A few days ago I ran into someone that I had not seen since returning from Italy. I was asked if I felt safe while I was there. Yes, I replied and didn’t give it much thought at the time. The following day, the day after the mass shooting in San Bernardino, CA amidst all of the vocal activity on Facebook at the outrage, the arguments for more gun control; it being just days after the horrendous attacks in Paris; a post by Rick Steve’s and Bloggers asking people to not cancel vacation plans outside the US; in response to a post that I’d seen on my FB feed, I made mention of the fact that I am much more “afraid” here in the US. I started to think about the question I’d been asked. Did I feel safe while travelling in Italy? My answer is still a resounding YES!! ABSOLUTELY!!!
I am not going to discuss the gun issue here or the politics of it, that’s not what this post is about. It is about my feeling safe about travel. And let me stress that these are my feelings and mine alone.
Before I left for Italy I had read over and over again that violent crime in Italy was not very common, but pick pockets were a big problem. Because of hearing this so often I was very aware of people around me when I was in Rome, my 1st stop. I wasn’t paranoid, but I thought about it a lot and was acutely aware whenever I was in a crowd of people, which in Rome is most of the time! Turns out that I needn’t be so worried about it. Yes, be aware of my surroundings and use common sense of course. But that is anywhere you go in any Country. Once I arrived in Florence I never even gave it another thought, nor did I while in Venice. There are a lot of things that I didn’t give any thought to until just now with all that is happening and because of being asked that question.
Why did I feel safe? Why do I feel less safe here in the US? Why didn’t I see the kinds of things that I must be aware of when I travel in the US, when I was in Italy?
I am by no means a world traveler. I do go on 2 sometimes 3 vacations a year in the US, this was my first trip abroad. I tend to return to places that I really enjoy and may throw in some place new now and then. I travel solo 98% of the time. I walk wherever I want to go, with a few exceptions, in the cities that I travel to. I tend to travel to cities that I can do this in because I enjoy it. While I do not feel afraid per say when I travel, in each of the places that I do travel to, I am very much aware of my surroundings and sometimes these surroundings make me sad. Sometimes these surroundings force me to either avoid areas or take extra precautions. Either way, all of the things exist in plain sight throughout these cities. It isn’t a matter of having to pay attention or look for it. I cannot avoid it.
Homelessness. It is everywhere in the US. Small towns, big towns, warm climates, cold climates, elderly people, adults, young adults, children. It is a huge problem. It makes me very sad when I see this and the fact that I see it, in some form, on a daily basis is very disturbing. I see people picking through the trash for food or cigarettes.
Mental illness. So often when encountering homeless people, at the same time, I encounter people who should be in some type of facility, not wandering the streets. Is it all mental illness, or some the result of drugs and/or alcohol abuse? I can’t answer that. And that leads me to –
Alcohol/drug abuse. This perhaps isn’t something I see often, although I do think the results of abuse I am seeing too often. I have never seen anyone using drugs in my travels, other than smoking pot, I have seen people drinking out of paper bags or just plain drinking out of a bottle.
Begging. People sitting on the sidewalk with a dirty plastic coffee cup and a sign saying, “please help”. Some are brutally honest in their signs, ‘I need money for weed’. People walking right up to me and asking for money.
Disrespect, lack of pride, no accountability –
I was amazed in Florence and saw the The Loggia dei Lanzi. All of these statues just out there, for everyone to enjoy and to touch if you were so inclined. There were not any barricades of any kind around them, protecting them. And all of them intact. So many fountains and statues etc in the cities I was in. Any time I mentioned this to someone once I got back home, and asked if that would work here, I got the same answer. Not likely. They would be vandalized because that’s what happens here. I realize this is a blanket statement and a generalization, I am simply trying to make a point that too often here in the US news reports include acts of people vandalizing nativity scenes, stealing things from churches, monuments in cemeteries being vandalized, things of this nature. Disrespect.
