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Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves ... Italian Cons

Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves ... Italian Cons

Sep 10th, 2005, 12:49 PM
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Hi swalter...I know you to be a thoughtful contributor, so please take this in the way it is intended. Sensitivity to cultural terminology is, IMO, a human value that is not the province of any particular political leaning.....
socialworker is offline  
Sep 10th, 2005, 01:09 PM
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I think all the arguing regarding use of the word "Gypsy/gypsy" is not clearly enough focusing on the specific context in which use of the word is offensive.

I don't think the real issue is whether Gypsy is an acceptable label for the ethnicity Romany. The preferred names of ethnic groups and races go in an out of vogue, and the older we are, the more of these changes we've had to keep up with. It is nicer to assume that most people, especially above a certain age, mean no offense if they say Eskimo instead of Inuit, American Indian instead of Native American, Gypsy instead of Rom or Romany, when referring to the ethnic groups. The confusion is understandable in light of the way language keeps changing toatisfy conflicting notions of political correctness. I don't think "Gypsy" is intended as a derogatory label for the ethnic group.

But, what is outrageously offensive and neither innocent nor excusable, regardless of whether it may even appear in some dictionary definitions, is the use of the name of an ethnic group (whether "gypsies" or "Rom") as a synonym for pickpockets, panhandlers, or miscellaneous petty criminals and nuisances.
cmt is offline  
Sep 10th, 2005, 01:11 PM
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I thought the gypsies, excuse me, the Roma, were thought to have come from India originally. Interesting connection tho Egypt, gypsy, to gyp someone. I have fallen prey to the Termini taxi scam, and in the line for the regular taxi! Actually I think I did not give the "helper" anything and then I thought the taxi charge was excessive, about 10E more than I expected, but we were just coming into Rome and I was too frazzled to argue about it. I wondered if that taxi and the helper were a team of sorts. One other scam we witnessed on one trip - at the end of a bus run, again at Termini I think, one man gets off and blocks the door of the bus - or course a jam up ensues - then his co-worker moves in from behind and starts fishing in peoples pockets or whatever. I noticed him diving into an well dressed, elderly man's pocket after his wallet - so I started yelling "watch out, watch out" and someone grabbed the arm of the thief and he quickly exited thru another door of the bus. At least in Italy there doesn't seem to be much cause to worry about getting shot! by the no-good-niks like you probably would in our dear old USA!
suec1 is offline  
Sep 10th, 2005, 01:15 PM
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When you are thousands of miles from home, and your cash supply, credit/atm cards, and passport are stolen, I would not characterize it as petty crime or a nuisance.

Yet another example of an apologist for the criminals.
kjosker is offline  
Sep 10th, 2005, 01:27 PM
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And then there are people like "jkosker" who will totally miss the the point no matter how much it might be clarified. How can I make it clearer:

* Failing to call an ethnic group (e.g. the Romany) by the most acceptable label is mainly a matter of not keeping up with current PC vocabulary and rarely intended as offensive.

*Using the name of an ethnic group (e.g., Gypsies) as a synonym for a criminals, petty or otherwise, is highly offensive. (Can you just imagine if the label "German" were used as a synonym for "murderer," for example?)
cmt is offline  
Sep 10th, 2005, 01:37 PM
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"Using the name of an ethnic group (e.g., Gypsies) as a synonym for a criminals, petty or otherwise, is highly offensive. (Can you just imagine if the label "German" were used as a synonym for "murderer," for example?)"

Or the opposite , when people casually refer to someone who is annoyingly strict, sticks by the rules or refuses to bend to someones will, as a "Nazi" . As in "Soup Nazi" , " the Nazi at the hotel desk", etc.
The word Nazi should always be remembered as something horrible and shameful and never to happen again, not as an attempt at wit when describing ones difficulties with those in charge etc..Really, having a bad day with a desk clerk does not equate with a run in with a Nazi..there are too many people who actually remember the real thing.

I always thought that the bands of French thieves/beggars who carry babies and beg and pickpocket in the Metro stations and back alleys, were Gypsies..the French refer to them as Gypsies..

Scarlett is offline  
Sep 10th, 2005, 01:37 PM
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I don't think "gypsy" is a derogatory term. In the US, it has a general meaning of someone who tries to "gyp" you--meaning take money from you. I never associate the word "gypsy" with any ethnic group. Here in the US, there is a famous (GYPSY) vagabond group called The Travellers. These people are of Irish/Scot descent and travel the US scamming people by setting up phoney construction/home-improvement companies. Anyone can be a "gypsy." There are Hispanic gypsies, Italian gypsies, Arabic gypsies. NYTraveler, you are far too pc for me, sweetie
ThinGorjus is offline  
Sep 10th, 2005, 03:00 PM
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You asked if anyone else had street hustler stories to add. You did such a thorough job of describing many of the most common ones that I probably can't add much.

