Saturday, March 13, 2010


It was bound to happen... after precisely 13 days back in Rome I had my first official clash with the locals, or rather a local.

I walk into a bar (sounds like the intro to a bad joke) and order a coffee. Myself and an older woman are at the counter while a family of four, clearly Americans, sits at a table in the corner. The barista is going off on a tirade about how he's sick of these tourists, how they expect everyone to speak their language, how arrogant and rude they are, blah blah blah. Mind you, all of this is being shouted out loud as he prepares my coffee. It's clear that he's bitching about the American family sitting cluelessly in the corner, not knowing they've set him off on this tirade. They're probably thinking "Oh look how passionate these Italians are, how lively their conversations are". Bless their oblivious souls...
The barista keeps going on and on about how foreigners come here thinking they rule the place and if they want service from people who speak 6 languages, then they should go stay at the Grand Hotel. All the while making eye contact with me as if to gain my support (the older woman practically had her head in her cappuccino... wise woman). THEN he goes so far as to say "We Italians know how to adapt when we travel", at that point I could not help but start snickering. I looked straight at him and said "You have got to be kidding?!".
I know, I know, I shouldn't have done it. I tried to resist as long as I could, but enough's enough. I just wanted a fucking coffee but I got stuck listening to a load of bullshit. Thus, a heated yet very polite discussion began. I suggested that perhaps it wasn't the tourists' fault they don't speak the language, it's common to visit a country whose language you don't know and you have to try to get by on the languages you do know (i.e., your own), I also reminded him that Italy, and Rome especially, thrive on tourists and their money so it's in their own interest to treat visitors well. For the record, I was not defending all American tourists because I know firsthand, from working in the tourism industry, how obnoxious they can be but to go as far as generalizing that ALL Italians are great tourists and know how to adapt is just flat out ridiculous. Our discussion took a turn for the worse when I assured him that Italians are not perfect tourists when abroad (between you and me, I have traveled the globe and have seen some hideous Italian tourists. I'm just sayin' is all...) so he should be a little more understanding. Then I got the classic lame comeback: "How dare you come to MY country and insult MY people"... Again, I just snickered and said "I too am one of your people because I am Italian, I've lived here for over 10 years, and I pay taxes here. I'm not insulting anyone (unlike him, calling Americans ignorant, rude, arrogant, etc.) I'm just making an observation based on my experiences."
Buddy, next time don't let your mouth write checks your ass can't cash. If you're going to publicly bitch and moan at the top of your voice about something in front of your customers, then don't be surprised or annoyed when they actually chime in. Keep it to yourself if you're not willing to hear or accept other viewpoints. The discussion ended with us agreeing to disagree and me thinking "Now I can't go back to that bar ever again". Damn, what a pity, I really liked their pastries...


J.Doe said...

I'm glad you stood up to that bartender. Bad tourists work both ways. I don't know how many Italians there are that come to the US and don't know enough English to even go in to a restaurant or bar. They eat the street vendor food only because it's easy and then complain to all 'Si mangia male negli stati uniti.' Obviously that is not ALL Italian tourists, just like not all American tourists are ignorant and obnoxious.
On another tangent, sometimes it helps NOT knowing Italian. Some friends of my family came to visit me for my wedding 9 months after I started living in Italy. They knew hardly any Italian. I knew more than them, just enough to hear the little old man on the sidewalk behind them insult them for walking to slow. I was embarassed but as you said 'ignorance is bliss' and they enjoyed their visit calling all Italians 'wonderful, friendly people'.
P.S. If you like the pastries at that bar I'm sure you are still welcome.

Ikabod Grinwud said...

"...Rome especially, thrive on tourists and their money..." -you just confirmed what I had thought of before. But Italians I've met both in Italy and here in Manila are quite amiable and accommodating.