What is Wrong With Romans?

A street performer being a Pharaoh in front of the Obelisk at Piazza del Popolo. October, 2017

A street performer being a Pharaoh in front of the Obelisk at Piazza del Popolo. October, 2017

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.

Young man selling selfie-sticks at Piazza del Popolo, October 2017

Young man selling selfie-sticks at Piazza del Popolo, October 2017

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.

Children playing in bubbles blown by street performer in Piazza del Popolo, Rome, October 2017

Children playing in bubbles blown by street performer in Piazza del Popolo, Rome, October 2017

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.

An Italian military jeep at one end of Rome's Via del Corso, Rome. October, 2017

An Italian military jeep at one end of Rome’s Via del Corso, Rome. October, 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.

Boy playing on Lion Fountain at Piazza del Popolo, Rome. October, 2017

Boy playing on Lion Fountain at Piazza del Popolo, Rome. October, 2017

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.

Share this:
Share on FacebookPin on PinterestShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterEmail this to someone
Trisha Thomas
Trisha is a TV journalist working for AP TV News in Rome. She is married to an Italian and is a Mamma of three.

22 Comments

  1. Joan Schmelzle
    2017/11/01

    Hi Trisha,
    I am sad to hear your comments about Romans. Perhaps there are too many tourists at the special Roman places you mention. Or perhaps the Romans have decided to be more like some of the “bad tourist” stories I’ve heard–too much drinking, too much sitting on monuments, etc. and come up with their own ideas. I’m afraid I would have made the same type of comment to the girl who kicked over the selfie stick. Perhaps luckily, I would not have understood her comment back to me. I haven’t noticed that kind of behavior though I have seen the trash.
    Still Rome means to much to me so I will be back in December and hope for a better taxi driver for a couple of times that I know I will take one and also for a bus driver that might watch where he is going.
    A presto,
    Joan

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2017/11/02

      Thanks for your comment Joan — I just love your positive attitude towards Rome. I am so glad that your love of this city remains strong and I hope that Romans will overcome this moment of difficulty and go back to being the positive, happy-go-lucky, friendly, upbeat people when I came here nearly 25 years ago.

      Reply
  2. Stephen R Moore
    2017/11/01

    My girlfriend and I are making our 9th trip in 10 years to Rome later in November. We fell in love with Rome and it was in that beautiful, unique city that we fell in love with each other as well. We have seen this bad attitude at times in Rome, but have always hoped it was the exception, not the rule. Times may look bleak for Rome, but remember Rome has seen much worse than this – Barbarians, Franks, Vandals, Charles V, and Fascist. We will enjoy coffee at St. Eustachio, gelato at Giolitti and house red wine with carbonara at Trattoria da Gino.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2017/11/02

      Stephen, how nice to hear about your love for Rome. It truly is an incredible city, and has you pointed out has seen much worse than its current wave of difficulties combined with bad attitudes. I hope you affection for the city can somehow rub off on the Romans when you are here.

      Reply
  3. Ciao Chow Linda
    2017/11/01

    Oh Trisha – I’m so saddened to hear that civility in this cradle of civilization has slipped so. I hope it’s just a small sliver of Romans who are behaving that way. What about the people whom you deal with daily (other than the cabbies and bus drivers) – shopkeepers, for instance? Are they polite? I think you touched on it with your comment about high unemployment, and the migrant crisis. When the economy is good, people (in general) are so much more generous. I can’t wait to return to Rome again, but you make me wonder whether I will be disappointed once back.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2017/11/02

      Hi Linda,
      I would say that many shopkeepers have let politeness slide a bit recently too. You often now get the formal, but so impatient, “Mi Dica??” (“Tell me?”) when you walk into a store instead of a friendly “Goodmorning, may I help you with something?” (“Buongiorno, posso aiutarla?”) Italians make fun of American over-friendliness with their stereo-type of a waitress at a restaurant who might come up and say “Hi, my name is Jenny, how are you today?” or the gas station attendant who might say, “Now, you have a nice day!” – but these days I think I would prefer the American super-friendliness. I will be curious to hear if you notice a change the next time you are in Rome.

      Reply
  4. Laurel L. Barton
    2017/11/02

    Sorry to say, Trisha, but Romans have not cornered the market on rudeness. American kids practically run you down on the sidewalk as they are looking at screens and not where they are going. Come to think of it, we saw a lot of that in the U.K. this year, too. But then Romans of all ages mob the sidewalks and practically run you down! (That is one thing I could never get used to when we lived in Rome. Why don’t people keep right and anticipate oncoming foot traffic?)

    Your description of your taxi ride had me laughing in commiseration! Roman bus drivers do that “surge and slam” as well, and it is difficult to remain standing (because of course there is never a seat)!

    People are oblivious to the needs — and rights — of others. Is it the “me-ness” of the Millennials or something more pervasive? Perhaps the corruptness of politicians and the constant stream of lies makes people think they can get away with anything.

    It is very sad that we cannot rely necessarily on the civility that used to allow us all to get along even if we didn’t agree with one another.