However, we had experience with the following:

The Termini "Official": My sister and I were toting our bags through the Rome train terminal, consulting our tickets and trying to determine where to find our train, when we were approached by an elderly gentleman in a suit, who appeared to be a termini employee. He checked our ticket and pointed us in what was presumably the correct direction. We thanked him and started on our way, whereupon he demanded 5 euros. For the life of me, I can't remember what our response was, whether we gave him anything or not.

Reaching our track, we set our bags down, whereupon a "kind" teen age girl snatched up our bags and carried them efficiently and quickly onto the train for us. We should not have been surprised when she demanded 5 euros of each of us. Having finally "wised up" that no act of kindness in Italy seems to be motivated by mere generosity, we laughed and gave her 1 euro each, figuring her assistance, though not invited, was worth something to us, just not 5 euros each.

Traffic Coordinator/Parking Attendant: This occurred in Spain, not in Italy, but the scam artists are common in both countries. At the street entrance to our parador in Caceres, a couple of old ladies stood near the microphone where one identified oneself as a guest in order to have the barricade lowered to permit access to the street. A gentleman gestured to us to follow him up the street, where he guided us into a parking spot. What a nice service! Of course, then came the demand for 5 euros, for which sum he said he would keep an eye on our car for us. Tired and bemused, we paid him the sum requested.

The identical thing happened at the entrance to the parador at Cuenca.

In each case described above, the parties involved provided some sort of service. While it was not theft, each instance involved some aspect of deceit - implying the service was free or had some stamp of authority. It was up to us to recognize a) we were under no obligation to pay anything; b) but could do so if the service warranted.

The examples cited above do not involve thievery, perhaps merely raggressive "business practices," which rely on tourists' naivete for their success.

More troubling is outright thievery, such as the swarms of adorable little children "greeting" you joyfully near the Coloseum in Rome.

I think it was Rick Steves who had provided us with the warning about gangs of children near the Coloseum carrying cardboard sheets, accosting tourists. In any event, I was prepared when they swarmed me and I yelled "Beat it!" in my best ugly American voice, whereupon they scattered. It really troubled me that the authorities were apparently turning a blind eye toward little children obviously being encouraged to engage in criminal activities. The existence of the problem had been well known.

Each of the instances described above involved Gypsies. How do I know they were Gypsies? I was raised in a town with a fairly strong presence of Gypsies, who dress distinctively and live in a tight-knit community. I'm not saying all Gpsies are hustlers and/or thieves, but they are an ethnic group, distinctive in their appearance.

The term "gypsy" has many meanings, most common being to signify traveling people. It's not perforative. Gypsy truckers, for example, are independents who don't work for major trucking lines. To say that we in the US think it is associated with people who try to "gyp" you is simply wrong, in my opinion.
Mary_Fran is offline  
Sep 10th, 2005, 03:53 PM
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Mary Fran, thanks for the great stories, and for getting us back on topic. These are great and just what I had wanted to encourage!
mdtravel is offline  
Sep 10th, 2005, 04:07 PM
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Ohhhhhhhhhhhh.... my head after reading this.. So what should I address the person who is robbing me blind as before I call him/her a bleeping little bleep!?!
AnnieP is offline  
Sep 10th, 2005, 04:22 PM
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I still am confused about not using the word Gypsy. When a very close friend of ours was in ICU at our local hospital so was the King of the Gypsy's. That is how he was referred to by all of his clan (is that a proper description). And after he died the newspapers reported "Funeral for the King of the Gypsys".

BTW, most of the Italian friends I have in Italy refer to the hustlers, pickpockets, thiefs etc. as the "illegal immigrants". Unless they aren't of course. I can't help but comment that very few people get to upset about the word Mafia although for decades so many people seemed to throw Italians and Mafia into one pot so to speak.

I don't think any description is ever going to please everyone.


