Now, if this is starting to sound like the most condescending blog post in the world, rest assured that it’s not. As a writer, I’m inclined to think less of every other human being’s intellect, but I do understand that you most likely already know how to cross the street. But there’s more to it than you think. So stick with me on this. You’ll learn something, I promise.
To make up for my relatively lacking information on the city of Rome itself, my topic of choice for this week’s post is something inherently Roman and something I’m sure is on the top of every foreign student’s concern list once they actually step into the streets of Rome: how to cross the street.
Crossing the street in Rome is unlike crossing the street anywhere in the world. There are a lot of social cues to follow, and likewise some taboo things you really should avoid. It is, believe it or not, as much a cultural thing as drinking coffee standing up on a cafe’s bar, or cursing loudly at your deliveryman. As Temple students, we are invaluably gifted in the ways of jaywalking, as anybody who’s ever attempted to cross Broad Street will tell you. So I feel equally schooled in the subject to offer you some tips.
1. Ignore the traffic light. Following traffic light-procedure is the sure-fire way to ensure taking 3 hours to cross the street. Anyway, I’m pretty sure they were a 21st century invention and we all know how well technology works in Rome (spoiler alert: it doesn’t).
2. Take a look around. Are there cars driving directly down your path? Are they many? Does the driver look like his day would be ruined by a measly traffic accident (most of them don’t)? Calculate the time it would take to walk from one curb to the next. If it is less than a minute, go for it. If it’s more- go for it anyway.
3. Make eye contact. This is crucial. When crossing the street, you are entering the lion’s den. People here drive like maniacs, because they’ve got important things to do at important places with important people, and are not fazed by something as unimportant as rules. By looking the driver in the eye, you’re making yourself important. People have a million things to worry about and not one of them concerns a random stranger trying to get across a seven-foot stretch of concrete before them. So demand yourself to be seen. Step on the curb and go. Just go. Even if you think you’ll get run over, even if you think there is no way in hell the car will slow down in time for you to get across. It will. Glare the driver down and just go.
4. Don’t run. NEVER run. Running is an American invention. Why do you think you never see Romans jogging around in lycra shorts? (other than because they’re sane human beings). Italians don’t understand the concept of running when crossing the street because that means you are sacrificing your health, your breathing, and your leisure in order to let somebody else get ahead. Your destination is just as important- why should somebody with an intimidating car get the right to modify your original path?
5. Find, to your amazement, that the car does slow down to let you pass. It may be inches away from your coat and it may have screeched louder than Kim Kardashian when she lost her diamond earring in that one episode of “Keeping Up”, but it does stop.
So here’s the thing. Rome is a city of survival. Much like New York City or any other big metropolis, there are always people who are going to want to get in before you, and don’t mind running you over in the process. But that doesn’t mean that you should just let them. Living in Rome is about doing just that: living. Not standing idly in line waiting your turn, but demanding that it be so. Not waiting around for the street to be safe enough to tread on, but making the street safe. Nobody will take you by the hand here, and the truth is that nobody really should, no matter where you may be living. Whether you’re in Rome, Paris, or Philly, people will respond to respect, and sometimes you just need to show everyone that you deserve some for a change. You need to assert yourself, look the driver in the eye, and tell him that it’s your time.
Life is short. So cross the damn street.