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Know Before You Go

Given the recent discussions here about reading guidebooks/doing research before traveling to Italy, I just wanted to share this observation during my recent trip to Amalfi. While sitting a table outside a pasticceria, I couldn't help but hear the woman at the next table complaining, quite loudly, to the waiter. Apparently, she had gone into the pasticceria and asked the price of an item, but when the waiter gave her the bill it was more than had been quoted to her. Of course, she had been told the 'at the counter' price, not the price for sitting at a table. She was very angry and shouting at the waiter, who, I'm sure, was mortified. The whole piazza could hear her. As the waiter tried to walk away, she called him back with ''in the future....", as if things would change just because she said so. Then she proceeded to slam items around on her table, calling even more attention to herself. If this woman had done any kind of research, she would have known about the different prices charged for standing at the counter vs. sitting at a table. Actually, I find it difficult to believe that Amalfi was her first encounter with this, whether she realized it or not. Unfortunately, she not only humiliated the waiter, she also made a fool of herself. So, the lesson is definitely to learn about the norms for the places you visit, however you choose to do so.

Posted by
1666 posts

Unfortunately, she not only humiliated the waiter, she also made a fool of herself.

Tourists, especially Americans, make fools of themselves thousands of times a day when traveling. I tip my hat to most folks here on the RS forums for being more knowledgeable, polite guests. To all of those new to the site seeking information before traveling, I commend you.

I realize how fortunate I was before taking my first trip to Europe as a high school student. Our chaperone, who took 4 boys and 4 girls, was a science teacher who grew up in the South. There was a segment of Southerners who were almost Victorian in their quest for proper etiquette and their desire to elevate themselves through knowledge and manners. We spent months preparing for the trip, including each of us having to do research and make a presentation of our assigned segment.

Emphasis was placed on the customs of the different countries we visited. Mrs. Molleson had high expectations regarding our behavior and we were reminded that we were given a wonderful opportunity. There were 64 students from across the South who made up the entire tour. It didn't take long for us to realize our group of 8 were the only ones who had a clue of the treasures before us and we were the best behaved of the bunch.

Over 50 years later my wife (who I met on that trip) and I try to honor Mrs. Molleson through preparation and the way we treat our hosts. The rewards have been great. We have made friends with staff, including sharing gifts. There's nothing better than to receive a smile from wait staff or shop clerks who realize you see another human being in front of them instead of just "help".

Posted by
9447 posts

So true, Christine! In our travels we have encountered so many people that had no clue and had done little research. The couple traveling thru Europe for 6 months who had never heard of the Schengen Agreement; Bus riders in Rome who thought the buses were free because they saw no one buying tickets on the bus; Not knowing the Vatican Museums would be closed on a Sunday, their last day in Rome so they missed it; and yet, boorish people in cafes. (I asked for a latte and got a glass of milk!)

You do not know what you do not know...

Posted by
407 posts

DougMac.....I'm sure you have been forever grateful to Mrs. Molleson. Weren't you all so fortunate.

Posted by
276 posts

If she could have only seen herself through your eyes.... I feel bad for her and all involved.

I feel like I've done a lot of research before every trip but when I'm there I always wish I'd known more. There's always a question I didn't think of or something I didn't study enough. I plan so far ahead of time I disappoint myself that I didn't know something. With only two weeks vacation I try to plan a lifetime worth of fun. To not do research is impossible to me. Besides planning is half the fun.

Posted by
2006 posts

Thanks for sharing this experience. As you said, "I find it difficult to believe that Amalfi was her first encounter with this." Very likely! I can't tell you how many times we have seen this type of behavior in our travels. We were recently in Maui and observed a woman who missed her flight and argued with the desk attendant for 30 minutes. Despite the reasonable explanation, "you need to be at the gate 20 mins. ahead of your flight" etc., she still continued to debate. Long story short, they found her another flight 2 hours later @ $200 for flight change! Live and learn.

Posted by
1607 posts

Christine and DougMac,
Thanks for sharing your stories. I recently went on vacation to Paris and Amsterdam, just returned this past Sunday. In Paris, I made sure my friend and traveling companion knew the etiquette of saying BonJour Madame, Monsieur, etc. and Si vous plait, etc. We were so diligent that when we were in Amsterdam, I kept wanting to say BonJour! Also, Grazie came to mind because I had been on 2 trips to Italy in the last 1-1/2 years.

I mostly grew up in the South and was taught manners by my parents and those lessons have stuck with me. I think being mannerly and kind has enriched my life even in my daily life not just in my traveling.

