That would be me, Mrs. Moglie. Married to a native Italian, Mr. Marito.
Mother to a daughter in high school, Ms. SmartyPants and a son in middle school, Mr. Uometto.
Employed at a private British School as an English teacher and Coordinator of Children's Studies.
Part of a small, but growing Protestant church in Frascati, a small town in the hills just outside of Rome.

This is where I sometimes gripe, complain and grumble about the things I dislike, have yet to get used to or simply don't understand about bella Italia.
I do, however, have many people, places and things that I dearly love and I am more than aware of being blessed by each and every one of them.
Also - a few helpful posts for visitors to Rome or for newly arrived ex pats. Check the side bar for tags. I've even some recipes that I've borrowed, tweaked or invented. One thing I've come to love about Italy is how it's changed the way I eat - slow food !! Although ... I do miss Taco Bell ... and Jack in The Box ... and KFC ... and ::sigh::
Thanks for stopping by !!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Do's and Don'ts for the Roman Tourist (WORKinPROGRESS)

*If you've got a Do or Don't for tourists visiting Rome - please add them to the comment box. All of your thoughts, ideas and words of wisdom are greatly appreciated !!

When in Rome do as the Romans do. This is a useful and practical phrase for any tourist, whether visiting Rome or Johannesburg or San Diego. It simply means, "wherever you are, do as the locals do". Unfortunately, for visitors, but fortunately, for Italian merchants, beggars and pickpockets - tourists to Rome rarely follow this suggestion. Do as the Romans do and don't as the Romans don't.

● Do try your hand at bartering and haggling with street vendors; Don't open your wallet, flashing your entire pocket book to every Tizio, Caio and Sempronio just moments before asking, "How much?"

More after the jump ... 

● Do be ready and willing to walk away from obvious and inflated price tags; Don't be a schmuck and think this is the only stall within miles selling this one-of-a-kind merchandise at this low-low price.

● Do consider the weather; Don't think that inconsistencies and inconveniences stop with Italian businesses and government - the weather, too, will surprise you. Rome's 10-day forecast is just a click away. On the bright side, if you find yourself without an umbrella when it starts to rain, have no fear. Men selling umbrellas of all sizes will be waiting for you at every metro stop or simply, walking around, selling their wares on the streets ^.^ -one of the things I love about Rome

● Do keep personal items (especially purses, bags and backpacks) within sight; Don't leave items resting on pretty green grass to take pretty little photos of pretty old artifacts or pretty soon you'll find yourself at the US Embassy wasting a pretty good portion of your time to report lost documents. (January 18th: I had just returned to Termini, trying for the umpteenth time to pick up a money transfer from Mrs. Mom when I saw a couple holding a makeshift sign, sitting on the steps which lead from the turnstiles to Termini's main shopping floor. I glanced at their sign as I passed them. "Help us. We need ticket to go home." Or something like that - I can't remember the exact words. I turned around and traced my steps back to them. They didn't speak much English and even less Italian, but the girl, eyes swollen and red and still wet from recent tears, explained that their belongings had been stolen. Their bags, their money, their documents. They were trying to gather enough money for tickets back home to Hungary. I tried to suggest contacting their embassy, but I couldn't understand their reply. I realize there is a chance they were not in need of money, but merely professional beggars who rely on their clean cut appearance and crocodile tears to convince poor saps like me to eagerly present them with a crisp 20 euro bill. But while I don't agree with handing out money like candy, especially to child beggars who are rarely the benefactors of their earnings, I do believe that if we are to make a mistake, we should err on the side of faith. If you honestly believe that someone is in need, then by all means, help in whatever way you are willing and able.)

● Do avoid bankruptcy and turn a blind eye to professional beggars; Don't be a bleeding heart every time you see a crippled old Signora dressed in brown and black rags from head to toe (literally, covered from  head. to. toe. even in scorching heat) shaking and wobbling on her cane or folded over like an accordion, eerily immobile on a sidewalk curb or a middle aged woman sprawled upon the ground, her scarf covered head leaning back against the shop wall in apparent anguish over some unknown affliction - chances are, you'll see her twin sister if you cross over to the next block. And her other twin sister another block over. And her other twin twin sister ... you get the idea.