Young men with their baseball hats on backwards or sideways. Their pants down below their rear ends almost falling off. Hands shoved in the pockets of their hoodies, slouched over, the hood pulled down, dragging their feet. Disrespect. Lack of pride.
People, many of them young people, congregating outside of stores, in parks, on street corners, obscenities spewing from their mouths, smoking cigarettes that they are clearly not old enough to purchase, their demeanor that of, as they are called, Gang Bangers. Disrespect. Many of them should be in school, why aren’t they? Or it is past the city curfew, why aren’t they at home? Why are pre teens out alone at 10:00 P.M.? No accountability.
My favorite places to go here in the US are Boston, MA, San Diego and San Francisco, CA. All of the things that I have mentioned are very prevalent in these cities, as are they in Santa Monica, CA. As are they in New Haven, CT. As are they in Providence, RI. As are they in NYC. As are they in Victoria, BC. All the cities I have visited I witnessed the same thing. And it is by no means limited to just one area sadly in any of these cities. In the very small town where I live I see many of these things. In a small town near me with it’s cobblestone streets and picturesque square, the young people who plague the square and local businesses, intimidating people, are referred to as Square Rats.
These things seem to be all too common in this country. And yet, I didn’t see this when I was in Rome, Florence or Venice Italy. I’m not about to say that they don’t exist because I don’t have that information. However, in the 2 weeks that I was there, I can count on one hand the number of people begging. Old women outside a 2 different churches in Rome. An old woman prostrate on the sidewalk with outstretched hands and a cup in Florence. A young man on our Calle in Venice with his hat out on 2 different days. I didn’t see any homeless people. I didn’t see any people wandering around talking and muttering unintelligibly to themselves, to inanimate objects, to imagined objects, or to me. I was never approached by anyone. I didn’t see any young people dressed like “Gang Bangers” or even remotely close to this kind of dress. I didn’t see groups of anyone assembled in gang like fashion anywhere. The only vandalism I saw was graffiti. I don’t even recall hearing police sirens now that I think of it. The drone of fire, emergency and police vehicles seems to be almost constant in some of the cities here – most especially Boston and NYC. I don’t remember seeing any Police either. Anywhere. Again, these are things that are commonplace here unfortunately, I don’t have to pay attention in order to see/hear them. On the contrary, they are so commonplace that often I don’t even notice anymore, it seems normal.
Am I being too hard on the US? I don’t think so. It is sad to see in these days that follow the most recent mass shooting, that papers are reporting a ‘there’s nothing that can be done’ feeling of people. Statistics of just how common this type of thing has become. Drive-bys seem to be a norm in too many cities. Sorry I said this wasn’t going to be about guns. I just don’t think that this country, America, is the same America that has been touted as the greatest country in the World. That we are a World leader. We are becoming a World Leader in statistics that are NOT something to be proud of!
So no, I did not feel threatened while in Italy. I never felt unsafe. I never felt as though I needed to be extra cautious while walking anywhere by myself. On the other hand, I do avoid certain areas/neighborhoods when I travel here. I have felt threatened, and just this year. was verbally threatened repeatedly, and followed in a threatening manner for several blocks in San Francisco in broad daylight on a busy street. Too often I cannot sit on a park bench because of a homeless person sleeping on it. Many public restrooms cannot be used because of the abhorrent condition, filth or vagrants hanging out in them. Riding a city bus can prove to be an unpleasant experience because of mentally ill people who are on them, sometimes on a tirade about something or other known only to them.
This does not mean that I will stop traveling. It did open my eyes as to some differences between America and Italy with America definitely not coming out on top. It did make me think about the paradigm of travel in America being more threatening than traveling abroad.
Our values here seem to be extremely different than those in Italy. I personally much prefer those of Italy. But that is a whole separate topic.
As I said in the beginning, these are my feelings but I would be interested in hearing about how others feel on the subject.