Venice and Disneyland and us and them and everything


No tourists will be pictured in this post.

Several thoughtful friends and readers sent me a link to a recent article in the New York Times, just the latest in an endless, repetitive series of articles that bewail the imminent degradation of Venice to the level of Disneyland.

Me, I have to say that this is a slur on Disneyland, where the behavior and the trash which are inescapable here would never be tolerated in Orlando or Anaheim (or Paris, I guess). I’ve often thought that running Venice like Disneyland might actually be a good thing.  But I realize that the comparison is intended to contrast something “real” (Venice) to something “phony, pretend, not real” (Disneyland).

I thought the New York Times published news, but this is not news!  It must have been a slow news day (remember those?) because they might as well have published a story revealing that water runs downhill.  This subject comes up at least once a year — it’s part of a squad of topics that are as predictable as the tide.  Motondoso is another (one or two blitzes a year, many fines, much outrage, everything goes back to the way it was), as is pickpocketing, and brawls involving assorted illegal vendors, and corrupt city councilors, and matricidal sons with histories of mental illness, and also that the city has no money.

Back to Venice as Disneyland, which is code for “daily pillaging and sacking by barbaric hordes of unspeakable tourists.”  This happens in the summer, of course, which is when tourists go on vacation, and when it’s hot an irresistible desire wells up in your tourist to soak his/her feet in the canals and also to jump off bridges. IT HAPPENS EVERY YEAR, PEOPLE.

I am not excusing it, but I do want to mention a few things which are not the result of outrage fatigue (though there may be some of that).

One is that Venice is not unique, at least in this regard.  The most superficial exploration online reveals that the same imbeciles, or their cretinous relatives, go to Florence and Rome and do stupid things and damage monuments there too. I don’t know if anyone jumps off the Ponte Vecchio, but I wouldn’t be surprised. Maybe this behavior is somehow more objectionable in the Venetian setting than historic cities inland, but that makes no sense.

Clearly these tourists are not visiting irreplaceable cities with incalculable value in the history of the world.  They are on vacation and aren’t at home, their parents are nowhere to be seen and they can drink all they want to.  Even if these tourists were in Ulaanbaatar or Rancho Cucamonga, I would be willing to bet they’d be drinking and doing stupid things.  As for loutish tourists who are adults, I cannot find any excuse for them.  At all. If you don’t know that walking around half-naked and leaving your trash on windowsills is ugly, I can’t help you.

The most obvious solution would be to turn Venice into Singapore-on-the-lagoon.  Let’s place five policemen with truncheons on every corner (hm — how many corners does Venice have? That would be a research project for the next time we’re snowed in). No disrespect meant to Singapore.

But even if all those policemen were to exist, which they don’t, the city is not capable of or interested in dealing with these masses of tourists, regardless of age.  Stories written in high dudgeon come out every single year about the slobs and their antics, but by that time it’s too late.

There have occasionally been neatly dressed squads of multilingual young people — the “decorum” agents —  fanning out around the Piazza San Marco to intervene in cases of nasty and brutish behavior.  But this year they only began their work a few days ago.  We’ve already had two full months of summer and you wait till August to bring them on?  That’s kind of crazy.

There is either a short or a very long story behind the disposition of this wedding festoon, whoever did it.

My second point is that “tourists” is too general a term to be useful. Sure there are plenty of revolting ones, but I see a good number of tourists in via Garibaldi who have undoubtedly come to see the Biennale, and many of them are dressed really well.  Some of them really well.  I like them, so I guess that means they don’t count as “tourists” in the New York Times sense.  And, may I also say, I see plenty of Venetian men and boys (also girls and women, to be fair) in the summer in our zone that look and dress like they’ve just been rescued from the rubble — the same scuzzy tank tops and skeezy shorts and crappy crocs and everything else that makes those terrible tourists so objectionable.  But that’s okay because they’re Us and not Them? Just asking.

What about the tourists who do not mill around in massive droves and provide dramatic photos that make the world shudder, but who stand on the vaporetto dock smack-dab in front of the exit area, making it impossible for all the people on the boat who want to disembark to actually get off? Can we get policemen to deal with them?   Or the suddenly oblivious tourists in the supermarket who leave their just-emptied shopping trolley literally at your feet at the check-out counter?  Do they do that back home in Braunschweig or Rostov-on-Don, or is it just that old Venetian magic that makes them act like they’ve never been out of the house?  Let’s get policemen to deal with them too! My point is that if everybody who comes here wants to behave as if they’d never heard of common sense, much less minimal manners, how many policemen will we need?  And the real question, which will never be answered, is why do they act that way?

