Drink up

Sunset falls on the Piazza San Marco, the end of another glorious day of feeding pigeons and plucking tourists.

Sunset falls on the Piazza San Marco, the end of another glorious day of feeding pigeons and plucking tourists, not to mention Venetians.

I like to call them “Venetian moments” — those instants of recognition, typically when you run into somebody you only met yesterday, in some unexpected place.

Today we experienced a tiny but less blithesome Venetian moment. Its Venetianness was based on money.

Experience, and occasional articles in the newspaper, have shown that there are sometimes two price scales here: one for tourists (high) and one for Venetians (low.  Or less high, anyway).

We haven’t had much experience with this, except for one strange moment on the Lido some years back. I wasn’t there, but I can picture it.  Lino was with someone he has now forgotten, and they stopped in a slightly fancy bar/cafe on the main street to have a spritz. After they’d drained their glasses, Lino, on a sprightly impulse, said to the barista in English, “How much?”

The little cash-register receipt was produced and Lino glanced at the total.  “What’s all this?” he asked the barista. “You charged me double the price for a spritz?  I’m Venetian!”

To which the hapless young man responded, “Well, you could have told me you were Venetian.”

But an even stranger moment occurred today.

We were walking toward the Piazza San Marco around 9:30 this morning. Lino was thirsty, so we stopped in a bar/cafe on a corner.  For the record, it’s called Snack Bar da Piero.  (Sounds like a TripAdvisor warning.)

There was no one in the bar except for the dark-haired young woman behind the counter. Lino said, “May I have a glass of water with bubbles?”  Sounds better in Italian: frizzante.

She pulled out one of those little half-liter bottles of water, opened it, and poured half of it into a glass. “That’ll be one euro,” she said.

Lino and I stared at each other, and at her.

“One euro, for that glass of water?” Lino asked?  (Note: I would have expected 50 euro-cents.)


“What?  We’re not Americans!”  Translation: Do you think we’re rich and dumb?

“No,” she replied. “I give the Americans the whole bottle.”

Lino said, “Excuse me?  You charge the Americans one euro for the whole bottle, but you’re charging me one euro for half a bottle?”

She just looked at him.

“You can keep the water,” he said, and turned to leave.

“Suit yourself,” was her answer, or some equivalent thereof.

So we walked out, leaving her with an open bottle and full glass which — one can hope — she won’t be able to sell to anyone else.

Lino was a mixture of stunned, offended, and just plain mad.  I could hear another nail being driven into the proverbial Venetian coffin, the coffin which contains the few precious fragments of genuine Venetian-ness blown there by the winds of avarice across the vast Kalahari desert which is touristic Venice.

We walked over the next bridge into the Piazza San Marco.  At the corner was a small gelateria, and an older gentleman — clearly the owner — was standing  just outside it. Lino said to him, “Could I have a glass of tap water?  I need to take a pill.”

The man said, “Sure thing.”

I asked Lino, “Was he Venetian?”


“And the girl?”


I can’t explain it, I can only describe it.  But by the way, a euro for a half-liter bottle is still too much, no matter who’s paying. I can get six of them in the supermarket for 1.20.

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Categories : Venetian-ness


  1. Gi says:

    Hi, I’ve just come back from a very short visit to Venice and wish I’d found your blog before. Or not: perhaps it makes more sense after you’ve been there?
    Anyway, thanks for the very insightful posts.
    On this one in particular: I noticed the two different prices for traghetti, officially advertised. Never before seen in a European country – but memory can be deceptive.
    Gi recently posted..Passeando em Veneza

    • Erla Zwingle says:

      The main useful point in my post (I guess) was to show that contrary to what one might assume, Venetians don’t necessarily escape the tourist-treatment. As for the traghetti, I have never understood why they changed the price that way (because I don’t want to just come out and say “They’ve found another way to skin you”). It depresses me. I think being a tourist here ought to be classified as an Olympic sport.

  2. Mary Ann DeVlieg says:

    Hmmm, I don’t like to complain about Venice (as so many do). After all, we non-Venetians have freely chosen to live here and we are surely not obliged to! But I’d say that foreign residents have it bad both ways. We pay Italian taxes; we contribute to the Venetian economy – but without that precious dialect, we can’t ask for anything in any accent that even resembles venetian. On the other hand, after 5 years of frequenting the same bars, we finally get sincerely warm welcomes from the staff and coffees and spritzes at the Venetian price. And you know what? It’s not only Venice, but any predominantly tourist town. I just put it down to human nature which, as we know, ain’t all rosy-smelling. (cf : hotel prices in any Olympic city) ‘Twas ever thus.

    • Erla Zwingle says:

      All true, and as a very philosophical man once remarked, if there were a perfect country, we’d all go there immediately. That said, I only wrote this to say it isn’t just tourists who get sliced and diced here. Maybe that’s not an interesting or worthwhile point to make, but I wanted to make it. And of course we also get warm welcomes from baristas but they’re in our neighborhood and they know us. When you go to the San Marco area, you know it’s a different planet.

  3. Erla,
    Here in the States a glass of ‘bubble water’…usually with a slice of lime will cost EVERYONE $3.00.
    Go figure!!
    Linda Bailey Zimmerman recently posted..~ Henry James….Venezia ~