fantastic and unbelievable concept to most Italians, I know. I have often suggested that this, if a plaque could be put up to designate the parties responsible for the clean-up, might actually work in Italy. Deaf ears.)
And finally, if you must relieve your bladder, or your bowels, it is highly recommended that you stop at a gas station, roadside park, or restaurant to do it. You will rarely see a vehicle’s driver casually relieving himself, family jewels in hand and in full sight to passing traffic. You probably will not have to use a flashlight when, after dark, you stop to change drivers and are in danger of stepping in a fresh sidewalk muffin. After all, there are some things that you have to give up when traveling to a foreign country!
“Behind Every Man” pencil on paper
*”A guide for drivers”