La Tolleranza

Angelo Pricolo examines a more relaxed way to look at life… and the importance of flexibility

On a recent holiday to Italy, for the first time with wife and kids, while this sort of thing was still possible, I was struck with a law that no longer exists in most of the western world and definitely not in Australia. La Tolleranza conveniently translates even though it’s hard to find, the tolerance.

Road rules and parking restrictions are usually a window into a society and Italy is certainly an example of that. Unfortunately so is Australia.

Loaded into a Fiat 500X hire car and cruising around Puglia trying to act like locals we found the destination for our day outing. Polignano is south of Bari on the Adriatic coast of Italy (that’s the side next to Greece) and is an idealic water paradise where Europe holidays.

The coast meets the kitchen in Polignano and the fashion is paraded around the cobblestone vicoletti that date back to when Jesus was a boy. The best experiences were usually enjoyed off the main tourist route where you are most likely to encounter locals getting on with daily habits with their natural flair.

Before we could enjoy the delights that were in store we had to find a parking spot. Let the adventure begin, because even with pretty handy Italian, parking signs are always designed to confuse drivers and parking meters strive to be different.

The casual appearance of a parking attendant was as surprising as welcome for once and of course his attire was impeccable. He had been enjoying an espresso locally and must have noticed a family in distress. Does he wait for us to mess it up or swoop in for the kill while we are still there?

So we discussed some of the important rules and discovered a few odd ones. It was mid-morning but we only had to pay until 1pm and could stay until 5pm. While Italy enjoys the siesta so do the parking meters, so we could have a big swim and an even bigger lunch. Coins were essential and this was the problem.

He was amused we half expected credit card facilities reflecting that Italy was still getting used to parking bays so card facilities were in the future and besides, what about the coin collecting team? He explained that in Italy everyone had coins but not everyone had a credit card.

But the credit card has endless funds and coins run out. This is what we told him when the meter only got to 1250 and we needed the extra 10 minutes or 20 Euro cents. But he had no idea what our problem was. We had fed the hungry meter and it accepted our funds. Bang, la tolleranza.

Even with his reassurance, warm tourist smile and catwalk tailored uniform that fit like a glove and exuded formality, we assumed we lost something in translation. La tolleranza, the law of flexibility and understanding covered the last 10 minutes so we could take the kids to the beach.

They didn’t have to follow us around looking for coins or drinking more coffee or San Pellegrino limonata, just to satisfy the meter. The meter was content and so was the parking officer. He was the one telling us to take the kids to the beach because it was hot. Not that his three-piece suit really reflected the summer sun or matched our Roman sandals that slid on the polished stone we had all gathered around.

Go to the beach and don’t worry about the meter. What? But back home a miss is as good as a mile. One minute over or under, one tyre past or present and the fine was absolutely warranted and rarely contested. We couldn’t walk away and he was laughing at us in his perfect suit and symmetrical tie knot.

So he embarrassed us away and although still cautious and suspecting a conspiracy eventually the absurdity of what we were used to kicked in. We not only appreciated the local law but also started to resent the overreaching vigilance we contend with when it came to policing our behaviour.

When I told him that we were not afforded even a one-minute leeway or tolerance, he waved his arm in an Italian gesture very familiar to us but not easy to translate. It meant something like a John McEnroe outburst “You can’t be serious?”

So why have we lost the shades of grey and we are left with an addiction to only black or white? Just as we extend flexibility and understanding to people in need or children being children, one day maybe we might exchange zero tolerance everywhere, for on some occasions, la tolleranza.

Angelo Pricolo is an addiction medicine pharmacist and former National Councillor of the Pharmacy Guild of Australia.

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