Since this month’s COSI’ theme is Italian furbizia (cleverness), I want to share a real-life tale from a couple years ago depicting what happens when my husband and father are together for too long, combining forces to create the perfect storm against i furbacchioni (clever tricksters) in Italy: a seemingly clueless tourist with military authority (or something my mother and I like to refer to as, “The Adventures of Tommy and Gimmi”). It’s a great example of why tourists need to be on the lookout for scams in Italy:
Over the years, my father has developed a solid bromance with my husband, as well as a semi-unhealthy obsession with the fact that he has a certain position in Italy that makes anyone who may have something to hide immediately squirm. This has become a somewhat dangerous situation while my parents are visiting us in Rome. Tommy has become quite accustomed to preferred treatment such as the occasional discount, free tickets, and well, the general respect that comes with my husband’s title – so much so, that he now seems to be on a one-man vigilante mission to correct all the wrong-doings he encounters in this city. Of course, he only attempts these antics when his cohort is close by for moral support; otherwise, he would likely risk being picchiato (beat down) Italian-style, and he knows it.
This is dangerous for my husband because he really doesn’t identify himself much with his position, since his daily work is in a specialist health clinic. He is a Maresciallo of the Carabinieri (Italian military police), but he’s never actually worked on the street fighting crime or restoring order. Therefore, he tends to keep a low profile and play that card only when absolutely necessary.
Tommy, on the other hand, will mention it in any and all situations, and with a very bad Italian accent, causing a certain reaction of disbelief/amazement/confusion in anyone he encounters. Want to get to the front of the ticket line at the Forum? ”My son is a Mariscial!” he’ll proudly state, waiting to be escorted to the front. The person will then look at my husband, who at that point slinking back in embarrassment, is forced to own up and try to diffuse the situation with humor and charm, as only he knows how.
But there’s never been a scene like the one they put on this weekend: Tommy had been venturing off into the city on his own during the day, when my mom didn’t feel like putting up with the oppressive heat. On Thursday, he found himself at a bar for breakfast directly in front of the Colosseum, just past the exit of the metro. Using the most decent Italian he could muster, he ordered a cornetto and cappuccino. Only problem was they charged him €5.00, when it really should have only cost €1.80. Not having been his first breakfast standing in an Italian bar, he knew the price was excessive – especially since the man in front of him had ordered the same thing and paid €1.80.
Tommy leaves the bar immediately and calls Gimmi, who of course quickly realizes the cashier had taken him for a ride. Yes, Tommy had just become Rome’s most recent victim of tourist price gouging, which essentially means once you open your mouth (as an obvious tourist), you risk paying double or triple the price at some places. That’s discrimination, and Gimmi and Tommy weren’t going to stand for it. Besides, Tommy’s no tourist at this point; he spends six weeks a year here and has an Italian passport, for God’s sake!
So, they scheme up a plan to return to the same bar on Saturday morning, but this time, together. Tommy walks in and nonchalantly orders the usual cornetto and cappuccino, with Gimmi a few places back in line. This time, for some reason, the cashier has some mercy on him and charges €3.50. Gimmi follows with the exact same order, pays €1.80, then proceeds to the counter and asks the waitress (actually, demands) to see Tommy’s receipt, which she had just collected.
At first, she gives him attitude and refuses. Then, given Gimmi’s clearly authoritative tone, she complies (this is before he has identified himself in any way). She fumbles through the trash can, creating confusion and claiming to have lost the receipt. Gimmi tells her if she can’t find it he’ll be happy to come behind the counter and find it for her. She finally locates it, and he asks to speak to the owner immediately. Meanwhile, Tommy’s sipping his cappuccino and enjoying the scene with a smirk, understanding only about ten percent of what is actually being said.
Out from the back of the bar apparently steps the tallest Italian on record, scowling and impatiently asking what the problem is. The problem, Gimmi explains, is that his bar is charging different prices for the same orders. ”That’s not true,” the owner responds, “we have a discount for Italians.” ”Oh, really?” responds my husband. ”Quit with the stronzate (bullshit), or I’ll have this place closed down in an hour. You’re speaking to a Maresciallo of the Carabinieri.” Those magic words are truly the only thing that will strike fear in the heart of any swindling Italian from Milan to Palermo. And now was a great time to pull them out of the arsenal.
The bar turns silent, and the owner’s demeanor changes from bullying mafioso to profusely apologetic quicker than milk turns to froth. Then Gimmi says, “You will now give my father-in-law the €1.70 you owe him for this morning’s breakfast. And keep your eyes open, because you’re under surveillance from this moment on.”
And just like that, Gimmi the “Conquistador” (as Tommy calls him), and his trusty sidekick, “Sancho Panza” (as I’m calling Tommy and he’ll hate me for) ride off into the sunset together, continuing their crusade to fight injustice – one steaming hot cornetto and cappuccino at a time.
Read about some more expat experiences with furbizia:
Girl in Florence: Why Being Furbo in Italy is Anything but Cool
Rick Zullo: What does it mean to be Furbo?
Englishman in Italy: Furbizia
Surviving in Italy: The Italian Art of Being Sly
Unwilling Expat: The Complexity of Italy’s Cheating Heart
Married to Italy: Furbizia: Blessing or Burden?
The Florence Diaries: A Life Lesson in Con-Artistry