Ways to Avoid Getting Ripped Off in Rome
Of course, horrible random acts of violence and fraud can happen to anyone anywhere. About 2 months ago, a tourist from Texas visiting New York City was stabbed in the chest on the NYC subway (metro) during the day. Thank goodness he lived.
It might not be so easy to blend in as a Roman, but I can certainly offer potential visitors some tips if they don’t want to be ripped off.
– Avoid restaurants where waiters in white shirts and bowties haggle you to come in by waving menus around outside. The real good restaurants in Rome will be employing riot control tactics to keep the unruly patrons in line while they wait for a table.
– Avoid ice cream shops (gelateria) and outdoor cafes which are inundated with obvious tourists. Also, if you sit down at a table you will be charged triple.
– Avoid any place which displays a “Cola” sign and shows colorful pictures of food.
– Do not accept anything that you didn’t order from any restaurant. If you want the waiter to choose your starters, make sure you ask the price before he brings it. If any food arrives that you didn’t ask for, either have it returned or ask how much it costs.
– Scrutinize the bill and don’t be afraid to make yourself heard if you think you are being ripped off.
– Be very careful with Taxis. Almost everyone I know, including Italians, gets ripped off regularly in taxis. I rarely take them, and when I do, 50% of the time the driver takes the “scenic route”. Now, in the very rare cases that I do take, I ask them to go with the route I know. Also, within the city of Rome, the meter should always read “zone 1″ or else it means you are being charged double (zone 2 denotes trips outside the outer ring road, the GRA).
– Be extremely vigilant on the metros and buses. I’ve seen pickpockets dressed in suits and as tourists, with the unfolded map and everything. Keep your hand on your wallet and camera the whole time you ride the metro. Ladies, hug your purse and stare everyone down. Try to organize your itinerary so you hit a different area each day in order to minimize bus riding. Rome public transport is quite unpleasant.
– Another word about metros and buses. In Italy, you need to buy a ticket in a tobacco shop or newsstand and then stamp it in the yellow machine on the bus. The ticket is called a biglietto (bil-yetto) and it might be worth it to buy a weekly one at €16 that you only need to stamp once once this way so you don’t have to worry fumbling around in your pockets on crowded buses. As many tourists may not know that you need to stamp the bus ticket to validate it, the bus ticket inspectors heavily control routes frequented by tourists and shake them down for cash fines on the spot. It doesn’t help that there are almost always non-functional stamping machines as well, in which case the rider is expected to write the date and time on the ticket. I witnessed a very shameful scene on a bus not to long ago. A middle-aged American couple was trying to explain that they attempted to stamp their tickets but the machine was broken (as I said, many of them are). The inspector did not speak English and kept mimicking a telephone with his hand saying he would call the police if they did not pay a €50 “contravention”. Although it does exist in English, it is hardly used in American vernacular therefore they probably did not know what the inspector meant. Contravvenzione means “fine” in Italian. Obviously not wanting any trouble, they paid the guy €50 each which he of course pocketed and that was that. Make sure you write the time and date on the bus ticket should the stamping machine not work. “I don’t have a pen” is not a valid excuse. I still lose sleep over the fact that I didn’t intervene, but I was on the other end of the bus and exiting at the next stop. Plus, I am a firm believer of “live and learn”.