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Italy: thefts and bad deals, plus observations

Just back from N Italy, 11 days on our own, + 14 days on a RS tour. 99% of the Italians we interacted with treated us fairly and courteously. For those who, like me, feel prudent thinking about the other 1%, here is a summary of things that happened to us and some of the people we traveled with.

Pickpockets:

Fellow tourer and wife were on a crowded tram in Padua. He saw someone reach for his wife's backpack and intervened to stop it. After leaving the tram he noticed his own phone was gone from his front pants pocket.

Fellow tourer boarding a train in the CT saw a hand dart at her purse, which she was clutching. She shouted and looked up to see a teenage boy shrugging his shoulders and walking away. She then noticed her cosmetic case on the floor. It had been in an unsecured portion of the purse. Valuables were in a zipped pocket and safe.

I was standing in a very crowded vaporetto line in Venice. My left hand in my left pocket containing my "daily cash", my right hand was up on my cross body bag. I suddenly noted a very slight brushing on the front of my right thigh. I turned my head to see a short woman right behind me very busily digging through her purse and then moving away. I had nothing in my front right pocket but a city map and a hanky, they were still there.

Bad Deals:

RS notes the eating places in Venice between St Mark's and San Zaccaria are pricey. Indeed. Lunched at Trattoria Pizzeria Da Roberto on Campo S. Provolo. We had just 1 bottle of water, 1 bowl of soup and 2 slices of pizza, plus the bread sticks they brought out. Cover charge of 6 euro plus 12% service fee (both noted on menu) brought the total bill to 46.80 euros. Our waiter was unhappy that I wanted the 3 euro change from the 50 euro note I gave him! He didn't even bother to bring me the 20 euro cents. You pay for it when the waiters wear tuxedos! OK, we can read, so its our fault.

Florence has lots of gelato shops, but be careful. RS notes that you pay more for everything in touristy areas. Sure enough. We were in the high traffic area between the Duomo and Palazzo Vecchio. Wife HAD to have a gelato just then. Walked into a shop. Price list said 3 euro for a cone. A 10 was handed over, and only 3 received in change. Sorry too late, she had already bitten into cone. Moral of the story to me: ask how much before you hand over a big bill. We paid anywhere from 1.5 euro to 4 euro elsewhere in Florence for the same cone on other days. For those interested in details the offending shop was at Via dei Calzaiuoli #79, just a few doors to the right of the Disney Store. The high price district. There was no name on the storefront.

Roses. I thought EVERYONE knew about this one, but some fellow tourers learned the hard way. In Venice St Mark's Square. She took the single rose when it was pushed at her. Big Mistake. Then the whole bunch. Bigger Mistake. The pusher asked for payment, and the husband pulled out his wallet. Biggest Mistake. The pusher grabbed a wad of cash right out of the wallet and then proceeded to negotiate how much he would hand back as change. I think they bought the bunch of roses for 50 euros. To add insult to injury, they were then mobbed by other pushers and had to flee the Square.

Observations:
I wouldn't expect much police help in Italy for stopping pickpockets. OK, I admit knowing nothing about police tactics. However, in the CT incident I noted above, the police became apparent in the CT train stations very conspicuously (with machine guns!) AFTER the attempt. In the US, at street fairs, festivals and so on I see police walking around in the crowds. In Italy I noted the police generally riding through the squares in cars or standing in clusters talking among themselves or checking their smartphones or watching the street entertainers. The few cops I saw walking around in the crowds were typically female officers. That could spawn a whole new discussion.

Posted by
469 posts

There are a few reputable ice creams shops in the area between Duomo and via de' Calzaiuoli. Nobody ever complains about Grom or Perchè No. The gelato at Eataly is very good and a bit cheaper but usually available only in four or five basic types.

A basic rule of street smartness is never grabbing what you are handed unless you are absolutely sure of what you are taking. Following this single rule you can avoid a good 50% of street scams.

Posted by
5620 posts

Interesting report on the 1% bad. The good parts of the trip are 99 times the reported bad, you must have had a great trip. Thanks for the report.

Lesson learned on being handed roses (or having a baby thrown at you) is to grab your wallet and hold on. Of course, they will now know where you keep your wallet.

Posted by
31216 posts

Thanks for posting that. It's a good reminder for travellers to remain vigilant, even among the wonderful sights of Italy.

I'm not surprised to hear about the theft attempt in the the Cinque Terre, as that's an area where travellers often let their guard down. The station staff will sometimes come out of their office in Monterosso to warn passengers when they see the scammers appear on scene. As in the case you described, these are often teenage boys and girls. They disappear quickly when the police arrive, but don't go far and they're back again as soon as the police leave.

Posted by
506 posts

Just got back from our fourth trip to Italy, last was 2008, yes I saw a huge difference, the whole country is so much dirtier. No place to use a bathroom unless you are in a restaurant or hotel. Not toilet seats on the toilets if you do find a public one. I feel like this was Italy Boot Camp. It was the hardest trip we have ever had. We had some mishap on our trip from Florence to LaSpazia where we were dumped off in Empoli and 4 trains and a bus later the two hour non stop trip turned into 8. CT was so loaded with Cruise ship day trippers you could barely walk through Vernazza. And trying to eat lunch in the harbor with 50 people at a time passing your table was horrible.