Do ignore men who say, "Bella, bella, bella!" while handing roses to your wife/daughter/mother/etc.; Don't think for one minute that, finally, you've found someone else who appreciates the beauty of your wife's/daughter's/mother's buck teeth and cowlick - once the flower has been accepted, he'll hound you for kilometers demanding compensation from your billfold. However, if you are the gallant/romantic type, then dododo purchase your lovely lady as many roses as she is able to carry. But even a good thing can turn annoying, especially if it's a rose being thrust into your face every time you pass through a piazza or have dinner out ... and even more so if, each time, you have to waste a good 5 minutes of your life repeating the same round of nononononoWeDon'tWantFlowers while the guy stares, smiling, as if by sheer obliviousness he will convince you to buy yet another rose.

● Do be wary of grown men wearing belted skirts, brown leather sandals (with socks?) and crested helmets who benevolently offer to have their photo taken with you; Don't assume that their friendly and good-natured banter means they won't ask you to pay up the minute they've finished saying, "cheese." (Although, I have to admit, 5€ is a small sum to pay for a photo with a real-live-bona-fide fake Roman soldier ... anything more than 5€ means you've been duped, but, in my opinion, it's still worth it! )

● Do become familiar with Termini, Rome's main bus and subway terminal and train station; Don't presume that Rome has been built by modern American city planners with neat and symmetrical roads and blocks. If you're anything like me when I first came here, you'll think that by following a sidewalk without crossing any streets, you'll eventually end up where you started. You may - anything's possible, but more likely, you won't. You'll be lost. Just look for large populated streets and eventually you will, without fail, find a bus stop/route that will lead you back to Termini, your point of reference for any outing.

● Do make good use of the many water fountains kindly left behind by the good ol' ancient Romans; Don't throw away that perfectly good empty bottle only to plop down another 1€-5€ for another brand new bottle of acqua naturale. In the city center, especially during the summer months, vendors will inflate the prices to obscenely ridiculous heights - Roman fountain water is clean, fresh and no different from what most tourists are buying. Unless of course, they're buying frizzy or gassy water, in which case, it is quite different. It's referred to as acqua gassata or acqua frizzante, but most Americans don't normally like it. If you're not used to it, it tends to taste a bit too much like alka-seltzer. 

● Do stay away from food trolleys except to buy pre-packaged items like chips and popcorn when little Timmy confuses boredom/tiredness/irritability with dying of hunger; Don't pay perfectly hard earned money on 3rd class panini (sandwiches) when you can walk into any alimentari or pizzeria and buy fresher, cheaper and tastier things.

● Do pass up the special-promotional-offer-made-only-today-and-only-to-you for a ride in a horse drawn carriage; Don't waste your 150.00 + euro for a short ride around the very corner from which you just came, unless of course, a) you have money to burn or b) you're here for your wedding/anniversary.

● Do take advantage of Rome's public transportation; Don't think that those comfy new and expensive tennis shoes specially bought for touring the city on foot won't cause you grief and blisters by the end of the first day. If you're not used to walking, don't suddenly attempt to walk miles, going from one famous monument to another, and scale the Spanish Steps, and reach the top floor at St. Peter's Basilica, and dodge Italian race car drivers when crossing streets and roundabouts - drivers, who, in no way whatsoever resemble the ones back home. 

● Do take the time to either memorize or keep a list of emergency numbers during your stay in Italy. Don't rely on your good looks and charm to keep muggings, accidents and other unforeseeable calamities at bay. Also, again, either memorize/learn or keep a list of important Italian phrases in case an emergency does arise.

 Do invest in a portable/mobile phone if your stay here will be longer than a few days. Don't make your rich telephone company richer by activating some option to operate your phone in other countries when there's no guarantee that it will even work. Also, if you're among a group of family/friends and would like to stay in touch while touring different parts of the city separately, there may be hidden charges when using a foreign company's services in Italy. Simply by a sim card (around 15€) or buy a new low-end phone altogether. They can be had for as low as 20€ and they all have the basic features (calls, SMS). 

