You can't plan for every eventuality when you travel abroad, but I consider it an enjoyable obligation to prep for as many possibilities as I can manage.
I learn about the places I will visit. I query Google earth for restaurants, bus stops and laundromats near our accommodations. I try to pick up enough of the language to not be totally helpless. And I talk with friends who have been to where I am going, with particular attention to any problems they have encountered.
Getting ready for Italy was a project. Six months of on again off again listening to language tapes got me to where I mostly knew what was going on. But you have to set your goals realistically. And since I could not hope to attain fluency I concentrated on certain areas. Buying stuff, asking for directions, please and thank you.
And with the little extra brain capacity I could spare I decided to address an issue that several friends had mentioned to me: Problems on trains and buses.
It is fairly easy to get pick pocketed on public transportation in Italy. And more disturbingly, men sometimes behave in a very lewd manner to women they perceive as being tourists. Or maybe all women, I guess it depends on what bus you are on. Maybe to men as well, that would really depend on "what bus you are on".
So I asked a Brit friend for advice. Prim and proper as she is, my expectations were limited. But she had lived in Rome and worked at their Embassy, so I figured she would have a few handy phrases.
Boy, did she ever.
This is a polite blog, so I won't unleash my entire arsenal, but for example:
"S______, non male. Quelle e mia moglio"
I am saying here that this behaviour is not OK and that this is my wife. The omitted word reminds me that I am due for a colonoscopy next year.
"F_____, andare a giocare con gli uomini."
The omitted word here is ironically an acronym we use for Federal Income tax with holdings. The rest of the phrase expresses surprise that the individual is even interested in women.
Well, you get the idea. I actually felt reasonably well prepared. And as such I assumed that I would never have to deploy these linguistic weapons.
Oh, but on one occasion I was wondering if I might have to.....
We took the train out to visit Ostia on the outskirts of Rome. Fares are ridiculously cheap in Italy and as physical conditions go the cars are OK. And crowded, with a combination of locals and folks going further out the line to the beaches at Lido.
A guy sat down next to us. He looked to be about 50 and I got a sort of East European vibe off of him. Also some other odd vibes. He was diligently doing something with his phone and seemed to be surreptitiously angling it to take pictures. Well, I took a quick look with my peripheral vision and sure enough, he had just taken a picture of an Asian tourist gal across the aisle from us.
I could not tell if the picture was focused on her or on her suitcase but it struck me as creepy. And as he scrolled back and forth on his pictures I could see another similar image...a young couple standing together in a different and more crowded car, again with suitcases.
This guy was also sending and receiving lots of texts and doing some sort of Italian language version of Words with Friends.
I had by now decided that he was either a pervert with an Asian gal luggage fetish, and I must assume such people exist, or perhaps the ringleader of a band of pickpockets.
About half way through the trip he inexplicably got up and moved across the aisle, to the spot just vacated by the Asian tourist. Now his eyes roved here and there. And met mine.
I only intended to convey the message: "Don't go taking pictures of mia moglio, dude". But just maybe a few stray telepathic vibes from my auxiliary Italian vocabulary carried over.
When we got off at Ostia we were not set upon by Artful Dodgers, and a quick survey of our belongings - all well secured by the by - showed them to be present and accounted for.
Speaking with some locals afterwards they agreed that it was all rather peculiar. One theory put forward was that because the trains are indeed often targeted by thieves and such, perhaps this was a plain clothes police officer. Given the renowned efficiency of the Italian police force getting immediately spotted by a casual observer and spending most of your time goofing around with a phone would be about par for the course. The Japanese luggage fetish was presumably just a hobby.