As a Realtor, I’ve spent a great deal of time writing and reviewing contracts, and discussing shoreline management and property line disputes. From fence lines to “grandfather” clauses, the answer is typically black and white, yes or no, right or wrong.
As I was scaling a death-defying beach “path” (I use the word path loosely) to reach a black sand beach on the Ligurian Sea recently, I thought of all the time I spent watching home inspectors measure stair treads and hairline foundation fissures, and I missed the predictability of that law.
As I gripped my children’s hands-on turns where the path gave way and tumbled to the sea, I kept wondering who marked this path as passable. I could have, of course, turned around, but the contrast of it all was too much to abandon and I had to get to the bottom of it.
I am not an expert in the legal intricacies of the USA or Italy. During the time I have spent living in both countries, I have noticed some gaping differences in-laws and their role in everyday life.
In my experience, liability is much less clear in Italy. I believe this translates into everyday people taking more accountability for their actions because it is not clear who is to blame. I believe it also leads to endless litigation when it is necessary because of the lack of clarity. Italian law is based on Roman law and it is centuries old and fraught with revisions and interpretations. I think because of this, people are less likely to take legal action.
How does this translate into day to day life?
- If you want to take the well-marked beach path, go ahead. If you fall to your death or impale yourself on any number of steel rebar stakes sticking unmarked out of the ground on the slope, it was your choice to take the path.
- If your children choose to jump on the frayed trampoline with no net or usage limits at the holiday park, and they get hurt, it was your choice to let them use the area. There are no posts about liability and parental supervision required because that is inherent in the cultural values.
- If you don’t want someone smoking three inches from your face while you have your morning coffee, go to another cafe. There is no fine or sign or consistent law for smoking in various business establishments.
- If you want to complain that the hotel didn’t state that they would have jackhammers ripping up the pool deck, even though the pool is open, go ahead. Most likely the answer will be something along the lines of “We always do the maintenance this time of year. It is off-season. If you don’t think it is safe, don’t swim.”
I am not sure what is right or wrong, black, white, or grey. Here is what I am sure of. There are times I miss the predictability and standards for safety in the United States. There are other times that the lack of Italian policing and rules (or rule enforcement) is really liberating and empowering.
It is more than a difference in legal systems, it is a difference in culture. The more I learn and experience both cultures, the more I understand the power of culture and how laws are a reflection of that power.