BTW mdtravel, I so enjoyed your report and chuckled through the entire reading. Love your sense of humor. And I can tell you my Italian family and friends would also.
LoveItaly is offline  
Sep 10th, 2005, 05:07 PM
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Approximately 19 years ago I was planning on attending school in Florence for a month, I was 20 and had never traveled out of the US. After my school term was up, my sister and 70 year old mother were going to join me to travel in Europe. Two days before my trip, CBS news had a special on the "Gypsies Children of Italy",that was the name of their report, the children who come up to you with the cardboard, distract you and steal anything they can from you. My month alone in Florence was uneventful. However, when my mother and sister arrived, we were touring Venice and, oddly enough, a group, 10-12 children, came running up to my mother with the cardborad and accosted her. They are very loud and very fast. Ok, she's 70! Do you think they were there for any good reason? Fortunately, my sister was closer to her (I was looking the other way at some sight) and remembered the report. She screamed and pushed at the children, they fought back but did not get anything from my mothers fanny-pack. My sister came away with a few scratches, my mother was unharmed, but we were all very shaken. Thanks to CBS, we ( or rather my sister) knew what was going on and could react to it. Did it ruin our trip? No, but it certainly made us aware - which is what I took the original poster to be attempting to do...Thanks for the other insights as we are leaving for Italy next week and will keep this info in mind - that is a positive thing...
jamiec is offline  
Sep 10th, 2005, 05:32 PM
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Really, mdtravel, I cannot believe you used such a perjorative term to describe the cash-flow impaired in Rome! Everyone knows that Rome has no actual "thieves" or "pickpockets," only delightfully crafty and highly colorful people of no particular ethnicity who obtain wallets, jewelry and cameras by work-alternative methods.

Thingorjous, love to know what church you go to that gives receipts for donations put in the plate. Only in Manhattan . . .
kswl is offline  
Sep 10th, 2005, 05:45 PM
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kswl, Stop! I'm dying here! Your post made me choke with laughter. You are so gellin'
Mary_Fran is offline  
Sep 10th, 2005, 05:50 PM
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Oh my goodness!

First of all, thank you mdtravel for a humorous and informative report. I am quite certain it was made in the spirit of helpfulness and that you were intending to give us more information about your trip.

Second, I completely agree with ThinGorjus about dress no matter how many times it's been gone over in the forum - you blend in, you don't get scammed. You speak the language, even better.

Third, I agree wholeheartedly with BTilke, who points out that it's the EUROPEANS who call them "gypsies" and always have, and that's how we Americans came to know and use the term in our travels in Europe. We don't have Gypsies here in the US, so we never use the term. OK, the French now use "gens de voyage," but everyone knows what it refers to - clans of Roma people who live in tents and caravans, roam about the continent, usually have no fixed source of income, and yes, beg, steal, scam, and teach their children to do the same. Are all Roma people like this? NO. Is there probably a more significant percentage of Roma people who live off scamming than your average Dane or Croatian? Yes. Does it matter whether you call them Gypsies or Roma? Well, if you call them Gypsies, a lot of people will imeediately assume you are labeling them thieves and scammers. If you call them Roma, people will simply think you're identifying them by their ethnicity. But if you want to make the point that you've just been robbed of all your possessions, would you be likely to blurt out "That Rom just ripped me off of my life's possessions?" Surely not. But it's entirely unfair to use the word "gypsy" to mean exclusively someone who is a thief and a scammer. I guess to satisfy the PC crowd it would be better to say "that woman with the half-dead baby and five children dressed in brightly colored scarves and wearing huge hoop earrings and with dozens of dangle bracelets who just squirted my tie with mustard and then tried to take my wallet out of my pocket..," but wouldn't that take too much breath under the circumstances?

Fifth, there was a marvelous show on PBS a few years ago about the Rom people. They did originate in India, and traveled in fairly modern times across the continents, ending up mainly in Europe. The fact that they have retained their lifestyle as travelers is incongruous with most modern societies and thus very interesting. But it doesn't seem all that fascinating when you're on the Rome metro getting your pocket picked.

Finally, do you think the French are going to stop selling Gitanes?
StCirq is offline  
Sep 10th, 2005, 06:14 PM
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"We don't have Gypsies here in the US, so we never use the term. "

Sorry but our newspapers here in FL use the term every year when the roofing, driveway scam artists arrive from the North in winter! And I've heard it in PA in the summers!

And I've heard about "gypsy cab drivers " in London for more years than I care to remember so the Ukers can't get away with saying they don't use it!

And maybe we should never call ourselves "travelers"..that is a derogatory word in the UK!

And I really must tell my friend that she must not refer to herself as an Eskimo, rather an Inuit, even though she was an advisor on Alaskan natives in 2 US administations..and her children just were delighted in telling me their "Eskimo" names!
jody is offline  
Sep 10th, 2005, 06:34 PM
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mdtraveler, I apologize in advance for not sticking to your topic, which was about scams in Italy in particular and not about a particular class or race, but I'm puzzled.