    Now that we have returned to the U.S., I still miss Italy and Rome on practically a daily basis. On the other hand, it is a relief to live in a smaller town where people are not so stressed, it is quiet, traffic is manageable, and people have time to be nice.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2017/11/02

      Thank you for your comment Laurel. There are moments when I really feel that I would like to move back to the US and be in a more manageable city. Perhaps from a distance I would start appreciating all those wonderful things about Rome that I don’t seem to notice any more. And you are right about kids everywhere…what are we going to do to make our kids disconnect for their phones, look up, look around, and be polite, charming individuals??

      Reply
  5. Miranda
    2017/11/02

    So sad, but it is the way of the world. We need to have more respect for each other

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2017/11/02

      Absolutely Miranda. We all need to have more respect, put a smile on our faces and say a nice word or two to others.

      Reply
  6. Allegra
    2017/11/02

    Trish what a truthful post!
    I couldn’t agree more and I can see your blood has really turned into a Roman Mama: the frustration of waste, similar to seeing our teenagers bored, lounging around, wasting time and feeding boredom with inactivity. Rome has lost its pride and is in a dangerously fast free fall. I also despair every time I get there by how quickly it is deteriorating.
    My hunch tells me that the problem starts in schools, missing important formative concepts like ethics, fair play in sports, formal etiquette in classrooms, mutual respect within peers, importance volunteering, zero tolerance for cheating.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2017/11/02

      Yes Allegra, you are so right!! I agree with every single one of your formative concepts that are so lacking. Lacking somewhat in homes too. I think I have not been tough enough with my own children on some of these important values.

      Reply
  7. Alan
    2017/11/02

    Ahhh! They’ve caught the ‘Western Malaise’ – the final stages of HIV, the Human Indifference Virus!

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2017/11/02

      Indeed they have!! Can’t stand it!

      Reply
  8. Lucilla
    2017/11/02

    I agree with you Trisha, and with Allegra and Alan! I have noticed a completely different situation when I came back in 2010 in Rome after 20 years abroad. Romans have always been lazy, messy and easygoing, but now everything is getting worse. The congeniality which could compensate for the lack of organization has disappeared, being replaced by rudeness and the other features you described so well…. I noticed this even more last week after my short trip to Milano, which has much improved after Expo 2015!
    I think all this has originated from the different historical background (Papal Rome vs. Hapsburgical Milan) made worse by the current lack of a visionary political leadership which is leaving the people without a shared collective objective.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2017/11/07

      Thank you for your comment Lucilla — you are absolutely right. I also agreed with the lack of visionary political leadership in Rome. I am fascinated by your comment on Papal Rome vs. Hapsburgical Milan and am curious to know why the Vatican would somehow result in people being lazy, indifferent and rude. You must explain that to me.

      Reply
  9. Rebecca Spitzmiller
    2017/11/02

    Hi Trisha,
    Of course I agree completely, which is why a group of like-minded friends formed Retake Roma back in 2009 to try to wake up citizens to the necessity of treating their city and each other with the respect we all deserve. There are now over 80 neighborhood Retake groups in Rome alone and 27 Retake Cities across Italy that are “waking up, speaking up and cleaning up” to try and keep Italy beautiful. The last phrase over and we often add is “grow up.” Each week we hold an average of 10 to 15 Retakes all across the city, setting a good example with our actions to motivate citizens to change. Please visit our website and our Facebook page, find your neighborhood group, and join in. We’re fostering empowerment to make positive change and to solicit the public administration to enforce laws that demand the cities’ due respect as well. Your voice and actions would be welcome.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2017/11/07

      Rebecca — thanks for writing and describing the work of Retake Rome. Of course I know of Retake Rome and all the wonderful work your group does. I recently met Tabita Frollini who is the representative in my neighborhood and I must get involved. My compliments to all of you for rolling up your sleeves and getting involved, I must do more myself.

      Reply
  10. Marco
    2017/11/02

    OF course You can’ t generalize… But unluckly it’ s mostly true. Real romans are very few now. The town now is a mix of Italians coming from all over The nation. Personally I come From Turin and I find The people here anyway friendlier than North Italians… But some attitudes are obviously unacceptable I must admit it… come anyway To Rome The eternal city Will hug You With its beauty … I can show You some if You like … [email protected]

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2017/11/07

      Marco, I think you are right – northern Italians are less friendly, a little bit colder, but my experience has been that they are more polite and respectful.

      Reply
  11. bonnie melielo
    2017/11/03

    Would it have been ok to reply “For you not to be a little shit”?? Fortunately we spend most of our time in Italy in a small village in Tuscany , in Siena or traveling down in Campania and Calabria. In all of these places friendliness and manners still abound. Lack of civility is what I believe is pretty much the main problem in the world today. Just think what it could be like if people actually thought about how their words and actions affected others!! sigh…..

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2017/11/07

      Well she certainly did deserve that reply! I agree with you, go to the small town in Italy and people are lovely — friendly, polite, respectful — the problem right now is definitely ROME!

      Reply

Leave a Reply