On two occasions while in Rome, I was on the receiving end of kindness, understanding and compassion from 3 total strangers. 1 who spoke no English and 2 who spoke limited English, one more so than the other. I was a guest in their country after all and there was no reason for them to speak my language. And yet, each of them showed me that kindness and compassion can still be found in this oftentimes crazy world that we live in. It was so refreshing to witness first hand and especially in another Country in which I was a guest.
Coming back from the Victor Emmanuel monument I decided to take the bus back to the apartment. I had already asked the driver of the Electric Mini Bus when I got off if I could take it back to the Piazza del Popolo and was told no. Odd……I assumed that because Via Del Corso was a one way street, that on it’s return route, it didn’t go back the way we came. I didn’t understand completely because obviously the bus did go back why couldn’t it be ridden on whatever route it took back? Hmmm.. Rick Steves didn’t mention this. (1st strike against him, there would be more) OK so I needed to figure out what bus to take back with my limited knowledge of bus systems. There are poles on the sidewalks at each stop, with metal signs that show the different bus numbers and stops that they make. Since Piazza Venezia is a central hub of Rome, there were I think 5 or 6 of these poles with signs as many buses stopped here. I was so proud of myself that I found the bus number that would take me back to Passaggiatta Ripetta. Earlier in the day I had been out walking and saw a bus stop on Passaggiatta Ripetta around the corner from the apartment. I had written the name down in my little notebook, never realizing I would really need it. Something else I really need to look into for my next trip, is getting a sim card for my phone once I actually get to Italy. This way I can use data when I am out and about without having to take out a loan to afford the charges incurred otherwise. I had purchased a somewhat inexpensive phone before I left and a Sim card for it, but to use data was still rather expensive. I also had an International plan applied to my regular phone but the allowance was only 100MB which doesn’t last very long. Anyway.. I found the bus number showing Passaggiatta Ripetta and I thought I was doing so well. The bus came, I got on and was on my way home. Or so I thought……
Immediately I knew that I’d made a mistake when the bus did not go around Piazza Venezia like all the other buses or in the direction that I needed to be going. Instead, it drove past the monument going in the opposite direction. I got up and asked the driver if he stopped at Passaggiatta Ripetta. ‘No’, was the only thing I understood as he spoke no English. He got quite animated, his arms were flying and pointing in the opposite direction, unfortunately, I didn’t understand a word he was saying. I seem to recall reading somewhere that often cab and bus drivers, didn’t speak much English. I sat back down and there was a young family sitting across from me and the woman said, ‘We had the same thing happen to us the other day. We took a very long bus ride, almost 2 hours.” I was relieved that they spoke English, they were from Canada it turns out. She and her husband told me that they found out that you have to read down the signs, and look to see where the circle was on the sign, that the circle indicated the stop you were at and then the direction the bus was going. Her husband asked me where I needed to go and looked it up on his phone and said that I was on the right bus, but going the wrong way. He thought that if I just stayed on it, that I would get back to where I started, but it would take quite awhile. He said I might have to get on another bus when this one stopped. I said that was really my only option now and that’s what I would do. They got off a few stops later and wished me well. I thought to myself that I knew from riding the bus in San Francisco that when returning, you caught the bus on the opposite side of the street. I unfortunately had not remembered that and instead, had got on the same side that I had got off, I should have crossed to the other side to find the correct bus. Oh Rae ……..
We headed further, and further away from the city center, ending up where there was nothing but apartment buildings and a few small stores here and there. We’d been driving for well over a half an hour now and were in a strictly residential area. Eventually, the bus stopped, everyone got off, the driver turned off the engine got off the bus and walked away. What now? He was down the block smoking a cigarette but I already knew I wasn’t going to get very far with him. Ok, don’t panic Rae. We were really far from where I wanted to go so the chances of anyone recognizing the bus stop for Passaggiatta Ripetta was probably slim. I looked at the sign on the post but didn’t recognize anything it showed. Not that I knew that many streets in Rome to begin with. Shortly a woman walked by and I asked if she spoke English. She must have seen the panic in my eyes? as she said no, but stopped to help me anyway. I showed her Passaggiatta Ripetta written down in my small notebook. She repeated the name and then looked at me with a confused look and said something in Italian. I apologized and said I didn’t understand. She tried again. We did this back and forth for a several minutes and then she started saying, ‘Down’ and pointing towards the bus. Now I was really confused.
Finally she went over to the bus driver and I could tell by the look on his face, that whatever he said to her, with many hand gestures, was not anything positive about me….I’m sure he was thinking, ‘another dumb tourist.’ Again she came over to me, ‘Down’ she kept saying. I could not figure out what she meant. I kept thinking like a subway? go down the stairs to the platforms, but again, we were in a residential area. Now I was beginning to panic a bit. How was I going to get back? Should I call Richard since he’s so good at riding buses? And what, tell him I had no idea where I was could he tell me how to get back? The bus stop here was like any other city, a small enclosure with a bench, but I didn’t see any kind of map. I certainly wasn’t thinking very logically at this point because I had visions of me wandering the streets aimlessly ha ha.. This all too kind woman got out her smart phone and typed something into it. I think trying to translate for me. She showed me her phone and it said, ‘Sit Down by driver.’ Awww… how great was this? Back to the driver she went, he waved her off saying something and she came back to me and showed me her phone again and it said ’17 minutes’, meaning the bus would leave in 17 minutes. There was hope now! I realized that this must have been where the route began, the fact that we were so far from the city center was why the stop I was looking for wasn’t even listed.
