To the layman, the average guy on the street, anywhere else in the world in fact, Venice might seem to have a bit of an attitude problem. But every time I see a Venice action group complaining about the behaviour of tourists, here is a case in point, I cannot help but compare it to behaviour I see in my every day life here in the UK.
Venice’s population is dwindling. Many of its natives have left, many of those are the new generations. They leave behind the older ones who cling to the notion of the ‘good old days’. There are not many ‘new ways of thinking’ penetrating daily life and the influx of 28 millions tourists a year does nothing to indire the world to Venice’s standards of decency.
Venice lives in a bubble. It is a city, theoretically if not practically, cut off from the rest of the world by water, its saving grace for centuries. Venice is old, super super old. Whilst you’ll see a lot of modern frontages and recognisable brands clogging up the buildings, the structures they are in are often 800 or 900 hundred years old.
This ‘bubble’ has created a community which steadfastly refuses to submit to the rest of the world. Venetian is still a thriving dialect. Religion and thousand year old traditions are still a guiding force. The citizens have rules about behaviour in the street, general decency and are more patriotic than I’ve ever known a place to be. The buildings themselves steadfastly resist the modern world.
So I’ve looked at a number of problems that bug Venice and its people. And I applied them to where I live – Manchester, UK. Now, you might say there’s no comparison, but let’s remember that people from everywhere go to Venice. And they will take their attitudes, these attitudes, with them.
The fact is that, and perhaps its simply because populations have become too overwhelming to be able to deal with these issues effectively, we have all become complacent. We have allowed ourselves to be ridden roughshod over by advancement, by expansion, by consumerism, by a slackening of attitudes, by a need for something for nothing. I am often embarrassed by what I see as I go about my daily life, but we turn the other way and we simply deal with it, by not challenging it. And thus the standards continue to slip.
In Venice these failing attitudes really hurt the city, because it doesn’t have the infrustrature to cope. It is after all a city on water, without roads, without road traffic. And when your daily visitor numbers exceed your entire resident population you are fighting a losing battle.
Almost an art form in Manchester, some of it deliberately creative and beautiful, much of it not. In Venice it stands out like the proverbial sore thumb because tags dawbed on the brickwork of 900 year old buildings just don’t work. Yes there are people dealing with it like Masegni & Nizioleti Associazione ONLUS but it’s a never ending job.
In Manchester rubbish is everywhere. Yes there are bin collections and public bins are provided but a lot of it is simply thrown around in the streets by the public or piles up in unimaginable quantities in overflowing bins on days when visitor numbers are high. The phrase ‘take your rubbish home with you’ simply doesn’t apply here. Venice has narrow streets, people rely on the streets to get around. And everything happens by water. By comparison Venice is a clean city so it notices rubbish in an instant.
Drunks and indecent behaviour
Drunks falling about, hen parties, girls wearing the kind of thing you’d normally only see on the beach, guys with their shirts off, spitting in the street, using doorways as toilets, drinking and eating in the street, – this is standard Manchester behaviour – not just on Friday and Saturday night, but every day. And people see no problem in taking those behaviours to other countries where they are not tolerated. Swimming in the canals is another no-no in Venice and yes it happens in Manchester too. Joy.
Sleeping on the streets
I’ve seen this a lot in Venice. I guess people who are there for a couple of days, in cutting their budgets – like a 1 Euro slice of pizza – choose to sleep on the streets for a couple of nights rather than find a B&B. It’s a lot warmer than Manchester after all. They hole up in doorways, pitch tents in grassy campos and even curl up right in the middle of the Piazza San Marco overnight. I wouldn’t believe it if I hadn’t seen the photos.
People sitting in doorways, on shop window ledges, on steps of bridges, sitting in groups in the middle of walkways. Yes this is Manchester too. Noone moves for anyone. Venice’s streets and bridges are far narrower than here, where people just walk around the pavement blockers. In Venice that’s almost impossible.
Not paying for anything
Venice is not a cheap city. But a world of consumers trained in paying as little as possible for anything, still want to go there. They cut corners by not investing in the infrastucture of the city. They buy cheap souvenirs that definately weren’t made in Venice, eat food from tourist restaurants that aren’t run by Venetians and they view the main tourist attractions from anywhere that doesn’t involve actually buying a ticket. It’s hard running a genuine business in Venice. Running one in Manchester is just as hard. Just ask me. It’s difficult trying to get by with all that infectious consumerism. Nobody appreciates carefully honed skills, locally produced or the climbing costs of running a business when there’s ‘Made in China’ in the next window. And that is most definitely also a Manchester problem.
Nowhere to live
With rising tourism come the buy to let landlords and hotel owners out to make a quick buck. Citizens are running out of options in Venice. Affordable accommodation is a problem here in Manchester too. HS2 looms on the horizon. They promise more housing and jobs once it’s built but the reality is that commuters from London will take the properties which will be set at London prices and very few of the jobs will go to Manchester people. Venice has the same problem. Except their HS2 is the rising tide of tourists.
So where am I going with this? You’re probably wondering. The fact is, Venice still holds to standards that most of the rest of the world gave up on years ago. And it has been able to hold on to these standards because its isolation in the Lagoon meant that it could. It instilled a patriotic mindset which determinedly still digs its heels in. And in the end, that could be all that’s left protecting Venice from the rest of the world.
I applaud a city that in our modern age is still fighting the ‘modern age’. Because what’s wrong with having a few standards?