I recently left Rome, Italy after three days on my way to India, (where I am now). As a result, you the reader now get to read my first international post coming to you from a "Cyber Cafe" in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India. I was bold enough to travel to Italy alone, and it was a bit of a lonely yet very reflective experience. This post will also include a diary type introduction to things I’ve noticed. The Rome experience started with me running half a mile (with a backpack and a carry-on roller bag) through the Philadelphia airport. My connecting flight from Detroit was very late and there was no way I was going to miss the flight to Italy and have my stay there cut from three days to two. I made it and then found out that I didn’t have to run after all because the boarding was delayed. On the plane, to accommodate a mother with children, I was switched to a seat next to a really nice Italian guy who happened to be from Rome. He was really interesting to talk to and he gave me all kinds of insider tips on what to see, eat and do in Rome. I hardly slept while chatting with him, but it was worth it. He wrote me a whole 2 pages of travel guide info and even helped me get my ticket and get to the right train once I picked up my bags.Looking for better airfares? click here!
Well, I got to the train station “near” the hotel and walked with two large “India style” suitcases for three long blocks in an agonizingly cumbersome fashion. I thought it would be easier than taking the tram, but I was wrong. I finally made it to the hotel 25 minutes later, and my room wasn’t ready yet so I left my bags at the hotel and went out to get some coffee. I was so unprepared with my Italian language skills that I was using single words and pointing to make my order. The cappuccino was amazing and so was the chocolate croissant, (cornetto). I ended up talking to two American students who were in the café and I asked them for some tips on where to go. Anyway, that’s how things started when I began to notice things were quite different in Italy, (at least in Rome).
I was staying in a non-touristy part of Rome so I got a better feel for the real culture. Few of them speak English and I felt weird for not knowing more Italian. It was very humbling. My three years of French didn’t help as much as I thought it would. But the people weren’t generally mean or nice when they figured out I was American. They didn’t turn their noses at me, but they rarely gave any special help in sympathy with my situation. At least numbers, (as in prices), are universal. Except for the coffee and wine, things were very expensive for somebody traveling with lowly American dollars. Keeping in mind that it’s based on one person’s experiences in a short amount of time in only one Itaian city, here’s what I noticed, (in numbered fashion).
1. Italian is a very expressive language. It takes a lot of energy. Just the way they say “grazie”, (GRAZ-yay), was very emotional. For me, it played into stereotypes of Italian-Americans in New Jersey.
2. Almost all the cars there are hatchbacks, (my kind of people in that respect)
3. Almost everybody smokes, (not my kind of people in that respect)
4. There are many beautiful women there with classic Italian features.
5. Women don’t seem to look at you even if you can't help looking at them, (at least not when you’re an Indian American who looks middle-eastern.)
6. Young people are very unabashed with their public displays of affection, kissing in intimate ways out in the open for all to see
7. Rome has so many historic buildings that it’s mindboggling
8. The streets are very narrow and people park where they can even if it’s illegal
9. Red lights mean stop, but if you feel like it, you can go when the coast is clear.
10. Pedestrians have the right of way unless the car can beat you to a spot without hitting you
11. There is graffiti everywhere, even on historical buildings which is kind of sad
12. Nobody seemed to be in my face given that I was an American. I didn’t hear the words, “Bush”, or “Iraq”.
13. Unlike in America, they don’t have Hispanics to perform the jobs that the mainstream people refuse to do. Instead, they have South Asians. (Perhaps this provides an explanation to point number five above).
14. A temperature of 28 degrees F is very very cold to them. Many of them had scarves covering their mouth, hats and even fur coats which seemed a bit ludicrous to me, but they’re not used to it.
15. It doesn’t seem like it is cool to be an American there, but their songs and fashion are heavily influenced by our culture. Most of the songs on their MTV station were in English.
16. The cappuccino, lattes, and pastries at just about any cafe bar taste amazingly good, so much better than Starbucks.
17. I saw very few chain restaurants. The only one I remember is Blue Ice gelato.
18. Few people there are fat, probably because they walk a lot more and eat more wholesome food.
In the end though, I’m glad I was able to visit Rome even if for only three days. When I get to faster internet access, I will attach a few of the 500 pictures I took which exemplify the beauty and history that the city has to offer. One day I will return to Rome again even though I didn’t through a coin in the Trevi Fountain. (Euro coins are worth a lot, too much to waste on superstition.)