On our flight over to Europe, I watched the recently released movie called Spy whereby the main character, Susan Cooper, played by Melissa McCarthy. is a desk bound CIA analyst who volunteers to go undercover to infiltrate the world of a deadly arms dealer, and prevent a global disaster. The movie has a very funny driving scene where an Italian agent named Bradley Fine, played by Jude Law, picks Cooper up and drives her to her hotel. During that scene the Italian agent, driving a sporty convertible speeds through the narrow streets of Rome, paying more attention to the girls he is passing by than to his driving. The scene is very funny and typifies the way Europeans drive. Anytime I’ve watched scenes like this, I’ve always thought that the movies must be majorly exaggerating drivers in Europe. After returning home, I no longer think that.
Based on our experiences in Europe, it would seem that the stereotype, perpetrated by Hollywood movies, that European drivers are crazy is true. Have you ever seen an intersection packed with cars at all different angles, none of them moving, many of them tooting angrily like it will possibly help? Well, we did in Paris when our shuttle driver entered the very large round about that encircles the Arc of Triumph (Arc de Triomphe). There were no clear lanes and cars were everywhere and numerous horns were tooting. This is just one of the many driving experiences my wife and I, along with our friends, experienced when we visited Continental Europe. Even though I was aware of the stereotype, I was still “shell shocked when witnessing it”.
Our first taxi ride was on the island of Santorini, one of the Greek islands. After a nice dinner at our hotel, we decided to visit the nearby village of Kamair, so we had the hotel call a taxi for us. When the taxi arrived, My wife and our friends got in the back seat, and I got into the front with the driver. No word of a lie, the driver put the “petal to the metal” and the car accelerated quickly. Now in Greece, there are no side walks so pedestrians walk on the narrow roads. There was a group walking down the road as the taxi driver sped toward them, showing no signs of slowing down. The pedestrians scattered very quickly, as you might imagine. The village was two kilometres from our hotel. and our taxi driver speeded the entire way there. Thank God, we made it to the village alive. We all were so shocked that all we could do was laugh. I would label this taxi driver as one of those stereotypical crazy European drivers.
Like the driver in Santorini, the taxi driver who took us to the airport in Athens “floored it” at every opportunity. At one point he narrowly missed a car door that was opening. What made the situation even more humorous was the fact that just before the taxi arrived, a huge thundercloud moved over the city and a torrential rainstorm occurred as we were driving off. Now as in many cities, Athens does not have the infrastructure to handle torrential downpours, so needless to say the streets of Athens were semi flooding, or in some case fully flooded. That didn’t slow down our taxi driver. He just sped through the water sending water everywhere. Now we were nervous to say the least and I suspect our driver must have sensed that since he put in a CD of Greek music and “cranked” it up. It worked, as we did relax and started swaying to the music. This driver fit the stereotype.
Being a pedestrian in Europe is truly an adventure. Really you take your own life into your hands every time you step out onto the street as there was no other choice since sidewalks are rare in Europe. There were many, many times when our friends and us would be walking in what we assumed was a pedestrian zone only to be shocked when a vehicle would drive through scattering all the pedestrians. That happened in Florence and Sorrento in Italy, Mykonos town in Greece, and Bayeux in France, to name some places we experienced this. In fact, at our vacation rental in Sorrento, the gate opened right onto the road, and I’m not kidding when I say the vehicles did not slow down on that road. Numerous times we literally ran to cross the road for fear of getting hit by a car. It was most entertaining when you watched some else doing so.
In places like Rome, Paris and Athens it is common to see the narrow streets jammed with unruly drivers, streetcars, buses, mopeds, and double-parked trucks. It is also common in these cities to see massive horn-honking traffic jams. The mopeds and motorbikes were plentiful on the streets and would weave in and out of the vehicles, and often would drive between two vehicles to get ahead. There didn’t seem to be any sense of abiding by rules and such.
Then there is the parking. In Rome and Paris, for example, you would see vehicles parked in every which direction. There would be trucks parked in lanes with their flashers on. We saw this often in Paris on the shuttle. Vehicles would be parked up on sidewalks, if there was one, and it was not uncommon to see cars double parked. Vehicles would just park beside other parked vehicles and turn on their flashers. It just seemed liked chaos to me.
Now I realize that the reason drivers are so aggressive in Europe and why people park in any available space they can find in cities is because Europe does not have the space that North America has. Most of the cities in Europe are ancient. To give you some perspective, parts of Rome are truly ancient. If you look at the famous Roman Colosseum and inquire when it was built you would learn that it was commissioned around A.D. (CE) 70-72 by Emperor Vespasian. Paris existed long before Notre Dame Cathedral was built and the cathedral began its construction in 1163 AD (CE). The site of Athens has been inhabited since before 3000 BC (BCE). The earliest buildings date from the late Bronze Age, about 1200 BC (BCE), when part of the town spread to the south of the citadel on the Acropolis. The Acropolis is an ancient citadel (fortress) located on a high rocky outcrop above the city of Athens and contains the remains of several ancient Greek Temples. So as you can see, these cities are truly ancient thus explaining why the city streets are narrow. They were built in times before vehicles were around. These cities were never intended to have modern vehicles on them. In fact, many of these streets are still cobblestone. Space is at a premium over in Europe.
Then there is the population factor. Italy, for example, has 60,808,000 inhabitants and is 33 times smaller than Canada and the United States. Canada’s population is about 35 million and the population of the United States is approximately 319 million. Now that doesn’t mean much until you compare the number of people to the land area, otherwise known as their population density. According to the World Bank Data Website Italy has a population density of 209 people per sq. kilometre (km) of land area. Canada, on the other hand, has a density of 4 people per sq. km of land area and the United States has 35 people per sq. km of land area. So as you can see, Italy is much more densely populated than either Canada or the United States. In light of these statistics, it is easy to understand that Italy has much less space to handle its vehicles and pedestrians.
After returning home, I have come to appreciate the amount of space we have in North America. Our wide streets, our sidewalks for pedestrians our large, straight highways, our open space in rural areas are so refreshing after being in Europe. All the while we were in Europe we heard about the refugee crisis. It was on the news. It was in their news papers. We even witnessed a demonstration in support of the Syrian refugees in Athens. North America has so much more space and fewer people when compared to the European nations, therefore we should not be afraid to take in more of the Syrian refugees, especially in light of the fact that Europe is experiencing a refuge crisis right now. North America can easily encompass more inhabitants. We have the space!