DougMac, I see you live in Macon. Did you know we have a travel group meeting in Atlanta? Our next meeting is Sat. May 12 at 11 am. I have not posted the notice yet on the Forum. We would love to have you visit.

Posted by
773 posts

True story: I'm in a shop waiting for a customer to finish. An American couple come in . . . she picks something up (first broken rule) and says (across the store to the owner who is still working with the first customer): "how much is this?" He doesn't respond so we get (louder and very slowly with big gestures): "how mucho is thiso?" He's still talking to the other customer but acknowledges her, so we get (much louder as she puts the item down in a different area, another rule broken): 'well, if they want my money they had better learn to speak English' and pushes someone aside as she and her husband leave.

the shopkeeper, finishes with the stunned first customer, and says (in excellent English) "Robert, how are you? Glad to see you back again this year!" Did I mention the first customer and he were speaking in French? Is it so hard to learn 'prego', 'grazie', 'permesso', 'scusi'?

Posted by
11658 posts

Well, take heart that it's not just Americans. In fact, our countrymen have been some of the better behaved we've witnessed! I remember a trio of French women who talked at such a deafening pitch in the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam that the guards had to sternly tell them 3 times to knock it off. I don't speak the language for squat but from what I could tell from all the gesturing, they were threatened with ejection that last time.

Posted by
407 posts

'well, if they want my money.....

Unfortunately, this seems to be the gist of the problem for some traveling Americans (and other nationalities too to some extent), the notion that "they" want our money. Those of us who enjoy traveling to Italy have learned that their priorities are different than ours. Yes, like any business, income is the goal, but I think Italians also know that other things are just as important. That's why we don't get rushed to eat or to pay our bill in Italian restaurants, for example. Enjoyment of the meal and the people with whom you are 'breaking bread' is very important in Italian restaurants. It's also why most hotels in Italy, at least the ones I've encountered, don't ask for payment upfront and take your word when you are leaving that you didn't take anything from the minibar. In my opinion we could learn alot from Italian culture on what life is really all about and how to enjoy it, if only we were open to it.

Posted by
276 posts

Christine... I think we, mostly, are open to it but it's such a foreign concept that by the time we smell the roses so to speak our vacation is over and we're back to work and full speed ahead. That being said there is no excuse for poor manners.

Posted by
1666 posts

DougMac, I see you live in Macon. Did you know we have a travel group meeting in Atlanta? Our next meeting is Sat. May 12 at 11 am. I have not posted the notice yet on the Forum. We would love to have you visit.

Thanks for the invite! Unfortunately, next Saturday I'll be flying in from a business trip to Pittsburgh. I've never been there, so I'm looking forward to a domestic adventure.

Posted by
11977 posts

DougMac
If you go to Pittsburgh I hope you’ve taken the time to learn at least a few Pennsylvanian words.

Posted by
2235 posts

OK, I have a story too. This one involved some young Canadians, in their 20s I would say. Fortunately, not precisely “ugly Americans”. This happened in Siena, in the early evening, in a very well known, popular and crowded deli on one of the main pedestrian streets up a bit from the Campo, some of you probably know it. It has a few of those stand-up small round tables outside the entry, and many locals and visitors get meats, cheeses, breads, etc. to take home or to eat right there outside the door. Everything is cut to order. So, I am in line right after a young Canadian man and woman who are ordering things to take home, a kilo of this and a kilo of that, oh yes and that other, and they are asked if they would like some of this other and bread and olive oil to go with all that, and of course say yes. So while their order is being cut and wrapped, I chat a little with the couple, who have some friends in their group outside in the street. Wow I say, that’s a lot of food, you must really be having a party. Yes, it should be good, they say. How many people, I ask, and they say 6 of them. Wow, I say, you’ll have food there for several days. We all laugh, so far so good. So, their order is ready, prepared by the deli owner, and he says, that comes to 90 euros, and the young man exclaims loudly, 90 euros! We only wanted to spend 50 euros, we’ll give you 50 euros. And the deli man says, you didn’t say that, I cut what you ordered, and the total comes to 90 euros. (I’m standing there thinking, well, for 6 people that only comes to 15 euros per person, for a great deli dinner, not very much.) So, the young fellow says, again loudly, we only have 50 euros, take it or leave it, and if not, we’ll just leave and you won’t get anything at all. The deli man says we take credit cards, do you have a credit card? No, none of us has a credit card! (Right, I think, six young adult Canadians traveling in Italy, and none has a credit card.) Well, everyone’s voice grows older and more agitated, 50 euros, or we’re leaving! And the deli man says, and I’ll call the polizia! They leave without any food, ruining everyone’s evening, and leaving the the deli abuzz. So, I’m next in line, and as I order, I say to the deli man, sorry that happened, you were right! (And thinking to myself, at least they were Canadians, so not really ugly Americans.) Now it’s just a good story.

