We were sitting in the piazza just in front of the Duomo in Milan when someone on a bike approached my son and asked him for money. My son was 6 years old. Needless to say, my son was not only unsure as to what the man was asking for - Liam didn't speak Italian, he was also frightened. The latter was due to the fact that when Liam did not reply, this stranger on a bike became very agitated, and began to gesture wildly, as Italians are often wont to do. I approached the man on the bike and asked him to leave my son alone. He then began to swear at me quite loudly, which then agitated me. Now, having seen this fellow scare my son, and then try to do the same to me was more than I was willing to let go. I responded in like, which was not the best way I could have dealt with the issue, and my tirade brought about two responses. The guy on the bike screamed louder and then finally rode off, and my wife let me know in no uncertain terms how she felt about the whole situation. The moral of the story is to make sure your wife isn't around when you start swearing in a foreign language that she understands... no, just kidding. The moral of the story is that you should take the high ground, be an example to your kids, and keep your wife happy by walking away.
This particular blog entry was inspired by an article on MSN about scams that people will pull on unwary travellers. I have travelled several times to Europe, and I lived in England for a couple of years. These experiences have taught me a few things. For example:
Again in Milan, my son and I were walking out of a market stall by the Duomo and a rather tall fellow walked up and offered to give Liam a free bracelet. I put my hand out to gesture no and before I knew it he had tied a bracelet on my wrist and was cutting off the extra string with a pair of nail clippers. Once he had done so, he then asked for a "donation" for his starving family in Africa. Liam, bless his soul, wanted to help out and pulled out his change purse which was full of coins, (low denominations) and the guy told him that he would take the whole thing. I handed the fellow a few coins from my pocket and told my son to put his money away. I learned that from that point I would just say no, and keep my hands at my sides. By the way, I still have the bracelet.
Once, while I was in Napoli, I was leaving the Circumvesuviana, a train that has stops around the volcano Mt. Vesuvius, and entering the train station at Napoli. I went to pull out my ticket for entrance into the statione and discovered, when I put my hand in my back pocket to get the ticket, that there was already a hand in there. I was surprised because I didn't feel a thing, and I thought I was savvy enough to be aware of being pick pocketed. The person on the other end of the hand pulled it out of my pocket and walked quickly away.
At a train station in Rome, one enterprising fellow grabbed one of our suitcases and started running. He yelled back at me to follow him and that he would find us a place for my family to sit on the train. I am a big fellow. I was wearing a backpack and I was more concerned about our belongings than any innocent people I might have barreled into while trying to keep up with said belongings. My wife and son did their best and managed to keep up with us and apologize to everyone in my wake. True to his word, the man with our bags did find us a berth on the train. The people who now found themselves sharing said berth were less than happy, but after some polite banter and a fast paced game of scopa, we won our place in their hearts and had an enjoyable trip. What about the guy who found us this place on the train? He demanded several hundred euros for the service, but walked away with only ten, which I still felt was too much for a service that was not requested, nor required.
Travelling is, in my opinion one of the best experiences that a family, or couple, or an individual can have. You meet new people, experience different foods, music, and cultures, and you walk away with memories that make wonderful stories.