On a recent trip to Sicily, I came to a stop sign on the main road from Palermo into Marsala, a small town on the western coast. I stopped. Immediately behind me, the cars started honking. I wasn’t sure what was going on.
At the next stop sign, I stopped. Again, more honking and the car behind me came within inches of my rear bumper, indicating their displeasure with my actions.
As I continued towards the town, I noticed all the cars ahead of me and cars coming from the opposite direction were completely ignoring the stop signs. Maybe they slowed down a little, but they went through them at 30 miles an hour.
Later that night, I asked a local what’s with the stop signs. He laughed and said they were just a suggestion. If no one was coming from the side streets, he said the locals just ignored the signs. I forgot to ask him about the stop signs I saw at traffic lights which seemed to be completely illogical. Elsewhere in Sicily, drivers did stop for stop signs.
For travelers, these local customs can be unnerving and strange. I started to think back on some of my more unusual driving experiences around the world.
Elsewhere in the Mediterranean, on a trip 20 years ago to the island of Crete, I was surprised to see most drivers drove partially in the shoulder of the road. Their right wheels would actually be over the solid line that marks the shoulder. At first, I thought they did this so other cars could pass. I never learned why many drivers did this all the time. (See photo at the top)
The drive along the Amalfi Coast is famous for the amazing scenery and the crazy hairpin turns on the edge of a cliff. But, the line in the middle of the road is treated as merely a suggestion, as long as you see no one coming in the opposite direction. If you hear a horn, it means a bus is coming around a blind curve and you might need to stop and back up.
When driving in Melbourne, Australia, I learned about the crazy hook turn. If you want to make a right turn at an intersection, you actually start from the far left lane. You even drive a little towards the left before starting a sweeping right turn. The first time I drove it, I was shocked I actually made the turn without incident. Trams run down the center of the street where these turns are required and the procedure is said to reduce congestion and actually avoid accidents.
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In Buenos Aires, you need to watch out for taxicabs driving with their headlights off at night. If the cab drivers don’t have a fare, they don’t bother to turn on their lights. A local claimed this was done to save money.
Back in the U.S., I had a strange driving experience on residential streets around Seattle. Many of the two-way streets allow parking on both sides of the street with room for just one car to travel in the center. When two cars meet, one has to find an empty parking spot to pull into or start backing up. I found myself in a few standstills with neither driver wanting to yield.
I’m sure this is just a snapshot of international driving quirks. Share your experiences in the comments below.
TravelSkills reader Jon Orlin (@jonorlin) enjoys traveling around the world. He was an Executive Producer at CNN for many years, and ran the video departments at Yahoo and TechCrunch.
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