Posted by
8716 posts

This happened today. I rode the Bernina Express today and met a youngish couple from Oklahoma. It was their first time out of the U.S. The husband had won a sales award and got a three day/four night escorted trip to Rome. They decided to add a few days on. They did no research. They were headed to Milano and I was going to Varenna so we rode together.

I filled them in on some of the Italian customs and they hadn't heard any if them.
Their trip is:

Day 1. Leave U.S.
Day 2:. Arrive Zurich and walk around.
Day 3. Train Zurich- Chur-Tirano- Milan
Day 4: Milan with no idea what to see
Day 5:. Train to Rome
Day 6:. Tour of Coliseum and St. Peters
Day 7: Day trip to Florence.
Day 8:. Day trip to Capri
Day 9: Home

They told me they wanted to return in a couple of years for Florence and Venice. I suggested a RS guidebook.

Posted by
8293 posts

Ugly Canadians! Hard to believe, though I had heard rumours that there are a few. Sorry Larry had to witness that.

Posted by
1666 posts

So, their order is ready, prepared by the deli owner, and he says, that comes to 90 euros, and the young man exclaims loudly, 90 euros! We only wanted to spend 50 euros, we’ll give you 50 euros.

Do they teach basic math in Canada?

Posted by
7735 posts

Does anyone else here ever intervene when you see a fellow English-speaking tourist behaving inappropriately? I've come to the defense of staff persons who I've seen being abused, or if I think I can help clear up some confusion on the part of the tourist.

Posted by
18 posts

Wow,

It is true so many people think Canadians are all super nice. Sometimes I think, If Canadians are sooo nice how awful are your countrymen! The way people treat other people at their workplace is appalling. Not only in other countries, but here in Canada!

Anyways, I am scared to death of being culturally ignorant on my upcoming trip to Rome. I haven't been to Europe at all, and the person I am going with hasn't been to Italy. I am brushing up on Italian words/phrases which are similar to Spanish and French, so I'm constantly mixing them up in my mind. At least I am certain that I will treat servers/staff with dignity.

KC

Posted by
148 posts

I am not so sure it has anything to do with nationality. Just my opinion....

Posted by
8293 posts

wgroup is right, of course. Louts abound no matter where you go but in Canada we have an anti-lout law and louts are forbidden to travel abroad in case our nice guy reputation suffers. You can google the anti-lout law, available in both official languages, at anti.lout.law/ca

Posted by
1112 posts

I was looking for a wallet in a shop in Florence a couple of years ago.
While I browsed I could see, and hear, a well dressed couple from another country trying to get the shop owner to give them a discount on something, and she was explaining to them that it was a shop, not a market, so no discounts were offered.
She then served me, and I spoke to her in my not-great Italian.
She thanked me for being polite, learning a bit of the language, and proceeded to discount the wallet I ended up buying!
Politeness rules!
And Yes, we have Ugly Canadians too!

Posted by
11658 posts

Anyways, I am scared to death of being culturally ignorant on my
upcoming trip to Rome.

KC, you have NOTHING to worry about. The vast majority of people of various nationalities we've seen behaving badly would probably be considered behaving badly at home too! If you practice manners at home, you will be just fine in Rome. We've never had a problem in Italy. The only thing I might advise is to greet every Italian you interact with "Buongiorno" (or Buonasera if it's later in the evening) upon meeting them.

Please, do not worry. You are going to have wonderful trip!

Posted by
31030 posts

I also agree with wgroup, as I've seen "ugly tourists" of several different nationalities. I'm sorry to hear that Canadian tourists were the problem in this case. I don't have much tolerance for ignorant buffoons with a sense of entitlement, and I probably would have said something to the offender. Obviously they've never read any RS guidebooks.

Posted by
4448 posts

I am not so sure it has anything to do with nationality. Just my opinion....

So true ... but you particularly notice when your fellow countrymen are rude and cringe.

Posted by
996 posts

I always know that I do not know enough when I travel abroad, but I try really hard to learn the basic words of politeness in any language - hello, please, thank you - and take an app that might help me where my language skills fail.

But I agree that it's not just a basic lack of language skills. It's an attitude.