I kept thanking her over and over again for her help. She tried so hard, as did I, to glean something from a word used, something that would sound familiar, that I could at least make an educated guess as to what she was trying so desperately to tell me. Her using her phone to translate was icing on the cake and brilliant!! I was too rattled to even think of doing that. I appreciated her taking the time, at least 15 minutes, trying the best she could to help me. She certainly didn’t have to do that. She was way more help than the driver was! Not a single person walked by in all this time, so her stopping to help, was even more of a Godsend.
I got back on the bus as she walked away. The driver stayed down the block smoking, and soon, some people came and got on the bus. I asked if anyone spoke English and everyone shook their heads. A young man I guessed in his 20’s said that he spoke a little and could he help. I showed him my notebook where I wanted to go and he said in broken, but very understandable English, that I was on the right bus, but it would be a long ride to that stop. He also told me to sit in the seat up front, and pointed to it. At the front of the bus there are 2 seats,one on each side of the bus, that are raised on a platform. Eventually the driver got back on and away we went. The young man was seated a few rows behind me and eventually he came up and started chatting with me. His English was actually quite good. He asked why I was on this bus so far from where I was going and told him where I’d been and that I got on the wrong bus. He said that it would be about 30 more stops before getting to my stop! Yeah, I was just a little bit outside the city center 🙂 He asked where I was staying, how long I was here, where I was from, told me a few places to visit and where to get a really good view of the Piazza del Popolo. Just before he got off, he told me that my stop should be just a few more, and that the driver would tell me when it was – as he got off he said something to the driver. He smiled and waved to me and told me to enjoy my stay in Rome and got off the bus. Sure enough, in 4 stops the driver told me that this was my stop – although I did recognize it as I was looking out for it so that I wouldn’t miss it.
A 90 minute adventure outside the city walls of Rome. I had been getting a little worried at the time as I really had no idea where I was. I knew that since I was so far outside the city center that anyone that I saw probably spoke very little English. I was so thankful for the kindness of these 2 strangers that went over and above and way beyond necessary to help me. Especially the kindness and compassion of the woman who knew that she didn’t speak my language, nor I hers. I couldn’t help but wonder if this would happen in the US. I’m not sure that it would. I know that I have never helped anyone who didn’t speak English that asked me a question. In the future, I need to remember this and Pay It Forward.
SIDEBAR – the next day I walked back to the Piazza and crossed the street looking for a sign for the bus number I had taken. There were no signs on that side of the Piazza. I saw some buses parked around the side of the Monument, but none of those signs had the bus number either. I began walking back towards our apartment and never did find a sign with the bus number that I took, or one that said Passaggiatta Ripetta or Piazza del Popolo. In retrospect, I did a route search on Google and I should have left the Piazza Venezia and walked down a side street where there were several bus stops. It would have been a 17 minute trip including any walking. Of course, I had thought that I could take the Mini Electric Bus back and it wasn’t until I got off that I found out that wasn’t the case and I’d have to find a different way back home. I had no idea what bus number to take, I saw Passaggiatta Ripetta and thought I was on the right track.
Another day on my way back to the apartment I walked past a very small shop with all kinds of hams and such hanging inside with colorful signs outside. I took a picture and continued on my way. One afternoon I was hungry after not eating the whole day and remembered this shop around the corner. I was thinking that some porchetta and cheese would be wonderful to sit and eat on our terrace. There was a young, very cute guy behind the counter, ‘Buongiorno’ he exclaimed enthusiastically as I stepped into his tiny shop, and I returned the with the same enthusiasm saying, ‘Buona Sera’ since it was almost 5:00.
I asked, ‘Porchetta?’ looking at the large piece of meat he was cutting behind the cases filled with all kinds of cheese and other meats. ‘Si, si’ he said and asked me how much I wanted in his broken English. When I told him only a little he thought I wanted a sandwich and got a roll from the shelf saying, ‘OK? Sandwich Si?’. I said no, Porchetta only. No sandwich? he asked. Each of us in our limited Italian and English eventually were able to communicate that I did not want a sandwich, I wanted the meat and cheese separate. He showed me 100 and 200 grams of meat, I said 100 he sliced it up and packaged it. Looking over all the wonderful selections of cheese I said, ‘Pecorino Romano’. He told me he had 2 kinds, one was stronger than the other, cut a piece of each for me to taste. ‘Ah, molto bene’ I said after I tried each of them and he wanted to know if I wanted to try more. I declined deciding on the stronger of the 2. Next were the different breads and rolls that he had that were of course, made fresh that day. When I handed him a 20 Euro bill assuming it would be at least 10 considering what I would pay at home for the cheese alone and not knowing how much 100 grams of Porchetta would be. He said no, no! and pointed to a 10 in my hand. It was only 6.40 € for everything! Seriously?? Quite the bargain I’d say. He was not only cute but honest as well! I ended up buying a bottle of wine too because, well, when in Rome. It was wonderful to enjoy it out on the terrace.
He was beaming when I thanked him and said goodbye. I think because at least I tried to speak Italian and pronounce things correctly. The whole time I was in his shop he had a huge smile, never getting frustrated or irritated with me. Once again, I was touched by the warmth and kindness of an Italian making the best of, and not getting frustrated with, a tourist in his country who had not learned the language. Again I asked myself, would that happen here in the US? I really don’t think it would be the norm, as we are in far too much of a hurry in everything that we do and are of too little patience.
The kindness of an Italian Stranger – have you experienced the same?