My frustration over the bad attitude of Romans has boiled over this week and is spilling into this blog….
It started as I was walking across Piazza del Popolo heading home the other day. There is a lot of activity in the Piazza in the late afternoon and early evening. Usually a street entertainer is blowing giant bubbles that children run around and try to catch. There is a Pharaoh street performer encased in a golden outfit who stands in front of the obelisk hoping for some spare change. Then there are the Bangladeshi migrants who wander around trying to sell roses, selfie-sticks, bottles of water, or hats and umbrellas depending on the season and the weather. There are often volunteers from some group – UNHCR, Greenpeace – trying to corner passersby into giving signatures and donations. There are children climbing on the lion fountains, there are teenagers hanging out and lots of tourists wandering around.
I weaved my way through this mix of people and came to the end of the Piazza near the city wall where a young Bangladeshi was standing with some selfie-sticks with mini tripods placed on the cobblestones.
As I approached, a group of young Romans was coming the opposite direction. One girl in her late teens, about the age of my daughters, stepped out of the group, kicked over the selfie sticks and laughed proudly as she continued on her way. My mother instincts kicked in and I snapped at her “you are very rude!” as I rushed to help the Bangladeshi pick up the selfie-sticks. She turned and declared in a perfect Roman accent, “Ma che cazzo vuoi?” (What the F… do you want?).
Well, here is the answer. I want Romans to stop being rude, obnoxious, self-centered, narrow-minded, boorish brats!! There, I said it.
What is happening to Romans? Is it the economy? Italy has been struggling along for years with low growth. Unemployment is currently around 11 percent and youth unemployment around 35 percent. Young people are fleeing the country getting their education and looking for jobs abroad. Italy has been on the frontline of the migrant crisis with 181,436 migrants arriving by sea in Italy in 2016 and 110,843 so far in 2017.
Italy has not had a direct terror attack like London, Brussels, Paris, Nice or Barcelona but there is certainly concern in Rome that the city could be a target. Now as I walk to work every day, down Via del Corso and through the historic center, I pass five military jeeps each with two soldiers in fatigues and automatic rifles standing in the road waiting.
Last year Italy’s birth rate fell to a record low of 474,000 births, that is 1.3 children per Italian woman. Most young Italian women I know have zero interest in having children.
Let’s just say the atmosphere is not upbeat and optimistic.
But Romans seem to have lost interest in caring for what the city has. People throw their trash everywhere and the city doesn’t bother to clean it up. In my neighborhood, a homeless man is making a business of busily cleaning up the sidewalk in front of the local elementary school and coffee bars. He leaves a hat out with a sign “volunteer street cleaner, donations accepted.” I think he is starting to do a good business with grateful locals relieved to walk a block without feeling like they are running an obstacle course between trash and dog poop. In other neighborhoods migrants are doing a similar street cleaning business. Apparently, it is easier for Romans to drop some change in a hat than put their trash in a bin. And it is easier for the city to slack off and not bother taking care of the basics.
Taking a taxi in Rome these days can be a frightening and sickening experience. The other day I got a taxi driver – and this happens with a certain regularity – who seemed to think the solution to getting through Rome’s congested traffic was swerving in and out of cars, slamming on the brakes, cursing, surging forward only to slam on the brakes again. After five minutes of this I was feeling nauseous but I didn’t say anything because I did not want him to release his frustrations on me, after all, I was prisoner in the backseat.
A friend of mine told me the other night that she takes the same bus back and forth to work every day and has a habit of climbing aboard and saying a general “Buongiorno” or “Buonasera” to the bus driver and the others on the bus. These days the bus driver is usually on his cell phone and the other passengers look at her as if she is crazy.
Ok, so the city is filled with corrupt politicians and lazy bureaucrats – but that is nothing new. So why the bad attitude and boorish behavior? After all, the city of Rome has wonderful weather and fabulous food. Romans have the Colosseum and the Roman Forum, they have the Trevi Fountain, and the Sistine Chapel. They have a city built with Baroque beauty, Renaissance brilliance and Roman genius.
Sadly, I think Romans have lost their spark, their spunk their sense of humor and their willingness to pick themselves up, brush themselves off and go make a bella figura in a bad situation.