A few years ago, I was in San Francisco with a relative. We did this great tour of the Bay, and we started talking with this one woman who was regaling everyone with all of her worldly adventures. I was a little in awe. This woman had been to more countries in one year than I've probably been in my entire life.

My admiration started to fade when she described being in France for her (adult) daughter's birthday. They were on a train and the announcements were not made in English. More to the point - or rather, her point - NOBODY on the train apparently spoke English.

(I find that one a little hard to believe, but I find it plausible that by the time she raised her voice as she did while telling the story that nobody wanted to admit that they spoke English, just so they could avoid her.)

Then the adult daughter had a minor medical issue. The mother rushed the daughter to the hospital where - oddly - again, nobody spoke a word of English. And her complaint - her chief complaint about France - was that NOBODY spoke English.

I think perhaps Epcot Center's France exhibit might be more her speed, but here's what bothered me the most. How can anyone have traveled so much and still somehow expected the residents of a different country to speak a language that wasn't theirs? I can only imagine how the rest of her trips go.

Posted by
4833 posts

In regards to the lady in the original post, I am afraid no amount of research would alter her behavior. The old adage "You can't fix stupid" has a corollary here in that some people are just wired rude, argumentitive, or what ever you want to call it. Do not worry about making a cultural blunder out of ignorance, if you are humble and polite, you will be forgiven.

Posted by
407 posts

Paul, I certainly agree with you about how to handle cultural missteps. I've had that experience myself and have found that if I begin with "Mi dispiace" (I am sorry) and then offer to make it right (because it was, afterall, my own fault), then all is forgiven and I can learn and move on. I also agree with other posters who noted that a person who is rude at home will also be rude abroad.

Posted by
112 posts

Not only was the woman in the OPs post rude and obnoxious, but I'm willing to bet that her lack of planning caused her to have an unpleasant vacation overall. How much happier she ( and of course, everyone else) would have been if she had done a little basic research.

Also I have to wonder about people who are constantly on the lookout for scammers. Of course we all have to be aware of scams and pickpockets, etc., and no one likes to be scammed, but some people seem to live in fear of it. It sounded like the woman was intent on making sure she wasn't overcharged (and for a coffee no less!). (And wasn't there a post recently about a woman on a train who hadn't validated her ticket before boarding and was sure the conductor was trying to squeeze her for $$?). If she had known about the two prices (coffee standing at the bar versus the table), and she had known that baristas are paid a living wage (and therefore probably wouldn't risk their job for an extra euro or two), she may not have bothered to check, and her experience would have been much happier, for all.

We have a trip coming up in which we will be visiting several countries in Europe with many different languages. Although I know a few words of German, and can speak Italian reasonably well, I have no clue about Czech, Hungarian or Croatian. I have some work to do this summer to brush up on some basics.

Posted by
903 posts

We were in San Juan just after a cruise and we were touring Old San Juan. It was hot and time for a beverage. We stood in line at a local merchant selling drinks. The couple in front of me in line wanted two waters but didn’t have a clue how to say it Spanish. I told the girl what they wanted and they were happy to have the help. I then ordered a couple of cokes. And I wanted a straw for my 2 year old. I had no idea what the Spanish word was for straw so I had to pantomime! But it worked!

Posted by
11158 posts

"If you practice manners at home, you will be just fine in Rome."

Well, to be fair, there is more to it than that. Some things that can trip up first-time visitors to Italy, beyond just plain rudeness:

If you call a taxi or have it called for you, the taxi meter starts when the driver gets the call. Thus, it arrives with the meter running and some euros already charged. This is legitimate and is not a scam.

If you want to eat sitting down (even something casual like a drink or a gelato), sit at the table and order it there. You will be charged more than for ordering at the counter. Do not order at the counter and then take your food or drink to a table (this was a mistake I made on my first visit).

Local buses are not free, but it can look like that to a casual observer. Bus tickets must be bought BEFORE getting on the bus, then validated when you get on the bus. However, day tickets, weekly tickets, monthly tickets, and annual passes only need to be be validated the first time they are used. This is why you may see lots of locals getting on buses without showing or validating tickets; they have long term passes. When an inspector comes on (and sooner or later, one will), everyone will pull their tickets out of their pockets and purses. Luckily, I had followed my own advice in Palermo. I hadn't been on a bus more than about 60 seconds when an inspector came on; of course, since I had just bought and validated a ticket, I was all set.

These are three things that come to mind right away that are different from the US, and that even polite people may not know about unless specifically informed.