If there one thing I’ve learnt in all my years travelling and long permanence abroad is to see myself through somebody else’s eyes. I mean, what you regard normal in your country in terms of habit and behaviour, becomes peculiar in another place. Somehow you get conscious that there is some kind of truth in all those prejudices and commonplaces about one’s country. Travelling makes you understand who you are and the degree of influence of the cultural environment of the country you come from, even if you truly believe there is none.
I remember my very first day in London, I guess I was at Piccadilly Circus, map in my hands, wondering where Oxford Street might be, when a man came by, offering to help, but as soon as he realized I was Italian, he started to rattle off everything he knew about Italy: “mamma, pappa, pizza, pasta, mafia, Papa, la famiglia……. ” and sang a tune of a commercial of some Italian product popular at that time. Ah, he also added that I didn’t look Italian. I wondered, was that a compliment? As it seemed so from the tone of his voice. What do Italians look like?
More than looks, I think we can or could be easily spotted for our behaviour or misbehaviour. We are a sort of colourful, noisy people, who don’t need a good pint of beer to give way to our natural extroversion and particularly disinclined to follow rules, any rules. But we have improved in time, slowly, I admit, but we have. I myself have learnt to tame my natural unruly spirit ( it doesn’t mean I have changed, it is there, ready to surface when least expected), but the habit of travelling and the constant exposure to other cultures through media has made us get closer to what I may define “European standards”.
The point is that when tourists arrive in Italy, we have the feeling that most of them have left their book of rules and proper behaviour at home. It is as if they truly believed Italy were a sort of pleasure island where everything is allowed, so most of them think they can enjoy here what they can’t or wouldn’t dare do anywhere else. And it is not only our perception. In fact, I came across an article from Lonely Planet about this topic: tourists’ misbehaviour in Italy and 21 tips to avoid any trouble. This is in short the state of things according to Lonely Planet.
“Italian authorities have introduced a slew of new rules aimed at curbing unacceptable behaviour, many of which are in response to issues with overtourism. Some have been introduced with a zero-tolerance approach. In June, a Canadian tourist was fined €250 ($278) for sunbathing in her bikini in Venice’s Giardini Papadopoli. While in July, two German tourists were fined €950 ($1058) and immediately asked to leave the city after they were found making coffee on a portable stove beneath the historic Rialto Bridge. Two French tourists were caught allegedly taking sand from a beach in Sardinia this month and could face up to six years in prison. And in Rome, police have been encouraging lounging tourists to move from the Spanish Steps as sitting on them is now subject to a fine of about €400 ($450). At first glance the rules may seem HARSH but residents in Italy are really starting to feel the strain of overtourism. “
I am sorry to contradict, but we are not starting to feel the strain of overtourism, but rather the strain of mass misbehaviour. If the writer thinks those measures “harsh”, somehow he seems to mean that those behaviours are actually ordinary in your countries, so they wouldn’t be subjected to a fine. I don’t think so. Among the 21 tips there are two or three which are really puzzling. The writer suggests to refrain from:
“Jumping into fountains or otherwise damage or climb on them,
Setting up picnics in public spaces….,
Walking around shirtless or in your swimwear in any metropolitan area.”
If there is the need to stigmatize these behaviours as unacceptable in Italy, does it mean that I can jump into your fountains, set up picnics in public spaces or walk around shirtless when I come to visit your country? I bet, I could not. The only explanation I can give is that, after all, behind your masks of proper behaviour an Italian heart beats, a heart which wishes to give way to its impulses freely, but thanks to you, we have learnt to improve our standards at last, therefore if you get fined, well, it is all your fault.