On the other hand, let’s look for a minute at the much-maligned day-trippers, who I see at 4:30 PM along the Riva degli Schivoni, huddled, sweating, exhausted, waiting to board the big launch back to wherever they came from, scrunched onto church steps in order to sit for a minute or clustered in nearby calli where they can have at least a shard of shade.  There are plenty of tourists here that I feel really sorry for, because basically the city has given them a jumbo-sized “Just suck it up!”

I act like I’ve read the article, but I just skimmed it with half-closed eyes because these articles are always sprinkled with misstatements and half-truths, and drone on about the same problems which are never resolved, thereby rendering the droning pretty much useless.  One such half- (actually quarter-) truth is found in the caption of the Times’s photo showing the young woman with the police.  It states with refreshing fervor that the feast of the Redentore is “one weekend of the year when Venetians take back their city.”  Well, not really.  Before a journalist starts patting the Venetians on the back for somehow briefly escaping the clutches of all those tourists, he or she should know that about 90 percent of the festivizers are not Venetian.

Nope, sorry.  They might be Italian, and many are from the Veneto, but they’re still tourists; some come up the lagoon from Pellestrina and Chioggia in their big fishing boats, but most of the big motorboats are carrying people from the hinterland who come down the rivers from Padova and Treviso and all around the lagoon but who are definitely not Venetians.

Furthermore, the past few years has seen a terrific increase in enormous party boats which provide the ride, dinner, and deafening disco music to hundreds of passengers.  I don’t know who they are, but I’m pretty sure they’re not Venetians.  Some dauntless Venetians are still willing to risk their lives in their smaller boats, with or without motors, because it’s lovely to float around for the fireworks, but they know that after the grand finale this flotilla of hundreds-of-horsepower motorboats of all sizes will head out at high speed, in the dark, driven by people who have been drinking who pretty much don’t know the area.

Excuse me for going on about this, but that photo caption needed correction. In our neighborhood, and at Sant’ Elena, many Venetians now eat the Redentore dinner at home, or on tables set up outside, then watch the fireworks from the fondamenta.  I don’t think that qualifies as “taking back” their city.  We used to love to go out in our boat, but we can’t anymore because we want to survive the night which has been taken away from us by non-Venetians.  And by the look of it, it’s never coming back. Who am I supposed to blame this time?

So people want to come to Venice? They can’t all be crazy.


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Categories : Tourism in Venice


  1. Helen says:

    You’re quite right, there are idiots everywhere!

    We visit Venice at least once a year in the week before Easter. My husband used to teach history of art and also occasionally brought small groups of teenage students for a few days. I remember walking with the group once, surrounded by beautiful buildings, and one of the group said “I understand you come to Venice every year.” Yes, that’s right, I said. “Why?”

    You can take a horse to water…

  2. Mark says:

    When I travel, I pack as I would if I were a guest in someone’s home. Because, guess what? I really am a guest in someone’s home town. It’s not difficult:

    – No shorts or teeshirts or tanktops or gym clothes in town or city; only at pool side.
    – Otherwise long slacks, collared shirts with (at least short) sleeves.

    Now, everyone, isn’t that easy?

    For those who need more guidelines:
    – Hats off indoors, always (If you are over the age of 12, leave the baseball cap home).
    – No need to wear a jacket and tie, but if specific plans call for this, there is no harm in wearing it the rest of the visit, if the weather is tolerable. It can, occasionally, open some unexpected new doors.

    Beyond the wardrobe department:
    – Study ahead of time so you know why you are there; learn to say please and thank you in the local language; smile, speak softly, don’t get drunk, don’t litter.

    Too complicated a list to remember? Then just behave as you would at your grandmother’s house for Sunday afternoon dinner. Because, oh, right, you are a guest.

  3. In amongst the miriad of news about the state of Venice and its ever spiralling tourist numbers it’s good to see articles like this keeping our feet on the ground. I read a lot about Barcelona, Florence, Rome (to name just a few) and all have exactly the same problems. It’s a worldwide problem, so whilst Venice feels it keenly it is far from the only place suffering. And it isn’t that tourists are any worse here. They are the same everywhere. And it isn’t simply that they disrespect the places they visit, because they treat their homelands the same. I did a comparison recently with Manchester where I live and we have the same problems. It’s just that here, noone takes any notice. Our native population behaves just as badly and we simply sidestep it. Of course, it still needs dealing with. Why should one place have to put up with it. But what the answer is, who knows. The pressure cooker is boiling over. Something will snap.