Of course we had a good time, how can you not in Italy. I did notice less hawkers on the streets than 6 years ago. And of course to top it off the Rome airport is a mess at this point after the fire. I did not have problems with pick pockets, but I have to say that the trains between Pisa Central and Florence Refredi was horrible, young Italian Thug males keep getting on and off the train, we even had locals motion for us to watch our wallets and purses. Had to wait 40 minutes to transfer at Florence Refredi and we all practically sat on our luggage, we felt like we were being circles by sharks, and of course not a Polizia in sight. There were times you wondered who was operating the trains. The only time in four train trips anyone looked at our tickets were the little ones on the local CT trains. I am full blooded Italian so I will always love this country but I sure hope at some point they get back on their feet.

Posted by
694 posts

I guess we were lucky in Italy. We just returned from a week in Rome & 3 days in Venice and really didn't get bothered too much...unless you count the people trying to sell you a selfie stick or hat near the Colosseum! We did have people try to have us sign petitions against drugs but we just kept walking (maybe that was Paris...its all a blur right now). Also someone wanted my husband to buy me a rose but we refused. The other thing that happened was when we got on the train at Termini to travel to Venice, someone helped me with our luggage then waited for a tip. He literally took over our bags, found our seats for us & put our luggage in stowage. My husband gave him a 2 euro but he wasn't too happy so he gave him a 1 then sat down & ignored him so he went away grumbling!

Posted by
12123 posts

"99% of the Italians we interacted with treated us fairly and courteously."

My question is:
How can you be sure you interacted with Italians?

In the major cities you visited, virtually everybody that works in restaurants, hotels, ice cream parlors, tourist shops in the tourist areas are foreign immigrants. As a matter of fact, except for the owners of those establishments, I don't think I remember interacting with any Italians working in those establishments downtown Florence in the last 20 years. You may not know this, but I can tell from their accents.

The overwhelming majority (about 99.9%) of "thugs" that try to pickpocket tourists, or extoll unsolicited tips for 'luggage help', are gypsies (Roma people), a nomadic ethnic group that are mostly Eastern Europeans.

So let's correct your initial sentence
"99% of the humans we interacted with treated us fairly and courteously."

Posted by
16817 posts

Thanks for your detailed report. When buying gelato, it's a good idea to state which price of cup or cone you are ordering; most shops have several on display.

Posted by
245 posts

Laura - you are on target about indicating what you are buying in a gelato shop before you pay. We got smarter as we went. :)

Roberto - happy to have your edit of "people" vs. "Italians". Would you believe that my initial version of the first sentence was actually worded differently and was non-nationality specific? I ran into the word limit and changed the content on the fly to get the word count down. Totally understand your point about who may be waiting on you. Factually, we were served by Americans in at least 2 places in Florence. I can tell by their accents - sometimes. :) I would guess your remark is likely extendable to all over Western Europe. Last year in Ireland we noted that most of the staff who served us food told us they were either Polish or Lithuanian when we didn't quite get their accents. Thanks.

Posted by
12123 posts

I had to point that out because in the last 25-30 years the situation is out of control with petty criminals and very few of them are Italian.
Nothing against foreign immigrants, being a foreign immigrant in the U.S. myself. The overwhelming majority of immigrants are honest. However a disproportionate amount of petty crime is committed by foreign immigrants. Italy has about 6% of the population that are immigrants but 80% of pickpockets are committed by foreigners. Last May 1st the police in Rome arrested 21 pickpockets in Piazza San Giovanni during an event. Virtually all Romanian gypsies, according to the report. There is probably no solution to the problem, since it's impossible to stop this flood of desperate people who resort to these expedients. However when I hear that "Italians" are thieves and dishonest, I need to insert a qualifier to that generalized statement.

Actually most tourists have very few encounters with Italians in those big cities. The only Italians you are likely to encounter as a tourist are: government workers (police, public transit, tourism info, museums staff), taxi drivers (the legitimate licensed ones), bank employees, apartment/hotel/restaurant/shop owners. Working staff in the hospitality industry is 99% immigrant.

Posted by
1811 posts

In advance of our trip in March to Paris, Lucerne, Florence & Salerno, all via train, we did our due diligence as to what to look forward to re: scams, pickpockets, etc. Wife had a money belt, I had a neck pouch. Everything of importance went with us at all times.

All went well in all our travels except I felt a little vulnerable in the Paris Metro when crowded and standing, there were some fairly aggressive (but pathetic) beggars at the Milano Centrale train station, and then in Florence's Piazza Santa Maria Novella (where our apartment overlooked the square), one day we were 'gently' accosted by a non-Italian, African-type, trying to give/sell my wife a lucky amulet. We talked a little bit, he insisted my wife take it for good luck but we said firmly 'we're not going to give you any money because we don't want it in the first place'. He still insisted we take it, which we did but when he was out of sight we dumped it in a trash bin. We did see him again a couple days later--he recognized us, smiled & said good luck and went on his way. A nuisance but nothing else.

I just think that the 'evildoers' get geared up for high season, May through September, when there are more crowds and more distractions. In early March, our trains and buses were half-filled for the most part, making it easy to be vigilant. Can you tell I love traveling off-season?

Posted by
17867 posts

"Virtually all Romanian gypsies"

Roberto, gypsies are not Romanian, they are Romani, and they came originally from Northern India.