“Are you English?” your new friend says excitedly, “I love London…my favourite city. And the girls, belissimo!” he bellows, whilst kissing his palm and throwing the residue into the breeze. “What size are you sir?” he continues “I have some leather jackets here. I’ve just been to a fashion show and I don’t want to return to Naples with any stock left over, so I’m going to give you one for free!”
So here you are walking around Rome somewhere near the Fountain of Trevi, minding your own business, a snout buried in a street map and suddenly a car pulls up. The driver asks for directions and then discovers you’re new around here too. Hello, you think, he sounds suspiciously Italian!
“I’m sorry but I’m only a visitor here myself” you say with a friendly and concerned gesture. And that is the cue that he’s been hoping for.
My goodness, what a nice man you think. He passes it through the window, hoping you’ll caress it like a kitten. Are you smitten? Who cares? It’s free! Just as you’re about to give thanks and toddle off, out drops the metaphorical bombshell. He’s got an empty tank, and worse, he’s lost his wallet with the credit cards and cash in them! Well do you say to yourself “dear oh dear, the poor man. How is he going to get home? I must give him 50 Euros at once to help him reach his destination? After all, he’s been kind enough to give me a free leather jacket!” Or do you return him the garment with a poverty stricken look upon your face, perhaps with a few choice words to suit the moment?
That little scenario happened to me on three occasions in one day. There’s a small platoon of these peddlers around. I was prepared the last time however. Before my lost friend could utter a word I was primed. “Keep your jacket” I said proud and bold, “I’ve got no money!” That sorted him out alright. He happily drove off looking for someone else. He didn’t drive too far either as less than 200 yards further he was accosting some other poor mug, I mean tourist. The nerve of the man!
It struck me then that perhaps I was standing out like a sore thumb. Well, of course I was! It couldn’t have been clearer than if I had “tourist” stamped across my forehead with a flashing neon arrow pointing at it. So I looked around and noticed that the locals all dressed rather stylishly. Italian men in Rome like their hats. I don’t mean any old hat, no no, I’m talking about fedoras together with a tasty flowing scarf worn with aplomb. That was the solution my wife suggested. So off we trotted and bought a trilby from a charming little milliner a stones throw from the fountain. I already had a scarf, it was January. I was made! After that, I happily roamed around Rome free from harassment. Yes, nobody messed with me, it was clear that I was a local lad.
What then, is the moral of my little tale? It is this. Just because you are a tourist in Rome (or anywhere else for that matter) doesn’t mean you have to look like one! So if you’re wearing a baseball cap, carrying a back-pack, have photographic gizmos slung around various appendages, and a bum-bag around your hips, be prepared for the worst. You’ve flagged yourself up good and proper, and you can happily explain to customs how you acquired all that leather wear.
Provided you don’t do this you should pass with flying colours. Reconnoitre the places you are keen to see by climbing on board a hop on/hop off tour bus. They’re one of the few good values for money. Get up on the top deck, plug in the commentary, then plan your route. Most of the great sites are within reasonable walking distance, but remember…. if you want to get ahead, get a hat!