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The Art of Conversation is Alive and Well on Italian Buses

The miles fly by with a good argument.

I dashed through the streets of Sarzana and was only just in time for the 6pm bus, the last of the day. A couple of minutes later and I would have had to walk the two hours up hill through the cold and dark to my friend’s house in the Tuscan hills.

“I can’t stand living in the country like this,” the woman opposite me commented, seeing that I was out of breath, “There are just 3 buses a day and sometimes I get stuck at home without tobacco and have to beg my boyfriend to drive me down to town. There’s not a single shop open with 10 kilometres of our house.”

“Come on, now!” the driver laughed, “Living in the country is a life-choice. If you don’t like it you can live in town where you have everything.”

The other 2 passengers, 2 old ladies pricked up their ears in anticipation of a good, friendly debate to pass the time.

“But my boyfriend doesn’t want to live in town,” the woman complained.

“There are hordes of English who buy up all the houses in the country in my area. They’re crazy for the countryside!” the driver laughed.

“It’s true,” I agreed, “In England now every second program is about how to buy your second home on the Continent.”

“I wouldn’t live in the country if you paid me,” the old lady behind me cackled. “I live in Genoa and only come here to visit my friends. There are just 4 families left in their village.”

“Exactly!” the first woman said, a little defensive of her anti-countryside position, “And if something happens to you, especially as you get older then it’s not safe.”

“The other day in Genoa it took the ambulance an hour and a half to reach someone hurt in an accident!” the driver argued and we all gave a collective sigh at the incompetence of the Italian infrastructure.

The bus wound around the dark country lanes and god help whoever was coming in the other direction. We climbed the hill towards the village where the first woman got down and she continued to argue as she did so, only belatedly returning our offers of ‘good evening to you’. The driver cackled to himself.

“I suppose you hear everything in this job?” I asked him. He nodded vigorously.

“Everyone comes to confess all their problems to me. I’m like a priest.”

“Or a psychologist.” the old lady behind me suggested.

“With a first class diploma!” the driver laughed.

“You know, this kind of chat is why I like Italy. In England, there’s a sign up in the buses saying you can’t talk to the driver in the bus. You can even get fined if you do.”

“They put the sign up in this bus, too,” the driver said, “But we took it down! Talking to the passengers is the only thing that keeps me awake.”

By the time I got down the driver and the remaining two old ladies knew where I was staying, where I was from and what my stance was on the right-wing government, French versus Italian cuisine and the challenges of living so high up during the winter.

“We’ll see you again, then?” the driver asked hopefully as I got down. I nodded and hauled my shopping on to my shoulder to walk home and the two old ladies waved merrily as the bus continued its way up through the hills.