I will write a more detailed post about my four days in Roma. Of the places I have visited on my current world tour, Roma ranks third behind Paris and Barcelona on the list of cities in which I could live. Being from the U.S., traveling abroad makes one realize how modern and fairly luxurious life as an American is. Roma is a great city, similar in size in terms of both population and economy to Barcelona. Its architecture and history has few rivals. Yet, I have a few qualms with Roma and Italia.
1. Crossing the street as a pedestrian is borderline third-world.
Still being of a youthful age, I am fleet of foot when it comes to avoiding vehicles that could maim me. Crossing the roads here reminds me of traversing the streets in Marrakech, of all recent places I have visited. Roma has the appearance of a civilized city, with crosswalks and traffic lights. However, the light gives the “Go” signal for pedestrians so rarely that it almost feels like its purpose is to force you to give up!
There is an obvious police presence here, and they do not manage traffic patterns, which I think is fine but definitely different from the U.S., where I would be fearful of jaywalking citations. I think I have crossed when the pedestrian signal indicated “Go” in less than 5% of all opportunities. Every other time, I make a hurried dash across the street, whose width varies from an alley to a four-lane highway. My margin of error has ranged from comfortable to recklessly stupid.
Another perplexing observation is the presence of crosswalks in huge multi-lane streets with serious traffic without any traffic lights. I have seen crosswalks without traffic lights on small roads in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where the cars diligently stop. I do not trust the Italians nearly as much so it is patently absurd to have this ostensibly pedestrian-friendly crosswalk without corresponding traffic lights.
2. If you use the Internet, Italia may not be for you.
One in three Italians have never used the Internet. Of 194 countries ranked, Ookla (provider of speedtest.net) ranked Italia #98, with an average download speed of 9.3 Mbps. The average for the European Union is 27.0 Mbps. Singapore is ranked #1 at 101.7 Mbps, and the United States is #28 at 32.0 Mbps.
Aside from the speed, Wi-Fi access can be hard to locate for free, although that is an issue around the world, so I will not hold this point too strongly against Roma.
3. The economy of Italia sucks.
Every young person I have spoken to laments the terrible economic policies of Italia. The current generation is suffering from the rife corruption of the older politician class. I witnessed a strike in Roma, and it affected my sightseeing when Palatino and the Galleria Borghese were not open due to protesting employees.
Italia has a world-famous reputation for its supercars and luxury houses, but it would not surprise me if even the cachet of these goods declines if the country’s larger problems are not improved.
4. Credit card usage and acceptance are low.
Civilization is moving toward conducting transactions simply by adjusting a number digitally. Yet, a country as sophisticated as Italia insists on using cash and coin. Without getting into the general argument of digital money vs. hard cash, it is frustrating as a traveler for a merchant not to accept credit cards. A few times, I have a point of asking, “Do you accept credit cards?” and walking immediately out the door if they reply in the negative. I want to impress upon the merchants how much business they could be losing.
The usage of coins is especially obvious when in a grocery store line, as most people pay with cash. Even when a merchant accepts credit cards, I feel judgment aimed at my direction when I use plastic.