I’m terribly fond of the decorum police in Venice (I must be, having written about them enough), partly because I love the idea of these overly polite and linguistically talented pretty young women patrolling St. Mark’s Square for bare-chested tourists sitting down in the piazza for a picnic, and partly because I love the idea that if they’re disobeyed they can go from kind to calling in la polizia before you can bat an eyelash.
Which is why I find it excellent that Taormina, the top tourist resort in Sicily, is following Venice’s example. They’ll be patrolling the city’s sights not just for bare-chested tourists, but also for people littering, and the worst offenders may find themselves with a €500 fine. This is good news, in my opinion, because littering is taken far too lightly in too much of the world (so this is a step in the right direction), and because I think some tourists need to learn a bit of respect. If there can’t be a tourist’s handbook which is mandated reading for anyone who travels outside their own city, then maybe hitting folks where it hurts – in their wallets – might do the trick.
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Now, here’s the serious note – I think that when we travel we have an obligation to respect the cultures of the countries we visit. We may not agree with them, but insofar as foreign cultures don’t harm anyone or anything, it seems the right thing to do is to honor them. For instance, I may disagree personally with the reasons behind wearing a head scarf, but if I were to travel to a place where women wore head scarves I’d more than likely wear one myself. Of course, one of the reasons to honor such a custom is so that you don’t stand out like the tourist you are – but another reason, the more personal one, is to pay your respects to the place that is hosting you as an outsider.
While there aren’t customs like the wearing of head scarves to worry about in Italy, there are some customs with regard to attire which should be honored, especially including those regarding proper dress to enter churches and other holy sites. Even if you think you can “get away with it,” try to respect the wishes of the people for whom those buildings are, indeed, holy. You might not think it’s sacrilege to bear your knees in a cathedral, but if the people who attend that cathedral or practice that religion do, that’s all that counts. Besides, it takes no time at all to think ahead just enough to know whether you’ll be visiting a church on any given day, in which case you bring along a long-sleeved shirt and wear long pants. Is that really asking too much?
Photo by: Amilcare Berti