Windshields, garages and cigarette butts in Rome

Sulmona 005

Dirty windshields, garages and cigarette butts…?

Yes, because illegality is very much at home in Rome.

I love my car, but it’s pretty dirty right now. From time to time yellowish Saharan sand rains down here overnight, and all the dust-covered cars in the morning queues look like survivors from an apocalypse. However, getting it washed is near impossible if you have appointments to rush to, and hosing it down on your own in the street, or pouring a bucket on it from one of the lovely history-carved fountains dotting the city is illegal. The local car-wash is still on Easter holiday backlog.

(unrelated but apt)

(unrelated but apt)

Residential condominiums are meant to have a garage for each apartment, which would solve the problem altogether. But developers skim off lots of extra revenue by selling the garages as warehouses, which can morph over time into little supermarkets. This leaves you with no garage and the attendant daily heroic adventures in search of a parking space on returning to your neighbourhood at nightfall. You’re also woken up by the rumbling and whining refrigerated trucks stocking up the basement supermarket at the crack of dawn, or worse, on Sunday mornings. Some supposed-to-be garages have turned into gyms, and they tell me evening crowds of fitness freaks can be just as noisy.

But these grow in Rome streets too!

But these grow in Rome streets too!

To go back to my car, one of the many illegal but useful trades in this city is windshield-cleaners at traffic lights. Large crossroads are the personal or clan turf of immigrants who, rain or shine, wave their sponge-tipped broomsticks at you rather aggressively and start splashing suds whether you want them to or not – usually you don’t and have no change anyway. But following some kind of algorithm of random probabilities, when you need them, not one to be seen anywhere, not even on an hour-long drive across the whole town.

Illegality is rampant at all levels, top, middle and bottom. Top meant as the people presumably running this city, involved in the “Mafia Capitale” investigations and corruption trials you can look up online elsewhere. Middle stands for the middle-men, the all-round networking and contacts experts without whom nothing big or small ever gets done here. And at the bottom rung, micro-illegality flourishes too, and contributes to making this city one that’s often a pain to navigate in daily life.

Who took my scarf?

Who took my scarf?

I just forgot a lovely scarf in the rest-room of a restaurant and rushed back shortly after, but it was gone. Lost and found is not part of the culture. Besides, honesty isn’t taken for granted either. The law states that if you lose something and someone returns it, you have to pay them 5% of the value of the lost object! I thought it was a joke, but it isn’t.

There are laws against all kinds of socially harmful behavior, but no or rare instances of enforcement. In many cases average citizens are quite unaware these laws even exist. For example, last February 2nd, throwing a cigarette butt in the street became an offense you can be fined up to € 300 for, but you’d never tell by the spreads of butts that continue to accumulate on sidewalks and gutters in front of bars, restaurants and shops. Not to mention the car doors opening at a red light to allow a hand to drop the contents of a whole ashtray onto the road.

Ah. The Great Beauty…

Does any of this surprise you, or are these behaviours you’re familiar with?

Haphazard selection of photos: ©

This entry was posted in Blogging, Environment, Humour, Italy and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

26 Responses to Windshields, garages and cigarette butts in Rome

  1. lisakunk says:

    Lots of laws I haven’t heard of. I’ve just dropped by to see what you do. Decided to follow and learn some new info about the world. Thanks.

    • Bea dM says:

      Thank you! Lost of laws but people don’t pay much attention to them. I just had a look through your blog and will be dropping in too

  2. eurobrat says:

    Wow. As seductive as the beauty of Italy might be, I think I’m too OCD to live in that culture. I’d lose my mind after just a couple of days.

  3. Ellen Hawley says:

    Sounds like New York in the seventies–if you subtract the Saharan sand, of course.

    • Bea dM says:

      Yes, and one reason I love to go to the US is that so few people smoke nowadays – at least in public 🙂

      • Ellen Hawley says:

        It’s a relief, isn’t it? The UK has become very much the same–indoor spaces are smoke free, and they seem to be driving the smokers further and further from the doorways. Given that this is an island, I expect them all to fall into the sea at some point.

      • Bea dM says:

        Hadn’t thought of that. It’s a narrow peninsula here, so there’s hope for Italy too.

  4. HI Bea,

    Thanks for your colorful insights into life in the city. Your story about cars reminds me of when I lived in New York City and parking was at a premium for cars. Only the very wealthy had cars in the city.


    • Bea dM says:

      hi Nancy, yes but even then many kept it in garages just for driving out of town on weekends, and used taxis on weekdays and limos at night – the latter were pretty cheap compared to Europe. Traffic in NYC really flows compared to Rome 🙂

  5. Barb Knowles says:

    In Spain there was spitting. That was in the ’70s so who knows now. That being said, Madrid was much cleaner than New York City. Every place has its unique foibles. The honesty thing I’ve never heard of before, though. It’s always interesting to get a perspective that isn’t that of a tourist. Great post.

  6. Hi, Fab blog! I have just set up mine, but still in the very early stages! Just making efforts to link in with fellow bloggers to improve our followers and get the word out there for us both. I would appreciate you having a peek at my blog, as I have just published my second post. Feel free to like, comment, follow or just take a peek. Thank you 🙂

  7. lundygirl says:

    city life here can mean people happily spitting all over the pavements – I’ve even seen people spit inside shopping centres! and litter. And yes there are laws but not enough enforcement. People use their mobiles while driving. spit on the pavements and throw litter out of their cars. It annoys me. Can you tell? 🙂 Totally understand what you say here. I’ve been to Switzerland and was amazed that in Basel you could leave your umbrella at the entrance of a large department store and it would still be there when you were ready to leave. Not much litter either.

  8. viewvin says:

    Its not surprising in Mumbai(formerly Bombay). As rightly put, cleanliness, needs to be inculcated from childhood. However here people will keep their own homes neat and clean, but will not bother about the neighbourhood. I like your blog; it brings out the daily aspects of life so well. The pic of the sky is so good!

    • Bea dM says:

      My point is in fact that in certain things, it’s not one’s idea of a .. developed (?) country here 🙂 Thank you for your nice comment!

  9. roninjax says:

    Good reflection on daily life and how the simple things can frustrate it. It seems that laws are created because at some point there was lapse of personal responsibility. However, the continued passing of laws burden the people, and then the people look at ways around the law. I think this issue is relative across the globe. We need positive, legal creativity to work with the laws and yet release the burden of the people. Maybe someone can build on the idea of capturing rain water to use for washing the car. Would that be legal?

    • Bea dM says:

      I agree there’s often government over-reach, but in cases of littering, tough laws and enforcement can help: look at Switzerland and Singapore! As to honesty, in my opinion it’s a cultural issue that has to be taught from the cradle on….

  10. We can’t believe that the law requires you to pay someone for being honest, what happened to doing the right thing because it is the right thing. We also have the window cleaners, but they don’t usually attempt to clean your window unless you pay them first. Having what is supposed to be your garage turned into a commercial location would be extremely vexing. Hope you get your car washed soon. 🙂

    • Bea dM says:

      Yes, my point was that the law implies that being honest isn’t considered a given. My scarf as evidence, but also other incidents over the years. I checked it out further, and in some cases you have to pay 10%…. I’ll post a picture of my car one day 🙂

  11. zipfslaw1 says:

    Nice picture of (some of) the realities of actually living in a city that we all want to come to as tourists! The American equivalent of the guys who clean your windows and demand money is guys who pretend to make a half-hearted attempt at cleaning your windows, but don’t actually clean them at all–the stereotypical guy spits on your windshield and wipes it off with his shirt sleeve–and then demand money. Every place has its plusses and its minusses, I guess…

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