One of the difficulties of being a North American living in Sicily is the “car thing”. Europeans have the option to drive here if they so choose. Sadly, unless you have the James Bond Lotus from the Spy Who Loved Me, North Americans have to fly.
Sicily is not a place that is high up there on the list of public transport iconic cities; Paris, Tokyo, London, Toronto. This means renting a car. Whether you book your car in Canada or the US or you rent it once you are ‘in country’, nothing makes car rental cheap.
This year, for the fourth time, Nick and I picked up a rental car at the airport when we arrived. This time, however, we only booked the little Fiat 500 (or Cinquecento as they say here) for two weeks with the idea that we would buy a car.
Now, there is one big hitch if you are not Italian and you want to buy a car here. Unless you are an Italian citizen or you have residency in Italy, it is simply not possible to get car insurance. Not difficult…impossible. For European Union citizens, this is not a big deal. You can:
- Bring your own car and car insurance from home, or
- Apply for residency.
EU citizens can get residency in Italy quite easily, as long as you have a residence. A quick visit to the Comune (municipal office or city hall) – as much as anything that happens at the Comune can be called quick – and within a couple of days…da daaaa! Residency.
If, however, you are like me and NOT an Italian and NOT an EU citizen, residency can take five months or more. It involves not just a trip to the Comune but also a trip – or probably several – trips to the regional office, which in our case would be Sciacca or Agrigento. This post, however, is not going to be about Italian bureaucracy – that is an encyclopedia set on its own. This post is about buying a car.
Fortunately for us, Nick is an Italian citizen and is in possession of an AIRE or Registry of Italians Resident Abroad card. This allowed Nick to buy and insure a car here in Sicily. So, even though I am the one who does most of the driving, the car officially belongs to Nick.
Last year, the only way to buy a car in Cianciana was to know someone who knew someone who was selling a car. We began to ask around but, on one of our outings we discovered, much to our amazement and complete surprise, that a car lot had opened up in Cianciana!
Now, you have to keep in mind, for those of you who are from the other side of the Atlantic, a car lot here and a car lot in North America are not the same things at all. In the small town where Nick and I live in Canada, there are at least 6 car lots and two RV lots, the smallest of which is about an acre and a half. The car lot here in Cianciana is really parking on the side of the main street into town. I think there may have been a dozen used cars there for sale ranging from a tiny beat-up Fiat something or other to a very hot looking Peugot convertible. Nick and I stopped to looked.
Now, we are quite restricted in the size of car that we can get. Our street is so narrow that, even though our garage is big enough for two cars, only the smallest of cars could actually be backed into the space.
This meant that we would be restricted to the very old Fiat 500s (we tried unsuccessfully to get a new Fiat 500 into the garage last year) or a smartcar or smart as they are called here. Fortunately for us, the car lot boasted not one but three smartcars! We had a choice! We decided to talk to the salesman. In fact, the man that we ended up speaking to, Rosario Montalbano, wasn’t a salesman, he is the owner of Ro.Gi.Pa – Car Sales and Replacement Parts.
He showed us an old smart, 1999, but with low mileage. I took it for a test drive and it seemed fine. We looked at the motor – it look clean without have been cleaned, and the battery seemed in good shape. No oil puddles under the car. But, I was raised by my father to never trust a car salesman, an insurance salesman or a lawyer. Since then, I have met some very trustworthy lawyers and insurance salesmen but I have to say that my father’s old ideas of the used car salesmen have died hard. Rosario is a younger guy with a huge smile, friendly, informed, really knowledgeable about cars. He comes from a long line of race car drivers – both his grandfather and father raced cars before he did. He answered all our questions satisfactorily but I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. And I waited, and I waited. So far, no shoe dropping. Rosario even found us car insurance in Sciacca that was ¼ the price of what we were quoted here in Cianciana. (The quote we got in Cianciana was for the same amount that we were going to pay for the car – not too likely we would have said yes to that!). It appears that Rosario has proven my father wrong. He is a decent guy who really seems to be concerned with making sure his customers are happy. Once again, we seem to have fallen on our feet here.
Now, having said that, nothing happens quickly in Italy. Once you have decided, buying a car and getting insurance in Canada can be accomplished in a morning. Not so much in Sicily. The insurance in particular took several days and frustrating drive through Sciacca. Once we got to the insurance office (no mean feat in Sciacca’s rush hour traffic), Nick had to sign his name 37 times. No, I am not exaggerating, I counted. 37. Times. By the time he was finished, he was wishing his name was J. Wu or something else equally short. But, we now have a car and one that can be parked in our garage. All in all, a relatively painless experience!