For one thing, St. Cirq, a poster I greatly respect, says we don't have Gypsies here in the US. Even in my small town, we have a prominent Gypsy population. Gypsies came to America from all parts of the world.

According to the Smithsonian website page, "'Gypsies' in the Unitied States" (http://www.smithsonianeducation.org/...ypstart.html):

"Several groups, all known to utsiders as 'Gypsies,' live today in the United States. In their native languages, each of the groups refers to itself by a specific name, but all translate their self-designations as 'Gypsy' when speaking English. Each had its own cultural, linguistic, and istorical tradition before coming to this country, and each maintains social distance from the others."

I read on that site that the Roms represent a specific group of Gypsies, migrants from Serbia, Russia and Austria-Hungary beginning in the 1880's.

The Ludar, or "Romanian Gypsies," also came to the United States during the great immigration from southern and eastern Europe between 1880 and 1914. Most of the Ludar came from northwestern Bosnia.

The Romnichels, or English Gypsies, began to come to the United States from England in 1850.

Gypsies from Germany, from the German Zigeuner), sometimes refer to themselves as "Black Dutch."

So, who says that Gypsies preferred to be called "Roms?" If the Smithsonian site is correct and if I am interpreting it correctly, referring to the cultural and ethnic groups of Gypsies as Roms seems to denigrate their regional diversity.

What's up with that?
Mary_Fran is offline  
Sep 10th, 2005, 06:53 PM
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There ARE Gypsies/Romany/Rom in the USA. It may not be a very large ethnic group here, but it does exist.

Although I actually find the language tangent re the use and misuse of "gypsy" interesting, I'm finally going to comment on the actual intended topic of the thread. The observations are not at ALL consistent with my experience. I won't say that I've NEVER seen beggars outsider a church, but I've RARELY seen them there. Off-hand, I do remember seeing beggars outside the churches in Florence, and the beggars seemed to be young fair-skinned foreigners. I've never been robbed or almost robbed in Italy. Even in places where I was warned to be extra careful and I was, like the Vucciria in Naples, the Catania fish market, the Spaccanapoli section of Naples, I never sensed that I was close to being victimized. I only once had a bad feeling that I was surrounded by a family of Gypsies/Romany who were looking for victims, but they didn't seem to be focusing on me. That was in the Florence train station, which is a nerve-wracking place anyway. I WAS scammed twice, and both times it was by Italians, acting alone, and both times I was simply stupic or naive or off-guard. The first time it was in 1973 when the hotel desk clerk sold us stamps to put on our postcards and we stupidly accepted his offer to put the stamps on and mail the cards for us with the hotel's mail. Our cards never did arrive home. The second time was many years later, when I should've known better, but I'd become soft and naive after two weeks in sweet rural and small-time Sicily, and stupidly took a ride from an unregulated taxi driver who took me for more of "a ride" than I wanted. (However, he couldn't MAKE me pay for it, and I screamed at him in Italian where there was an audience.)

So I found the initial post funny, but it didn't seem to be about the same Italy I've been visiting the last few years. I realize that the difference may be that I haven't traveled to Italy in the summer in more than 30 years, have not been to Rome since 1973, and I spend relatively little time in the biggest cities.
cmt is offline  
Sep 10th, 2005, 07:02 PM
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<<If the Smithsonian site is correct and if I am interpreting it correctly, referring to the cultural and ethnic groups of Gypsies as Roms seems to denigrate their regional diversity.
What's up with that?>>

It's another one of those PC language fads. I am losing track of the number of times that I've had to train myself to use a new and different "preferred" label for a racial group, and I think there are plenty of people who prefer the supposedly less-PC (but NOT the derogatory) names of their ethnic group. (One of the silliest labels, I think, is "Native American." Aren't all of us who were born in the US "native" Americans, though not necessarily indigenous Americans?)

Anyway, I agree that there are Gypsies/Romany in the USA.

As I said above, my only objection to the word "gypsy" is the use of the word to signify a type of thief or panhandler.

If I really knew what the Gypsies or Romany prefer to be called, I'd try to remember to call them that, but I very much doubt that they all have the same preference.
cmt is offline  
Sep 10th, 2005, 07:06 PM
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In my previous post--the one right before the one immediately above--I obviously meant to say Vucciria in PALERMO (not Naples).
cmt is offline  

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