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Italy vs. Britain - It's the law!

Agosto 2016
Fatta la legge, trovato l’inganno... e se si viene ‘beccati’? Si può sempre provare a fare i furbi! Ecco l’atteggiamento verso la legge tipicamente italiano che agli anglosassoni proprio non va giù.

di Rachel Roberts

Rachel Roberts
Rachel Roberts

E arlier this year a group of young British children were on the news. They were playing in a field when they saw a police helicopter following two suspected criminals. When one of the men disappeared into a forest, the children lay down on the ground and formed an arrow with their bodies, indicating the direction of the escaped man to the police. I can’t help asking myself whether a group of Italian children would have done the same thing. Maybe they would, but the opinion of most of my Italian friends and colleagues is that the arrow would have pointed in the wrong direction!


Many British expats find the Italian attitude towards the police, and more generally to law and order, disquieting. Italians all accept that they have to carry identification around with them and to show it to an official figure whenever asked, yet they apparently view the police in a more negative light that the average British person.


This can cause problems for British people when they encounter the Italian police. Italian officers of the law are used to being distrusted by the general public and as a consequence they don’t always treat the public with the deferential respect we Brits expect. A couple of years ago I was on the Milan ring road, when a lorry driver, who was busy talking on his phone, crashed into my car. We stopped in a parking space and a police car pulled up. I quickly explained to the officers inside how it had clearly been the lorry driver’s fault. When one of the officers asked who I thought I was, I was deeply shocked. I mean, OK there are two sides to every story, but that is just so NOT the way a policeman should address a member of the public, in my view!

no parking

Italians seem to enjoy finding ways of outsmarting officers of the law. In fact, they apparently enjoy getting round the law, whenever possible. Take driving; what is the Italian problem with no parking signs, no entry signs and even traffic lights? Surely they understand that these signs are there for our general safety? 


On a recent trip to the UK I had to take a shuttle bus from the airport to the car rental park. The buses were all parked in “bays” or bus-sized parking spaces, and there were clear signs everywhere telling people that there was “NO EXIT” towards the back of the buses. There were also barriers to prevent people from trying to get out this way. This of course was for safety reasons. If a bus has to reverse out of a narrow space the visibility is limited and it could easily hit any pedestrians walking around at the back of the vehicle.
In spite of these obvious life-preserving measures, a young Italian traveller walked confidently towards the back of the bus and was about to jump over the barrier, when my bus driver leaned out and told him that he couldn’t get out that way. The young Italian showed no sign of embarrassment. He simply turned round and walked away. He must have known that it was forbidden to exit behind the bus. The signs very clear. So why had he tried to go out that way?

parental guidance

I know what the Italian readers are thinking: he tried it on. He saw the sign, realised that walking the correct way would take longer, and so he ignored it. And why not? Even Italian parents tell their children to “be cunning.”


The trouble is, that might be the best way to get through life in Italy, but it’s certainly not in other cultures. In the UK we have a very strong sense of fair play, so if, for example, you are told that it is forbidden to plagiarise when writing an academic essay and you do it anyway, thinking that no one will ever find out, you are quite wrong. My daughter recently uploaded the wrong version of a high school essay. Instead of the essay, she uploaded some notes she’d copied from various websites. She received immediate feedback telling her that a sophisticated software on her tutor’s computer had discovered evidence of plagiarism. I’m happy to say my daughter was mortified.
So any Italians going to live in the UK should be careful. You won’t be expected to carry photo ID around with you all the time, and I’ll tell you more about that next month, but you will be expected to play by the rules!

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