Cities target bad behaviour as tourists take their toll
Planning to visit Italy to copulate by Dante’s statue or wash in the fountains? Think again, writes PADDY AGNEW
IF YOU come across someone around here in the summer months driving badly, chances are that he is Dutch. The thing is that we have a serious Dutch invasion to the lakeside camping sites every summer.
Nothing unusual about that, but the fact is that many of them decide that “When in Rome, do as . . .” and accordingly they drive around with a lack of respect for elementary road rules that they would never try on back home in Eindhoven. This is a curious phenomenon in some tourists and repeats itself every summer. Some tourists on their Italian holiday just throw all decorum to the wind and do whatever they like.
We are not just talking here about a hideous crime such as ordering a cappuccino after an evening meal (an extraditable offence in this house). No, we are talking about more serious matters such as bad or dangerous driving, drunken behaviour, urinating in the street and so on.
By way of response to the problem, the city of Venice this summer introduced the “San Marco Guardians”, a small group of young people who, complete with orange bib, patrol Piazza San Marco. The guardians offer advice, information and general help to tourists – but they also catalogue an intriguing list of less-than- decorous behaviour by tourists.
At a news conference last week, they shared their findings with the media.
For a start, there was the family who settled down in front of the Procuratie Nuove in Piazza San Marco to have a picnic, complete with babà al rhum for desert.
Then, there was a woman who changed her child’s nappy and washed said child in the large fountain in Piazzetta dei Leoncino, a fountain that serves Piazza San Marco’s huge and famous pigeon community.
Others, too, have been known to settle down in the famous piazza to cut their toe nails.
Given the huge numbers of visitors to a magical city like Venice, the odd “incident” would seem only inevitable.
Furthermore, the “guardians” reported that when they intervened with offending tourists, most people were immediately apologetic, acknowledging that perhaps certain behaviour was unsuitable for one of the world’s most delicate architectural miracles.
Speaking to La Repubblica last week, Alberto Nardi of the San Marco Association said: “Piazza San Marco is visited by almost 20 million tourists every year and the vast majority of them are invisible, they leave no trace. However, there are the bad-mannered ones too.”
Indeed, ask them about that in Florence. For a start, there was the young (and perhaps over- excited) couple who opted to make passionate love right beside Dante’s statue earlier this summer. Various passersby noticed the mating activities and opted to capture the moment on their mobiles. It might not exactly be David Attenborough material but it still went down a bomb on YouTube.
Then we had the two young girls who decided that the green grass and flower bed of a traffic island right beside the Basilica di Santa Maria Novella in Florence was the perfect place to put down your towel, put on your cream and lie down to take the sun.
That particular piece of behaviour represents one of the aspects of tourist behaviour which Italians, both administrators and citizens alike, find most puzzling.
Why do many tourists insist on dressing for a visit to some of the world’s most precious monuments as if they were on their way to the beach?
The tourist will say that, in the heat of an Italian summer, shorts and a T-shirt are your only man. Italians will reply that they are just inappropriate in places that are literally or metaphorically sacred.
Even a beach resort such as Viareggio in Tuscany has introduced a dress code for the town’s promenade, which is right in front of the beach. No bare chests, no bikinis, no footballs and no bicycles, please – that sort of thing is reserved for the beach.
Antonio Gazzellone of Rome City Council argues that tourism, in the age of low-cost airlines, has changed utterly. “Once it was just a cultural elite who travelled. Nowadays, we have a whole mass of people who come from different backgrounds and traditions . . .”
A nice way of saying that not all tourists behave like officers and gentlemen.