  4. Andreas Jonsson says:

    I’m with Mark on this one. I guess it’s not so much a war on tourism or even tourists as a war on schmucks. The idea of some kind of decorum squad sounds like a good idea and I really think that the police or vigili urbani should be a lot tougher on uncivilised behaviour in the city. Banning of the most most sloppy fast food would also be a good idea.
    All the best to all, and may the temperature reach decent levels soon. 🙂

  5. anna says:

    I was at the Redentore this year, in Giudecca. Felt very much like a party for the young. There were some older people and families sitting at the tables by the water but it was mostly young people watching the fireworks. Not sure how many were from the city of Venice proper, but it did sound like a very large chunk came from the *metropolitan* city of Venice so technically the NYT was not too wrong. For a weekend, Italians born and raised in the city of Venice or its vicinity seemed to be the majority. It really was a big difference from other times for us that don’t like to be surrounded by foreigners in Italy.

    To me it sounds wonderful that young people from all over the lagoon (and even from Padova, etc) come to the Redentore, but I can see that the crowds and the partying can be a problem for some people. There was indeed loud music from some of the boats and from parties on land before and after the fireworks, but we loved the music and everybody was civilised despite all the alcohol. Not sure I would have liked to have children with me though. We didn’t see boats speeding after the fireworks from where we were. Many boats stayed on for quite a while, and all were normal-sized.

    I actually thought that Venice was better this year than last year. You can see that there has been some investment (not all welcome I gathered when I mentioned the Fondaco dei Tedeschi mall). What annoys me most are the crowds, not so much whether people are wearing Brunello Cucinelli or H&M. If I lived there I’d probably dream of water cannons to disperse the crowds but I am only there for a week or so a year, and as a tourist it’s not that difficult to avoid the very predictable crowds. It’s never going to happen that all people behave in the summer. I’m writing from Sweden, our 49-year old ex finance minister was so drunk at a party some days ago that he took his penis out and incited other men to do the same to compare sizes 🙁

  6. Don says:

    I would make more allowance for clothing choice than Mark, and would accept that people can be free to look as ridiculous as they like, as long as they obey rules applicable to particular institutions. However, behaviour is another matter, and the basic requirement is courtesy. Here are some suggestions for courteous behaviour in the most crowded times in Venice.

    In the streets, it is best to walk on the right. Most locals seem to do this. Don’t stop and block a crowded narrow street just because you want to look in a shop window; go into the shop. Don’t walk out a doorway into a street without looking to make sure you are not going to force someone to stop to make way for you. Don’t block bridges and don’t expect people to stop just to keep out of the photograph you can’t resist taking. Just wearing a wedding dress for a photograph doesn’t give you the right to prevent others walking around you as they wish. Use back streets as much as possible, and remember that the traghetto services can provide convenient short cuts.

    Even when the vaporetti are packed they can offer respite from hot crowded streets, but only if you are courteous enough to let everyone else get on first. That way, you will not be forced by the crew to stand inside, and you will have fresh air and good scenery standing, even wedged, at the side of the boat. Avoid blocking the gates, and try to get to the side of the boat which will be less used for embarking and disembarking. For example, between S. Elena and S.M. Vallaresso, select the lagoon-side not the Riva side.

    I doubt that the authorities will ever catch and punish by fines all those who sit and eat on the steps by the arcades in the Piazzale, but sitting anywhere that blocks pedestrians is discourteous.

    Loud conversations in any language are an intrusion on other people’s attention and are discourteous. This applies to the locals as well as to tourists. Some really discourteous behaviour is exhibited by gondoliers and barge operators. The Italian custom of talking as loudly as possible to someone who is only a few metres away, or who is on the other end of a cellphone, at any time of day or night, is not just discourteous, it is idiotic.

    Another idiotic thing is smoking. It is discourteous to smoke in public places if other people will have to inhale the fumes. Just because there is a right to smoke, doesn’t mean it has to be exercised inconsiderately.

    However, I wouldn’t say, as Mark does, that behaving as one would at one’s grandmother’s house, is necessary, particularly if she is deaf, smokes like a chimney, and is usually a bit tipsy before lunchtime.