I read about a young man who had learnt six different languages, so he can easily travel and meet and talk to the locals. He said he has made his life so much more interesting. Travelling really is about the people, the language, the food and yes of course, beautiful places and beautiful scenery.
But what use is this if the people are grumpy there and make you feel bad too. Or if you are grumpy…..! One always remembers a place for the wonderful service, the fantastic food or the endearing things that people do. Maybe it also has something to do with your mood – if you are exhausted, feeling lonely, arguing with your travel companion or missing your children then that place will not be remembered as being good. Living in a place is also so different to visiting for a day of course.
Connect with the locals and no, you don’t have to learn six languages to do this. All you have to do is smile and communicate with your hands and face. Try copying the Italian hand language – this is like sign language and very funny. All of my most memorable experiences in Italy are from doing this and laughing myself sick at both our antics. Humans are the same the world over. We all have the same emotions, fears and insecurities – even the card sharp dealer at the markets.
One cannot control or demand good service – and trying to – will only make things worse. Yelling louder also wont make them understand your English (in fact this will turn them off). It is shocking how many tourists do this when in a foreign language country and this behaviour shows great disrespect and ignorance to the local people!
It is best to go with the flow and if you smile then your hosts will smile back. If you are grumpy then they will be become grumpy too. If you sing, they will sing along too. This is the Italian way. So you feel you need to complain, please do it with humour. To demand better service with humour, is the best idea, if things are not going your way. Travelling is always about the people you meet and how they make you feel and vice versa.
I had a funny thing happen when going to view a new hotel in Napoli. As we walked into the big ancient courtyard (cortile) of this hug, centuries old palazzo, there was one of those old fashioned lifts, typical of Europe with the iron grills and little doors that you have to self close.
I noticed that there was a tourist inside the lift and the lift was not ascending. Nearby was a little old couple about eighty years old sitting there as the porters to the building in a tiny box with “Porter” sign at the top, it was like stepping back in time to the old days – except they were sitting there idle only watching and doing nothing to help the woman. I guess they considered their serving days were over and were only there to chat with the locals coming and going – ha ha.
I was a bit curious as obviously they knew she was in there. As I gazed up I noticed the huge stairway and the giant floors we had to walk up, if we did not wait for the lift and as my companion was six months pregnant, I looked at her and said, “Maybe we should wait for the lift for you”, and she readily agreed.
The traveller was still in the lift and not moving. I knocked on the glass and said “Are you OK – do you need help?” and opened the door. She was standing there with a look of panic on her face, trying to put a 20 cent piece in the money box, which was needed to get the lift moving. The box was made for only a 10 cent piece. Dear me – only in Naples would a lift require money and a ten cent piece! How ridiculous – a left over too, from the ancient past.
But why did she not get out and ask the old couple? No. she was too frightened to connect with the locals who speak in Italian or dialect. She nearly cried when she saw us as she was so upset and pleaded with us to give her 10 cents. Finally she was off and away. All she had to do was ask.
We met the traveller again at the reception of the hotel and she was so grateful for our ten cents. Connect with the people – that is why you are in their city no? I wondered with a chuckle to myself how long the old couple would have let her stay in the lift!