● Do have sufficient supplies of tissue, wetnaps and/or change when using public bathrooms. Don't expect to see toilet seat covers or, for that matter, toilets (as you know them). Some public restrooms use squat toilets, and if you're not familiar with these, you'll feel like an eejit looking for the toilet while wondering who on earth would place the base of a shower stall in the middle of a public restroom (true story).  This is more common in the less trafficked areas of Rome, but they can still be found even in tourist-y locations, for example, at Villa Borghese. Some restrooms will have seat covers, but don't count on it. That goes for toilet paper and soap, too. So you would do well to bring your own sanitary wipes and hand cleansers, just in case. Some bathrooms will be set up with a table and server who, is not there to hand you a fresh towel and mints, but rather to take your money (under 1€) in exchange for a packet of tissue paper. You can buy single packets of fazzoletti (tissues) most anywhere these days, at tabaccheria (tobacco shop), bars, small shops - but the cheapest and best thing to do is buy a whole package of 10-12 packets for about 2€-3€ at supermarkets, pharmacies, some beauty care shops and even from street vendors.  

● Do take leisurely, unhurried strolls and venture into streets and neighborhoods with less tourists and more Italian residents. Don't spend every minute of every waking hour cramming in as many sights and wonders as humanly possible relying only on quick snapshots taken from the comfort of swerving double tiered buses to be the basis of all your holiday memories.

● Do be aware of added "table" costs when enjoying your sweet cioccolato caldo (hot chocolate) or caffè sitting outdoors. Don't think the price of your purchase will be the same as the total amount due when you get up to leave. Most of Rome center's coffee bars charge extra (5€ average per table) for the luxury of sitting outdoors as opposed to the free experience of standing at the counter inside, drinking your beverage (like most Italians do ... most of the time). Outside the center, these charges do not usually apply, although some owners may have a go at it, hoping that, as a tourist, you've become used to this practice and expect it everywhere. It's Italian law that businesses give patrons a proper receipt with a complete list of purchases (likewise, the client is expected to have a proof of purchase within - I think - 500 meters from the place of purchase). But like most laws in Italy, they are regarded as mere suggestions and are rarely upheld - still, if you are the one unfortunate soul in all of Italy to be singled out and put to the receipt-within-500-meters test and you fail, there will be a hefty fine to pay. 
*At any rate, it's a good idea to make sure that you're always given a receipt and to check it should you feel you've been overcharged. But even then, it may not make much difference. One Japanese couple was charge $1200 (some reports say $700 or $900) simply for having lunch. They were not only charged an exorbitant amount for pasta, but were charged over $100 just for the service! So, buyer beware - if you're on a budget, be clear about prices and service fees before you place your order.

More will be added as they come to mind ... hope this helps ^.^


jojofromvictoria said...

Great Tips! A lot of time, effort and thought went into this post! Thank You.
I think these tips do well for a tourist anywhere! Be aware!
The only thing that I can see any problem with, is, procuring an Italian Sim Card. Without a Codice Fiscale, the cell companies will not sell one to foreigners. We lucked out, and the Wind outlet that we were dealing with went online and made one up for us. Shhhhh! Naughty, naughty.... but it was refreshing customer service, as obviously they wanted the sale. Our luck with Tim however was less than stellar. We wanted to buy a Sim card that would allow us to call North America for 20 centimetre a minute. They flat out refused saying that not only did we need a codice fiscale, but we needed the permesso di sigornio, as well as rizedenza. When checking the small print on line associated with the offer, no where did it say that the offer was only for Italian residents. But, obviously the dealers belly was full and they didn`t need the sale!
Thanks for the great info... keep the great reading coming! I enjoy your blog immensely! Cheers!

Mrs. Moglie said...

You bring up a good point about the codice fiscale. The only thing is that the foreigners I've met haven't had problems getting a sim card without it. -haha- I don't know what that means - it's probably one of the many rules that get enforced or ignored according to the vendor's personal preference. As far as the fiscal code, it's a simple matter of inserting full legal name, date of birth and place of birth - and anyone can learn what their Italian fiscal code would be. So, maybe that's how vendors get around it - if, in fact, the law is such that a fiscal code is mandatory. Or maybe that's just one of the legal ways employed to allow foreigners to own a phone here. Gosh. I don't know... In the end, it's what you've said - just depends on what the vendor is willing to do -haha-