I was glad to be leaving Naples and heading to Rome, and managed to buy myself a ticket from the self service machines, rather than waiting in line for hours to be served by staff who didn’t seem to ever be in a rush or care if you missed your train. Even these tickets had to be validated, which seemed idiotic as it was for a particular train at a particular time and platform, however I complied. I double checked with a girl reading the departures board that I was on the correct platform and headed for the right train. Barely any of the instructions were in English, so I wanted to be sure.
I had the cheapest of unallocated seating, yet when I got on the train there was no one to ask for directions to the correct carriage, nor did I see seat numbers, so I simply sat in the nearest seat to where I got on. As it turned out it was an excellent choice, as a guy had sat across the aisle just before me and he spoke English! We talked the whole way to Rome, and I discovered Mike was a Hawaiian born pilot currently living in Dubai. He’d travelled a lot and was interested in photography so we had plenty to talk about.
Upon arriving in Rome I was pleasantly surprised to hear a lot more English spoken than in Naples, however the customer service was, if at all possible, worse in Rome. We headed to the information desk to get maps, the first essential any traveller obtains when in a new city. We waited in line (there seem to be lines for everything in Italy) and after a few minutes of watching the two women at the desk chat between themselves while the line grew longer my patience wore thin. Leaning over the desk I asked if they simply had any maps available and thankfully one woman got up and retrieved a stack from a cupboard. She handed me one and turned on her heel and walked off again. Uh, hello – we actually want two – is that so difficult?! Mike then asked for one as well and she simply ignored him. To the point we decided it was deliberate and finally another traveller offered us their map instead.
I found this attitude prevalent in Rome. Everywhere you went you had to wait in line, which I could understand as there were so many tourists even at the start of summer, but the customer service people seemed inclined to provide no service whatsoever. They were rude, abrupt, unfriendly and lacked manners. I may expect that at the end of their summer, but the city is a major tourist attraction, so if you don’t like the job you have then get one where you are not expected to provide customer service. Every English speaking tourist I met had had similar experiences, and all agreed that as a tourist draw card, Rome was a disappointment.
I went to another tourist info centre for further information, or at least get brochures of the city’s highlights and bus/train info, and was given none of it. I was told you could buy public transport maps and timetables for €2.50 (Euro), which I was not going to do. I asked for directions to the Catacombs and the woman stabbed her finger at the map and said the bus number I had to get. I wanted clarification on how long the bus was, how much it cost etc, (all the usual things a tourist place gets asked I’m sure) and she just told me to ask the bus driver – well I discovered the bus driver didn’t speak English. I managed to get to the Catacombs with a tonne of guess work, pointing at maps and signs and a lot of waiting around. Buses in Italy rarely arrive on time, if at all, and you often can’t buy tickets on the bus and have to pre-purchase them at ‘Tabacci’ shops. None of this was explained to me at the info place, I learned it by myself or from other tourists.
One morning the wifi in the hostel wasn’t working, so at 8am I pushed the buzzer for the receptionist, and she opened the little window bleary eyed and barked ‘What?’ I asked if there was problem with the internet as it wasn’t working, and she said ‘No internet’ and slammed the window shut. Geez Louise, it was 8am and I’m paying to stay here woman! Is it too much to ask for even a polite rebuff? Another time I was in a supermarket trying to decipher the packaging of the items I wanted, when an older Italian man walked past me to get a bottle of wine. I was still standing there when he returned, and although there was plenty of room for him to get past me, as he did so he raised his elbow sharply and knocked a packet out of my hand. I was stunned, and looked at an Italian woman nearby who simply raised her eyebrows and shrugged her shoulders. I walked out of the shop and decided the only nice people in Rome were the tourists.