Street smart in Venice.
…Or not just street-smart but smart as in knowing how to move about in the Venice environment… That is the practical aspect of it. How to dress in Venice today, how to blend in and not look too much a traveler, and how to not be insulted by the Venetians. Yes, they can be quite offensive as some of you may be already have experienced. And as you don’t want that and as it’s extremely easy to avoid, here’s what you’d want to do…
First; as already stated, Venice is a small town with a huge amount of tourists. Roughly 50.000 people living here and there are over 25 million tourists. That would be as if New York City was invaded by 4 billion (4000.000.000) visitors every year.
Tourists are well accepted (..after all, you’re the ones permitting Venice to be the major tourist attraction that it is.). But there are a few things to keep in mind.
How to dress in Venice. The code.
Anything goes, really. If you want to go into the churches, shoulders should be covered and no very short skirts for you ladies. Some religious buildings (for example la Basilica di San Marco… ) don’t accept shorts or t-shirts, the dress has to cover the knee, and the neckline should be reasonably high. But in other churches, they are normally less strict. These aspects are considered also at the Theatre and the 1st class restaurant.
As in the rest of Italy, people are generally very well dressed in Venice. Milan is one of the important fashion-capitols in the world. And many of the most famous fashion houses are Italian. Often the Italians tend to be a little more relaxed in the evening when you’re done with the stylish meetings in or out of the office. You meet with your friends over a snack and a drink and you leave the jacket at home and turn up in a sweater or a loose, comfy shirt.
In the beginning, I missed that a few times. Someone asked me out and I showed up all dressed up. I figured “If they are so trendy day-time, what will they be like in the evening?”. But my friends and colleagues all came in t-shirt, jeans, and sneakers. And they smiled at me and commented on my efforts. I didn’t feel all that awkward though, the Italians are extremely easy to have a good time with.
A good idea for the Ladies is to bring a light silk scarf. It weighs almost nothing in your purse but it’s very useful. If your skirt’s too short, wrap it around your hips and you have a dress. If you can’t get into the church because of your shoulder straps, just throw it over and you’re covered. It protects your legs from the burning sun and if you know your trade, you can even cover your head with it.
The big No’s
A bare upper body is a no-no, double no-no. Just because the temperature is tropical and you’ve just come from the beach, you guys have to cover your upper body. Apart from not being served anywhere, people will think of you as a somewhat ignorant person.
Socks and sandals. You use those sandals without socks. Socks are for shoes.
White thick sports socks are OK for long trousers but not for shorts. For shorts, the Italians use very-short-not-over-the-ankle-socks, fantasmini.
Swimsuits. No comment on that one.
Flip flops. They too are for the beach. The problem here is that they will hear you from miles away.
Avoid tank tops.
Baseball cap. It’s OK to use it, just don’t turn it backward.
No high heels. That’s more of a practical consideration. You will walk a lot in Venice, and you will walk on paving stones from the middle ages on vertical wood pilings in mud. It’s not flat, to say the least. So leave the high heels for sitting events and wear something comfortable.
Don’t block the very narrow calli.….
OK, I will stress that one..: DO NOT BLOCK THE STREETS!!!!
There is nothing as disturbing to the Venetians as a group of tourists of 10, 15 people that walks slowly and takes the full width of the passage. The locals will say in a loud voice: Permesso!! That means: Step aside. I want to come through! But the tourist maybe doesn’t understand and he can’t see why this lady suddenly becomes so furious.
Remember that some people here really have to be on time for work or arrive in time for a meeting although the bus was late and the running isn’t what it was anymore. The streets are very small and if you always leave a little space for faster feet to overtake, then you’ll be all right.
This is the habit that turns the normal citizen from being an enemy to being a devoted friend. Do not occupy the full width of the street, keep right and walk in a row. Not doing so is the one single, major reason for confrontation.
In Venice, it’s very important to remove your backpack on the bus and Vaporetto. The reason for this is obviously that a large 60-pound trunk on the shoulders of a healthy 25-year-old man can easily knock a somewhat smaller and older person to the floor. But it’s more than that… It is hard to explain but it has become a sign of respect, a way to consider your fellow traveler, and it’s very important for the locals. So if you want to keep your 10 liters, tiny thing up on your back while riding the almost empty Vaporetto, make an attempt to take it off, look around as if to say: OK, I know but it’s so small… Can I please keep it on?
I am sometimes approached on the Vaporetto, like the German gentleman who at 10 o´clock in the evening, in very fragmented Italian said that I had to take off my empty, extremely small backpack. He probably had been severely corrected by someone and wanted to get back at me. Off course I did as he told me.
Venice is a safe town. The crime rate is somewhere in the upper middle of Italian cities, but the statistics are calculated in crimes per residents and as Venice has very few inhabitants and all those tourists, the real, actual crime rate is very low. Violence and robbery are very rare. There is only one real problem worth mentioning: Pickpocketing.
You’ll find them anywhere where there is a crowd, on Saint Marks square, around the train station, on the Accademia-bridge and on Vaporettos and buses. The rules are as always: Don’t keep the wallet in your back pocket, zip the bag and hold it close to the body, etc, etc. Often they work in movement… You stand still on the Vaporetto and nothing happens. At the stop, people get off and others get on and you try to find a better spot. That’s when they go to work. A push, you turn around and from the other side, someone else grabs your purse. Often they work in pairs.
Normal caution and you will not have a problem.
The Italians are talking people. When you enter a room it’s not enough to nod and smile. You have to speak, pronounce the words. When you go into a bar or a restaurant, don’t think they’re hostile just because they don’t smile at you and ask you what you desire. From an Italian point of view, you may be in for a look around or for some other hidden reason. If you don’t speak and greet the barman, you won’t get any attention.
Go in, say Buongiorno or Buona Sera (after 4 -5 p.m.), comment on the nice atmosphere, comment on the hot weather, ask politely if they speak English (… or German or Spanish… or if you can do with Italian.) and then order your coffee. And you will not only have excellent service, but you will be considered a nice guy.
And by the way, don’t assume that everybody speaks English, because they don’t.
6. Buses and Vaporettos.
Get your ticket and validate it on the bus or before entering the water bus. There are quite frequent controls and the fines start at 60 euros plus ticket cost.