Saturday, June 08, 2013

Vacationing in Rome. Or anywhere.

Everyone who travels is a tourist. But when you actually live somewhere and experience the off-season, you may view the influx of tourists during tourist season with dismay. 
Because you have lived in Rome for almost an entire year and you consider yourself practically a native who just happens to be unable to speak the language or calculate the Metric system in your head. You know what it is like to walk through the city without dodging large groups of people, or to visit a museum and be able to gethisclose to the paintings and sculptures, or to be able to drive without having to factor in the extra 45 minutes it will take because of all the tour buses. During the off-season, that becomes your norm.

And so when all of that suddenly changes, it is a shock and an annoyance that I would imagine Italians don't feel. Possibly because they have a better attitude towards things in general, but also because they have always lived with this ebb and flow of massive hordes.

Which brings me to a topic that has been heavily publicized as of late: the two groups of tourists who were "ripped-off." One group paid 64 euro for gelati (I think that would currently be $84). Another group paid 72 euro for tiramisu and cappuccino (this means they were drinking cappuccino at night which is a cultural faux pau of the highest order and undoubtedly why it was so expensive).

I dislike this because it besmirches a city in which I have found kindness and generosity. I dislike this because ever since that first American sued McDonalds for serving hot coffee, I am easily dismayed by a lack of personal responsibility. 

The places that did the ripping off have most likely shot themselves in the foot for the rest of the summer.  But doesn't anyone else wonder why the customers didn't check the price before they bought something? Because the prices were marked.

On a scale of one to ten,guess how street smart and savvy I am? I'd give it a one. But when I travel somewhere outside the country in which I reside, I generally try and check out a few things: reviews written on hotels and restaurants, the exchange rate, tipping practices, etc. And I'm pretty sure that if I saw a sign that my ice cream cone was 16 euro,  or my tiramisu and cappuccino were 20 odd euro, I would choose to go elsewhere. Or maybe I'd buy it anyway, thinking it must be the best ice cream/coffee/dessert in the world. What? Maybe it's like an awesome glass of wine? Not that I can tell the difference between box wine and fancy wine, but you get my point.

What you do have to watch out for are the hidden charges. This is not just a tourist thing or a Rome thing. This is a life thing. Always check the menu for teeny-tiny letters that will say what the service charge is, if any, or it may note that the basket of bread is not free.  In America you can generally find a statement that will note the amount of money that will automatically be added to your bill as a tip for your server if you have six people in your party. You have to be a little pro-active. It doesn't take much time.

I do feel sad for the family who was charged 72 euro because while the prices were marked, the hidden mark-ups can be so very hidden that they are not actually posted. And I applaud them for taking a picture of the bill and filing a complaint.

But the gelato people were just not using common sense. "Let's get a gelato." "Sounds good--how much is it for two flavors? How much is a large?" "I don't know, let's check the board on which the prices are written." And the fact that they were then asked to return to Rome as guests of honor and re-flown into the city to make-up for their experience is just ridiculous.

And for future travelers anywhere, if someone is standing on the street, speaking to you in your own language and not the native language of the country, and urging you to eat at their establishment,chances are it is a restaurant targeting tourists. Sometimes you are hot or cold or tired or it's raining and you will not care. Sometimes the food will be terrible. Sometimes it will be great. Sometimes you will see that a salad costs more than a car payment and you will leave. And sometimes you will go to Greece and want to eat and go to the first place you find because they all look the same and you are hungry and you will then spend the night vomiting from food poisoning.

And also, all those guys in the piazzas trying to give you flowers because you are so beautiful ? The flowers aren't free.

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