A young couple approached me in the Erbaria and asked, “Which way is the water?” It's whichever way you're going.
An eyeopening moment:
An elderly couple approached me near Piazza San Marco and asked, “Would we be better off to go and eat somewhere near the fish market?” I said, “Yes, that's an excellent idea”, and gave them a few suggestions. The man responded, “Thank you. You speak English very well!” No sir, thank YOU! (Tourists think that most people around them are Venetians.)
Different perspectives on the labyrinth:
Near Campo San Provolo, I passed a couple pouring over a map with their daughter standing by them. The young girl said, “See? This is where we are!” and then, spinning with her arms out, “And this is the whole world! So, everything is alright.” Agreed!
Sitting at the Cafe Miti in Santa Croce, I spied two young men scurrying home with groceries. The first one said, “At least that was easy.” The second one said, “Venice is still a very emotional place, even when you know where you're going.” True.
On the day Pope Benedict XVI visited Venice in 2011, 300,000 people went to mass in Piazza San Marco. Being completely terrified of crowds, street closures and the holy unknown, I got up at the crack of dawn and went to the island of Pellestrina. I returned to Lido in the early afternoon grouchy, exhausted and hungry all as a result of not having followed anyone's advice about what to do there. At Faro Rochetta a very elderly British couple – they had to be at least 116 and were clothed in the fashions of their youth - leapt like mountain goats into the bus and filled it with jolly laughter as they tried to determine just how far out their way they had come. Shame on me! I had forgotten that I was on an adventure.
Venice is a small town:
On Calle dei Bottieri a group of teenagers stopped me to ask directions to the Ponte delle Tette. Trying to be helpful, I both gave them directions and made sure they understood that there are no breasts on display there anymore. I reported my good deed on Facebook and quickly learned that these same youngsters had finished a tour with a good friend of mine not five minutes before I met them. Stop sending me your hooligans!
Near Campo Sant Apostoli on a sunny afternoon, a young man asked me for directions to Piazza San Marco. I marked the route on his map and told him it shouldn't take more than 15 minutes to get there. He started crying. Why?!
On a spring evening, also near Campo Santi Apostoli, two young women asked me for directions to Inishark Irish pub. I spent twenty minutes giving them written directions and drew them a map. Five minutes later they came back and offered me twenty euros to walk them to Inishark. Seriously? Is Venice scarier than I think it is? (Naturally, I walked them for no charge.)
Sometimes, directions really are awful:
A Venetian friend of mine – a lifelong resident of the San Marco district – and I met a young South Korean woman near La Fenice Theater. She was trying to find her university housing using the directions given to her in a packet from the school. The directions consisted only of the building number for a house in the San Marco district. We tried to map the address electronically, but if you haven't dropped the pin in Google yourself, that doesn't do much good in Venice. So, my Venetian friend called the house and gave whomever answered the phone what sounded like a well-deserved grilling. With slightly clarified directions, the South Korean woman and I, who had no more than five words in common, set off for Campo Santo Stefano. Forty five minutes later, which is a very long time if you've only traveled 1/15th of a kilometer, we found the house. It was in a small dead-end street and the building number was obscured by a security gate. Safety first! Keep those students out.
One evening in Campo San Zaccaria I met a famous food critic who was on his way to scout out the location of Da Fiore with the map that his 5-star hotel had given him. The map had all of five lines on it and none of them pointed to Da Fiore. I gave him one of my maps and begged him to make a complaint to the hotel. The increasing prevalence of bad maps in Venice is a pet peeve of mine. And, I think, it's very bad for off-the-beaten path businesses in Venice. It's not that people need to use the maps, but that having the option gives them the confidence to explore...
A woman ordered a hamburger from the bar in the Lido. When it arrived she shrieked loudly, “It doesn't look like an American hamburger!” No comment.
People call Italians promiscuous but...:
It was a Swedish couple celebrating the wife's birthday who propositioned me one winter night at the Bacaro Risorto. Rather than hurt their feelings, I hid behind the stockroom door for about twenty minutes. It takes all kinds!
Ugh, typical! A tale of every English-speaking tourist:
Every anglophone looks sideways at Venetians when they enthusiastically recommend “typical” things. Very typical food! Very typical art! Very typical products! And, I suspect that those enthusiastic recommendations are often ignored only because they come with the word “typical”. This is a linguistic problem, a problem that stems from Venetians speaking English better than most anglophones do. “Typical” does mean what Venetians think it means. It means “highly representative”. Unfortunately, most native English speakers don't know that. They only use the word in a negative context to refer to things that are ordinary or not special. If I want to convince a fellow anglophone to try typical Venetian food I have to call it “local”, “regional” or “traditional” food. On the other hand, everyone would understand me if I said, “It is just so typical for Venetians to do things so properly and yet be so misunderstood!”