I keep making eye contact with the waiter. Eventually our eyes meet, mine of a more hopeful nature and his of avoidance. He comes around to every table of native Italians asking how their food is, making sure everything is up to par. For me, I am not so lucky. He comes by to take my order, bring me my food, and our relationship ends for the evening. Getting the check is a whole different story. After asking several times and no slip of white paper with Italian scribble produced, I am left with getting up and being “that diner” who heads up front to pay for no one will acknowledge their wishes.
As my three months in Europe quickly wind down to just one more month in Europe, I started to reflect on my time here. Filled with visits to new countries and eye opening experiences, there is only one aspect to travel that always leaves a bitter taste in my mouth, the mistreatment of travelers. In a country like Italy, struggling financially, my business is keeping many businesses open this summer. Without people like myself, Florence would be a ghost town in summer just as it is in winter. Is my presence appreciated? Not entirely.
Throughout my travels this summer at some point or another I am mistreated due to my foreigner status. Whether it is the simple snub of a shop owner not saying hello after I greet them when the local behind me gets a warm welcome or those waiters that stick you at a table that isn’t really a table and the Italians after you at the best seat in the house. These are not instances of cultural misunderstandings and quirks, but rather obvious attempts to differentiate one human being from another, treating one better than the other. I don’t mean to Italy bash or anywhere bash for that matter, but why do travelers, tourists, or whatever you call yourself need to be mistreated ever so simply?
I suppose mistreatment comes in all areas of life even when travel is not taking place. We are driving down a road of speeding cars with everyone speeding, yet you get pulled over for the ticket. You are the one singled out. In a travel scenario, you are the foreigner. You are already singled out. The mistreatment appears to be heightened for nothing and no one around you is familiar. You are the different one. Culturally, you don’t fit in exactly.
I am polite, respectful, and I make attempts to speak the local tongue wherever I may be. I don’t make large demands. I don’t ask for much. Despite being a loud person, I am not loud here in Italy. I keep quiet so as not to be “overly American”. Then I realize. It’s not the Americans being loud, but the Italians yelling outside my window that wake me up at night.
A foreigner by definition is someone coming from a country other than one’s own, a stranger or outsider. In Italy, I am that redheaded stranger. I am left with only a string of travel scenarios I wish I wasn’t and then again I hold countless I am fortunate to have. However, those exchanges of discrimination need to be reversed. The scamming of travelers and tourists needs to end.
The only answer I can give is to never treat a foreigner in my home state or country as though they are a lesser human being. There is a cycle of connection that at some point or another, we are all the outsiders trying to be accepted. That connection and commonality should be so strong that travelers are welcome. They should not be individuals to avoid, as we all will be in that position at some point or another. Perhaps if we all start treating travelers with respect, those waiters that don’t make eye contact will.
Why do think this unwarranted mistreatment of travelers occurs? What is the answer to quieting the problem? Everyone has their story of being mistreated while traveling due to their foreigner status. Feel free to share/vent in the comment box below. We need all the support we can get.