It’s funny being such a tourist for a while. I’m not very used to it. Childhood holidays were pretty low-key affairs and usually in quiet, more rural locations with only occasional forays into the larger towns to see the museums and cultural sites.
Now I’m in central Rome in the height of summer. Everywhere I go I’m confronted by hoards of tourists of all nationalities, all intent on filling the same spaces at the same time — coliseum, Vatican, St Peters, the ancient forum, not to mention gelaterias, ATMs, public toilets, buses and trams etc. I suddenly feel swamped by the crowds. I am part of the crowds.
I’m having to learn a whole new etiquette. Or rather I’m un-learning my regular etiquette. I’m already less willing to stop for every tourist to take a nicely-framed photo of their family, allow parents with a stroller to go ahead of me in a queue, courteously say no grazie to every street hawker offering me a parasol or a selfie-stick, give up my seat on the tram when I’m feeling tired…. and so on. I feel selfish multiple times every day. There is no courtesy between tourists it seems. We are all just intent on our own pursuits. We might be crowded together in small spaces, all doing the same activities, but I feel we share little else.
There are even special police to manage the group behaviour and keep Rome from descending into tourist anarchy. The Spanish Steps is no longer a fun place to hang out and enjoy the people watching — there are so many rules to follow. No sitting, no eating, no photos in this place or that place, no stopping, no bare feet… The officials blow their whistles frequently and lecture miscreants making threats of fines.
And I know I’m part of the problem, however much I might hope to be different (better?), however much in my home life I like to think I offer small assistances where I can and where I consciously try to limit the negative impact I might have on others. Here I am just part of the faceless crowd.
At least worrying about my manners is stopping me worrying about airmiles and my carbon footprint 🙂