As the Italians pile into their cars to head home from their month of repose, they all follow the same tradition: pile the luggage in the trunk, the mother-in-law in the back, and the baby, right up front in mamma’s arms. If they’re little enough, and papà's bored enough on the long drive, sometimes, as a car passes at 90mph, I look over to see baby actually standing on papà's lap, hands held firm on the steering wheel, everyone all a-smiles.
Obviously, the Italians feel (despite the statistics to the contrary) that their children are immune to decapitation-by-airbag or other atrocities that could occur in case of the most minor fender bender; in a country in which fender benders are often fatal. For them, this simply does not pose a life-threatening situation (unlike those of air currents, wet hair and bare feet in the house). Well, I’ve sort of made this my personal crusade. As mothers strap their kids in the front seats, I generally poke my head in the window (I confess: I am a ficanaso - an unrepentant busybody) and remind them of their folly.
The reactions I receive run the gamut of MYOB from a modest, ‘bug off’ to today’s insult, “may you and your dog be decapitated first.” I wanted to remind the mother that I was not the one with my head posed directly in front of a missile that will fire at 280 km/hour…but, she sped off before I could tell her as much.
Instead of seeing that they are literally playing Russian roulette with a loaded air bag, even friends who go to great lengths to put their kids in harm’s way whilst at the wheel -- while taking all kinds of precautions whilst indoors-- will inform you that you are simply being an over-protective American… This, from a society that fears a bogeyman will take their children’s lives should they even pass by an open window on a hot summer’s day.
I have finally, however, figured out the illogic (of their reaction to me, not of their action in the first place--that will forever remain a mystery): Italy, although a “Catholic” country (quotes intentional), has a populace whose beliefs sway from the superstitious to the absolute surreal. So, when someone says, “Watch Out! You may get killed or, hurt, or worse,” well, they view it as if you have just put a curse on them. Of course, rather than take the precautions to ward off precisely that threat, they just touch their balls (if they have them…the Italian version of ‘knock on wood’) and carry on. Thus the reaction of the drivers in question.
The encounters usually end with me looking at the car as it runs off, ATTENZIONE: Bebe A Bordo signs posted carefully in back – a 21st century talisman -- warning other drivers they better be careful because they have a baby in the front seat, no seatbelt. I dream of the ad campaign in which those test dummies fly around a car at top speed, and the fact that the Italians wouldn’t even have to invent the ad; they’re so good at dubbing, they could just copy it…
And the mothers with their little bundles of joy? They speed off, babies secure in their laps, but, even if the car has no A/C, windows closed tight to ward off certain death from the air currents.