The Eternal City continues to get a bad rap, not only from its unhappy citizens with the ever so popular local blogs, such as Roma Fa Schifo (Rome Sucks) and Riprendiamoci Roma (Let’s Get Back Rome), but also from international media such as the New York Times, which seems to becoming familiar with the widely used word “degrado” (the loss in the quality of service, cleanliness and standards of living perceived by romans). But why does Rome continue to suck, even after the election of a mayor from a new political movement which seems to be failing to deliver changes and improvements as quickly as expected?
In order to answer this question, I would like to switch the focus of the analysis from politicians to the actual Romans. Citizens are the ones that actually shape policies, more or less directly, and it is therefore important to keep a focus on them. Why do cars, for example, barely get any fines even though they do not seem to contemplate the existence of take traffic laws? Because, as the saying goes, a fined Roman is an unhappy Roman, which in turn makes him or her less likely to vote for the ruling party.
This analysis will, therefore, be more anthropological than political, as was the one about Italians and food, and I will use the very insightful comment sections of the various Roman blogs and Facebook pages, where the Roman psyche is laid bare, uninhibited by the real life persona or by social judgments.
Here we can indeed see rationalization, a mental process of which we are often victims, at its best. In psychology, rationalization is a defense mechanism in which controversial behaviour is explained and justified in a seemingly rational manner in order to avoid the real explanation and any challenges to the current state of being that it may involve. For example laziness, a typical trait observed in many Romans, is often rationalized by the artificial creation of fake obstacles and difficulties.
Here are a list of some of the obvious rationalizations that we have observed so far:
“But in Rome there aren’t enough parking places!”
Double parking is the norm in Rome, and cars are rarely fined for parking on sidewalks, bus stops or parks. This creates serious problems for pedestrians and the general traffic, but whenever blogs or individuals complain by posting pictures of this “creative” parking, there are always Romans who defend the driver with “there aren’t enough parking places in Rome”.
Obviously the lack of parking places does not mean that you are allowed to park wherever you like; and a lack of parking places is the only disincentive that Roman seem to have to leave their beloved car at home and take public transport. (And magically increasing the number of parking places would encourage more people to take their cars and occupy the extra places, making parking once again scarce and adding even more congestion in the streets)
“But public transport doesn’t work in Rome!”
This rationalization needs to be quite strong, as it involves denying the existence of buses, trams, as well as the hundreds of thousands of Romans who use public transport on a daily basis. In the many hours spent in traffic, they must at some point see crowded buses and trams; while some of the passengers may be tourists and others may be time wasters looking for something to do, there must be a minority of Romans who actually use public transport to get from point A to point B.
Public transport here is inefficient and there is definitely room for improvements, but that doesn’t mean that it “doesn’t work”: I have lived in this city for many years without a car or scooter, and I am always on time for work, despite living in the suburbs and needing to be in different parts of the city.
“But we have the bidet!”
Comparisons with other cities are often useful and there is always a lot to learn most of the time. Not for the bidet fan however. The fact that Italians have this extra basin in their bathrooms means that there is nothing to learn from other barbarian civilizations. Bike sharing works in all other European capitals except Rome? “But we have the bidet!” Streets are cleaner? “But we have the bidet!” Other cities can be as efficient and beautiful as they want, but this is worthless if their citizens are compelled to endure life without a bidet.
“But there are 7 hills in Rome!”
In primary school, Italians have to learn by heart the name of the 7 hills on which Rome was built. This traumatic experience is so deeply rooted in their minds that they will list the names of these Roman landforms whenever they get a chance, for instance blaming them for the apparent impossibility of using a bicycle in the city. Which of course is not due to laziness but to the fact that, unlike any other city in the world, Rome has hills and taking a bicycle would therefore be a geographical blasphemy against the Roman Gods. That’s why Roman hate cyclists, as explained in this other post.
“But politicians are corrupt!”
This is the most useful rationalization, the one that Romans use whenever they can’t find a more suitable one. Are you a tax evader? Do you enjoy double parking and making life miserable for the disabled? Are you a politician who is enjoying a brilliant and corrupt career? Just shout “i politichi rubeno!“, point out that there are other corrupt politician out there and you’ll be fine. As the ancient schools of philosophy and ethics in Athens clearly stated, the fact that there are other people behaving immorally gives everybody the right to do the same, and ethical behaviour is only necessary when the whole population is morally perfect.
(more rationalizations will be analyzed in Part 2, where hopefully we will put forward some possible therapeutic solutions)