Rome is very much an ‘in your face’ city. Everything is loud and brash. The streets are insanely crowded. Vendors incessantly harass walkers on the sidewalks, despite your emphatic shake of the head or polite ‘no’.
I can’t necessarily blame the Romans. People of all walks of life have poured into the Eternal City. The trick is to get off the beaten path, even by a little. With over 10 million tourists visiting each year, that’s easier said than done. If you do, you’ll be rewarded with meeting some very hospitable and lovely Romans.
If it hadn’t been for seeing a true Roman neighbourhood, I would have left Rome for the third time with yet another sour taste in my mouth.
Here are five things that have and continue to turn me off Rome.
- The number of people always trying to sell something to you, whether it’s tours or trinkets. The first time you are faced with it, you shake your head, say ‘no grazie’ and keep walking. By the hundredth time, you just barrel on through, ignoring the sellers, who often cursed us out before they moved on to the next sucker. One time, as Nat and I made our way through the streets, someone called out to us ‘hey lovelies’. When we didn’t respond, he called us mean looking. We just laughed as we walked away.
- The number of smokers in Rome. I am amazed at how many people still smoke, anywhere. Smokers are everywhere in Rome. Unbelievably, smokers are catered to–The Colosseum has a smoking section. A designated spot (at one of the most famous structures in the world) for people to poison the surroundings? I was dumbfounded. We were having dinner at an outside terrazzo. The tables were so close together that you could hold hands with the table next to you if you wished. The couple seated next to us lit up just as we were starting to eat. They continued smoking throughout their meal. As someone who enjoys tasting food (and breathing fresh air), I just don’t understand it. Please. Someone explain to me how this is normal.
- The lack of yielding to others on footpaths. When Nat and I walk through a city, we walk side by side. One of us always steps behind the other in order to make room on a sidewalk when there is oncoming traffic. This doesn’t seem the consensus with everyone in Rome. People will walk side by side, sometimes three or four side by side, with no consideration for others. I can’t tell you how many times I have had to step into a street because I was forced off the footpath. Red Rover, Red Rover, let Tara and Nat come over…
- The dismal level of customer service. In tourist areas, I have found the customer service abysmal. This surprises me because surely Roman’s know that the tourist trade is large. I have to admit, I don’t speak a lot of Italian, but I try as best I can. I know some key words, and often, I’ll use hand gestures if I don’t know the words. I just ask to please don’t punish me for not knowing the language fluently. Maybe it’s just that they simply don’t care because they know that other tourists will be right behind, so they really don’t care what your experience may be. Maybe it’s just that they are tired of the tourists and want their city back? The solution to this of course is to either learn Italian or get out of the tourist areas. On this last visit to Rome, we did the latter and found beautiful people in the Testaccio neighbourhood. We truly were able to see how wonderful Roman people are.
- I hate how paranoid you have to be in Rome. The threat of pickpockets is real. Warnings are posted everywhere you go. When we were settling in to our Airbnb, even the owners warned us of the dangers of theft. This is not cool. I want to go somewhere and really enjoy a place without having to constantly worry about someone getting into my bag.
Now it sounds like I’m totally bagging on Rome. I kind of am, but I don’t really mean to. It’s sometimes the price you pay visiting a major cosmopolitan city.
Other cities in Italy are softer, politer, and more gentle.
Rome is brusque, but for all its messiness, it’s still the home of magnificent treasures that must be appreciated. I just have to wonder if some of the kindness found in other Italian cities can be brought to Rome as well someday?
If you’ve been to Rome, what was your experience?