Observations Thus Far

After a week in Rome, life has gotten a lot easier. I am finally sleeping consistently, eating somewhat healthier, and I'm beginning to get my bearings in the city. Still, the little things continue to surprise me, but maybe that's what visiting a new culture is all about.

Here are some observations that diverged from my expectations so far:

1. The public transit system is very unreliable.

The bus drivers here strike on a weekly basis, and if your driver decides not to go out that day, you are outta luck. I learned this the hard way on my third day of classes. Missed one bus by 5 seconds and think it's no big deal because the buses come every 5 minutes. A half an hour later, still no bus. Frustrating to say the least.

2. The grocery carts have FOUR wheels that swivel, not just two.

I have no idea why there would be a transatlantic difference when it comes to shopping cart maneuverability, but I've gotta say I prefer the ones over here.

3. There is an odd sort of racism/discrimination that just wouldn't fly in the US.

I became aware of this problem my first day here: a bus-side ad featured two Italian dudes in blackface and yellowface. I have no idea what was being advertised, but thats some 1930s-type crap right there. Asian people here are commonly referred to as cinese, or Chinese, which is kinda wack, and when two black guys walked onto a bus the other day, two drunks started yelling "Viva Africa!" Between this stuff and the way women are treated, let's just say I'm glad to be a white male here.

4. Everyone dresses well and conservatively.

Long coats, scarves and leather boots are the norm. No one goes out in a tshirt and they don't wear shorts (even when it's not 40 degrees during the day like it is now). I like it. A lot.

5. There are very few homeless compared to major cities in the US.


6. There are an absolutely unbelievable amount of scammers here.

One thing that is very nice about Rome is the fact that there is very little violent crime. I don't worry about walking alone here, even at night. That said, it seems like EVERYONE is trying to scam you out of your cash.

The first thing anyone tells you before you go to Rome is to be on the lookout for pickpockets. Wear a fanny pack, wallet in your front pockets, don't getting onto crowded subways, etc. While they are a definite danger, there's not much to fear if you protect yourself. You are much more likely to get ripped off by someone trying to make a quick buck off an unsuspecting tourist.

Example 1: Do not get into a taxi without the official Rome City Hall seal.
Unofficial taxis are everywhere, and they will take you to your destination and charge you way too much. Day 1: Roommate Jonathon gets into a taxi without a seal, and gets charged 73 euros for the trip from the airport (normally a flat fee of 40 euros). Day 8: A visiting friend of a friend falls for the same trick. 80 euros this time.

Example 2: Photo ops.
Those funny guys dressed as gladiators in front of the Colosseum will gladly take a picture with you. Then they'll tell you afterwards that it costs 6 euros.

Example 3: The string trick.
Giuseppe Scammer approaches Joe Tourist and asks to tie a string around his finger. Joe is confused and slightly curious so he agrees. At this point, Giuseppe wraps the string around Joe's entire hand and refuses to let go until Joe pays him about five euros. Stupid? Very. Shady? Definitely.

We were told about this one at orientation, but I don't think any of us really believed it until we experienced it first hand last Wednesday. Lauren's roommate Gilli witnessed a tourist falling into this trap at the Spanish Steps and intervened. The two male scammers were outraged; one kicked her and the spit in her face. Charming.

Since then, the scam has been attempted on several of my friends in the program including formerly scammed roommate Jonathon. Knowledge is power, people.

Example 4: Getting you drunk and stealing your stuff.
This one may not be so common, but it happened. One of my roommates ran into the racist drunks from the bus one night and decided it would be a good idea to hang out with them [mistake 1]. After sharing some of his cigarettes, he instantly had a new group of friends. They bought him a beer which he happily imbibed [mistake 2]. He continued to hang out with them, took pictures and "had a grand old time" [mistake 3]. He drank cheap wine with them and apparently "they all just acted SO gentlemanly!" He stayed with the group all afternoon [alright there's kinda too many mistakes here to count], and walked home by himself later that night. About halfway through his walk home, he realized: the bums stole his camera and his new pair of sunglasses.

In the interest of brevity, I'll cut it off at 4 examples, but trust me, there are many more.

7. Shopkeepers hate giving out change.

Seemingly without regard for your total, you are expected to make close-to-exact change on your purchases. I am constantly being asked "Non hai dieci centissimi?" [You don't have 10 cents?] No. Non freakin' ho.

8. I love paying with coins (a damn good thing considering #7).

Euro coins come in denominations up to 2 Euro (approx. $3), so for daily purchases (panini, caffe, etc.), you really never have to bust out your wallet. Also, shopkeepers rarely give out 1 or 2 cent euro coins, they often round it to the nearest nickel, so you aren't running around with a bunch of metal clinking around in your pocket. I'm a big fan.

9. A sign stating "we accept AmEx" doesn't mean they accept AmEx.

Alright, to apply this to all of Italy is a bit unfair, but what's the point of having a blog if you don't have a little editorial freedom?

Lauren and I went into a grocery store solely because they had a sign up advertising their acceptance of American Express as a form of payment. After shopping for 20 minutes or so, we arrived at the checkstand to the disapproving face of Maria, our helpful Di Per Di employee (name fabricated to prevent the innocent). Then we found out that they don't actually accept AmEx, and had to dig through our pockets looking for 7.50 euro in change. We found it.

Moral of the story: It couldn't hurt to ask.

10. People love to roll their own cigarettes.

In the US, if you roll you own cigarettes, theres a good chance you're cold right now because, surprise, you're homeless. In Rome, lots of people do it. I was waiting at the bus stop the other night when one of the two people waiting with me started rolling up some tobacco. I thought "Wow, a lot of people roll their own cigarettes around here." Then I realized that I didn't really have any basis for that thought; I couldn't think of any times when I had seen that before. Immediately after that thought, the other guy at the stop started rolling some as well. Since then, I've noticed it everywhere, and I still can't figure out why.

That's all I've got so far, but I will continue to log my observations of the cultural differences between the US and Italy as time goes on. Maybe they'll get more interesting.

A presto,


  1. Klari Art said...

    what up mookie!
    cool blog! Have fun!
    Pretty sure all of Europe refers to people from India as Asians. People from China or Japan or Taiwan for example, are properly called Orientals. xoxo dit  


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