When I was in high school, I was fascinated by France. Gearing up for my first visit to Paris, I can’t count the number of times I heard people talk about the stereotypical “rude Parisian.” I braced myself, assuming they were right, so it’s not surprising that I did meet a few rude people in Paris. What was more noteworthy, however, was that they weren’t the norm – instead, the vast majority of the people I met were perfectly pleasant and amiable. They weren’t my immediate best friends, but they were polite, which is all you can really ask of complete strangers. To me, this shows two things. First, you often see what you expect to see, so the exception might feel like the rule until you really open your eyes. Second, and perhaps most important, stereotypes don’t usually do anybody any favors.
Years later, on my first trip to Italy, I couldn’t stop talking about how helpful and friendly the Italians were that we’d been coming into contact with. My favorite example was the gentleman who lent his assistance with the unfamiliar pay phone in the Pisa train station, and at the same time explained the circumstances when one would use two different Italian words meaning “little.” I smiled about that for days. So when we got to Rome, the second-to-last stop on the trip, I was jarred by the abruptness of the people we encountered. Now, I don’t expect bus drivers anywhere to be beaming ear to ear at all hours, but I have to admit I was a little disappointed to not get any sort of acknowledgment after my “grazie” as I disembarked.
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But did I go off and tell everyone that Rome is full of rude people? Of course not, because that would be ridiculous. Rome, like any big city, is going to have more rude people per capita than a smaller town. That’s just a matter of statistics. It would be true in New York and Los Angeles, as well. I’m convinced it’s the same thing in Paris, despite the persistent stereotype. And that one moment of that trip to Rome did not spoil the city for me – not by a long shot. I adapted to the pace of the city, including the fact that people seemed to be more in a hurry than the places we’d already visited, and so I stopped assuming everyone would smile or say hello. (It was a silly assumption to begin with, I realize, but I was still a relatively naive traveler in those days.)
So when I read a recent travel blog entry which noted how rude the people were in Rome, I smiled. I just wonder what tourists are expecting, in cities which are filled to the gills with actual residents, people who don’t spend every day waiting to run into a tourist so they can be overly polite.
Photo by: Sucka Pants